Anxiety Isn’t The Problem (Reframing Anxiety for Student-Athletes)

September 2, 2023

Reframing anxiety for student-athletes can be a game-changer for parents and coaches alike. Keep reading to learn how.

At the start of a new season and school year, it’s not uncommon for my clients to experience many emotions. 

They’re excited to start a new year; nervous about meeting new people; happy to get back on the field and in the classroom; sad the summer is coming to a close; and anxious about what lies ahead.

All of these feelings are valid, but anxiety** is often what brings parents into my inbox.

It makes sense! These young athletes fear the uncertainty that a new school year– and a new team–often brings.

They wonder if they’ll get enough playing time, how they’ll perform in front of recruiters, and what will happen if they’re injured.

Off the field, they worry about the college admissions process (“What if I don’t get into my top choices?”) or speaking in front of their class during presentations (What if I freeze in front of everyone??”).

Fear pops up because these athletes forecast the negative.

Many parents come to me and ask, “What can I do to help my daughter get over her anxiety?” They worry their child won’t be successful if they can’t combat it.

But what if I told you that anxiety isn’t the problem and that combatting it isn’t the solution?

Keep reading to learn what the real problem is. 

In this post, I also explain how I teach my clients and Players Portal members how to reframe their anxiety, use that framework to face their fears, and go beyond their limiting beliefs to achieve their goals.

No Fear or Know Fear

It might be hard to believe, but as an adolescent, I was terrified to speak or perform in front of a crowd.

In the 6th grade, I was given a solo in the Christmas school assembly, and I was worried I’d forget the lyrics to the song. 

I practiced and practiced, but I wouldn’t let anyone–not even my parents–watch. 

“Don’t forget the words” became my mantra. 

On the assembly day, the chorus teacher arranged for us to perform a dress rehearsal for younger students, and I crushed it! 

But that evening, as the gym filled up with families, teachers, and friends, I could feel my anxiety taking over. My heart was beating fast, and my palms were damp with sweat. 

The performance kicked off, and as I got to the second verse, I completely blanked. I was embarrassed, angry, and determined never to perform again. 

Throughout grade school, I was terrified to speak in front of my classes. Instead of getting to the root of my anxiety (fear of forgetting the words), I ignored it. I refused any assignment that required me to speak in front of my peers. 

But when I got to college, public speaking became unavoidable. Instead of ignoring and avoiding my fear, I had to face it head-on. 

I learned that the root of my anxiety was a fear of forgetting the material; I saw where the fear lived and learned how to talk back to it. 

My anxiety wasn’t the problem. My insistence on avoiding it was.

Did this realization cure me of my anxiety? No! But when I faced it head-on (over and over again), those feelings became easier to manage.

Define the Fear

Instead of having a “NO FEAR” attitude, I had to know my fear and understand its core. The fear didn’t disappear; I just learned how to manage it.

And as a parent, it’s your job to help your daughter define her anxious feelings because that’s where they will find the root of the fear.

When they find the source, they can face it. And when they face it, they can work with it (and learn from it) instead of running from it.

But how can you teach your daughter how to work with her fear? Keep reading.

Related: Dialed In for High School Softball

The F.E.A.R. Framework

In this framework, “F.E.A.R.” can stand for 2 things: 

  • Forget Everything And Run, OR
  • Face Everything And Rise

When your daughter encounters a fear, she has two choices: she can succumb to the anxiety and the anticipation of failure or lean into the fear and accept the challenge for what it is: an opportunity to learn and grow regardless of the outcome.

The second option is preferred.

Reframing Anxiety for Student-Athletes: How to Lean Into Fear

Here are 5 Ways to help your athlete lean into her fear.

1. Define It

What is the root cause of the fear? Your athlete says she’s anxious about joining a new team, but why?

Is it because she’s nervous about fitting in, or is she afraid she won’t get enough playing time?

Once she understands the exact cause of the anxiety, she can take steps to address it. 

2. Contextulize It

Author and motivational speaker Mel Robins said, “Fear and excitement are the same physical state in your body. The only difference is how your brain reacts to it.

In other words, the physical symptoms of anxiety and excitement are often the same. 

When your athlete experiences these symptoms (racing heart, sweaty palms, butterflies, etc.), remind her to reframe them as symptoms of excitement. 

Here’s a quick script she can use: 

“I’m not anxious. I’m excited.”

3. See the Opportunity 

Regardless of the outcome, every challenge is an opportunity to learn. 

Remind your player that if she succeeds, she’ll learn what works. If she doesn’t, she’ll learn what she can improve on.

4. Make Fear the Opponent

Ask your daughter to visualize her fear as her opponent. If she runs from her fear, she’s letting it beat her. 

5. Focus on the Positive

Who is most likely to succeed? The player who tells herself she can’t, or the player who determines she can? Ask your daughter to say to herself, “I can do this.”

6. Face It

The more times your athlete faces her fear, the easier it will become. Remember: welcome the fear as an opportunity instead of something to avoid.

7. “This Does Not Define Me”

When your athlete fails (and she will), remind her that she is the average of her experiences. Her failures do not define her.

Wrapping Up

To sum it up, anxiety isn’t the problem, but avoiding it is. Reframing anxiety for student-athletes is the key to seeing opportunity in every challenge.

So give your athlete ample opportunities to face her anxieties head-on and remind her that her failures do not define her. 

And remember: anxiety never goes away 100%, but when your daughter contextualizes a challenge as something to be excited about instead of dread, she will be able to face it more confidently. 

If your daughter is looking for a supportive community of fellow athletes who will help her face her fears, check out The Players Portal

This membership offers systems, strategies, and powerful mindset tactics to help female athletes achieve their goals.

When you join, you can check out a masterclass with UFC fighter Miranda “Danger” Granger, who taught us how she challenges her fears daily! 

And find me on Instagram, where I share my favorite mindset tips and tricks for your female athlete.
**In this blog post, I refer to anxiety as the typical fears and worries adolescent athletes often experience. If you believe your daughter is experiencing anxiety that greatly disrupts her day-to-day life, contact a licensed mental health professional or visit NAMI for more information.

Your Mindset Softball Coach,
Coach D

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