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Youth Sports and Anxiety Nine-year-old Billy stood watching his town’s hockey team from the side-lines. Excitedly, he cheered on his friend Callum who was serving as  the team’s goalie. However, Billy noticed how Callum stopped trying to keep the the ball out of the net.  Callum was shouting that he wanted to quit.  It then dawned on Billy  that his friend was in distress, so right away Billy stepped up to defend his life-long pal. Courageously, he ran across the court and took over as goalie and did a great job!

Billy had never played hockey before but he discovered he really liked it.

Another Town, Another Season

Billy was so proud of himself, he decided to sign up for another town’s season. This town has a much more intense program and a shorter court which lends to much faster balls whizzing toward the goalie. Even so, at the opening tournament, Billy didn’t expect to become overwhelmed by the speed and intensity of the game. His overwhelm led to panic, much the same as his friend Callum did during his game.  For Billy however, his panic was associated with an ism, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), which had him very nearly quit the season, just as it began.

Overwhelm of Auditory Processing Disorder

Kids with APD can have trouble understanding what is being said to them when they’re in noisy places like the school playground, sports events, the school cafeteria, and parties. Playing a sport, such as hockey, during a tournament style with loud music can be a big distraction, not to mention, the ear-splitting, yet inaudible commands from the tough sounding coaches.  Add to this distraction, a court full of excitable new team players and a much larger crowd of deafening screams from parents on the side-lines.  All of that intensity can be overpowering.  The commotion leaves the child overwhelmed and confused; there is little wonder why they might panic and thus lose focus on the actual game. (1)

Callum found that competitive sports made him feel overwhelmed and anxious, and as such opted for more controlled sports, such as rock-climbing and cycling.  Billy, on the other hand, did enjoy playing hockey. All he needed to do was find ways to manage the hubbub so he could focus on the game. Further, letting goals in had knocked his confidence during his first tournament game, especially when some of the kids on the team teased him.  Subsequently, this led Billy to fall into the dreaded “scoring anxiety” trap. (2)

While Callum began to enjoy taking part in milder sports and felt comfortable with this, Billy had his heart set on hockey.  Therefore, to squash the anxiety bug, the following tips below helped him tolerate the crowd with all it’s confused sounds.  Learning to tolerate the commotion, helped him cope with his apprehension about being scored on.  Billy became energized and thus played with vigour and enthusiasm, so much so, that by the end of the season, he was the most developed goalie in the league and the all-star coach came over to personally shake his hand.

5 Tips to Help a Child Get Back In the Game

1. Music

Speak to the coach about your child’s APD or anxiety and kindly ask if the background music could be toned down a little.  Another option is to give the child soft ear-plugs to wear during the game.

2.  Commands 

Ask the coach to get closer to the child and utter instructions face to face to ensure instructions are heard.   For example, suggest that the coach talks to the child face to face if needed between periods – remember to ask the child to take out their ear-plugs and to replace them before the game resumes.

3.  Decatastrophize

Help the child recognise that while they may be letting in 3 or 4 goals, they are keeping out 20-25 or more goals – this helps to decatastrophize the awfulness of “scoring anxiety” and as such raises self-confidence.

Learn more about decatastrophizing in my article on 3 Strategies to Help a Child Cope with…Obsessions

4. Scoring 

Regarding kids who tease the child, teach realistic statements such as: “Preferably, I’d like to prevent goals  and make my team proud… but I guess defending the net isn’t all on me. I mean, team work is that all players pull together, so I may have a better chance at stopping goals if my team pulled together and helped to defend the net.”

5.  Assertiveness

The child can also be taught that they can find ways to cope should the team try to put them down for missing a goal or two, since most kids at some time face adversity. Rather than feel they’ve let the team down, the child can learn not to attribute hurtful remarks to themselves.  Teach the child to use assertive statements such as: “Yeah, what a bummer, oh well, can’t beat ’em all, better luck next time guys.”

Alternatively, the child could ignore an occasional jibe and pass this off as a snide remark that deserves no attention.  Obviously, if this is a regular occurrence and the child feels bullied, then adult intervention is a must.


Some children feel more comfortable going for non-competitive sports such as cycling or rock-climbing. Others, like Billy, have a desire to join a rowdy sport such as hockey, soccer or rugby.  Sometimes problems arise and the anxious child can feel overwhelmed with all the commotion.  When issues are addressed with the coach, wherein solutions are found, then this can make a big difference.

A child’s emotional response to something “big” can, when appropriately sorted out, be a way forward to altering original panic beliefs about their own abilities. Billy, for example, tackled his -isms and as such his “scoring anxiety” reduced, he gained more confidence and he learned to use assertiveness skills when faced with adversity.


(1) Auditory Processing Disorder.KidsHealth. Ed. Thierry Morlet. The Nemours Foundation, 01 Sept. 2014. Web. 08 Sept. 2015.

(2) Bollard, Gavin. “Scoring Anxiety? Choose Non-Competitive Sports.Special-Ism. N.p., 22 May 2015. Web. 08 Sept. 2015.