Dr. Chris Stankovich is the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems, an athletic counseling and human performance enhancement center. He has written/co-written five books and has had hundreds of articles published on topics related to sport psychology and athletic success. He has been featured for his work in USA Today, ESPN, New York Post, Washington Post, Street & Smith Sports Business Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and ABC World News.
Dr. Stankovich is known as “The Sports Doc” for his featured television segment on Ohio News Network (ONN), NBC4i Columbus, and Columbus Parent magazine. He is also a featured columnist for The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS), The National Examiner, the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) magazine, and STACK magazine
Through all your research, what have you found to be the biggest source of anxiety and stress among youth athletes?
These days I would have to say that a lot of the stress and anxiety I see stems from sports burnout – so many kids today specialize in one sport and play it year-round, often with little if any breaks. This is especially challenging for kids who begin to see sports as a job more than a fun endeavor (not to mention the stress associated with not having time for other kid things like hanging out with friends).
Do you feel that superstitions and pre-game rituals help or hinder confidence?
Superstitions, in my opinion, “work” because of the placebo effect, so for athletes who believe in their superstition or quirk they can really help with confidence, motivation, focus, and resiliency. But that aside, I always encourage athletes to develop pre-game rituals because that’s more than placebo —- in these examples a pre-game routine helps because it actually refines focus and allows the athlete to focus on relevant cues (what he or she needs to do in the game) while ruling out irrelevant cues (yesterday’s bad performance).
Can an athlete ever be too confident? At what point can confidence actually undermine your performance?
Confidence and arrogance walk a fine line – while we want confidence, we never want an athlete to get too caught up on his or her own “hype.” Overly-confident athletes often lose their hunger to be the best and as a result lose their edge – so the key is to groom self-confidence to a point while always setting new and more difficult goals to keep the athlete grounded.
What can happen to a youth athlete if their parent is always quick to step in and try to smooth things over for them after a loss, a frustrating call, or getting cut from a team? On the flip side, how can a parent know when it’s time to step in versus when it’s time to stay out of it?
We have a big problem in America today with parents enabling their children and doing the dirty work for them – and the consequences to this can be bad later in life when the young adult discovers he/she has few life skills to succeed. I think it’s best for parents to help kids learn how to respect authority and the decisions coaches make (even the ones they don’t like), and work on resiliency skills to help for future success. Of course, there are always rare cases where a child may need to approach the coach, and in these instances I again encourage parents to help their child with communication skills so he/she can work it out on his/her own. As for when parents should get involved directly, I would say hold off unless: A) the child (or a teammate) is in danger or there is a potentially dangerous situation, or B) it’s about something factual (i.e. the coach is unaware the child is injured) but not generally something subjective (i.e. why the coach is playing another kid over their kid).
Why do you think some players bounce back so quickly after a loss while others get stuck in a funk?
Sometimes it’s just luck, but in other cases the athlete has specified the problem and developed an appropriate response to the situation. For example, if a basketball player is having trouble with free throws in games because of pressure, simply going into an empty gym and practicing free throws might not be nearly as effective as practicing those free throws with teammates making noise in the background and the clock showing 1 second left to play. When athletes practice “in vivo” training it can help break a funk pretty quickly.
Obviously every coach has their own style, but do you think yelling, screaming and other “humiliation tactics” can ever be an effective way to motivate a team?
I think there will always be “yellers and screamers” and that’s something athletes need to develop thick skin toward, but I never believe humiliation tactics should be used (in sports or anywhere else). Fortunately, good coaches know this, and while they might yell at the team to motivate performance, they stop shy of saying things to purposely embarrass kids.
Youth sports seems to be getting more and more competitive every season, with parents, coaches, and players adopting a “win at all costs” attitude. What kind of effect does that pressure have on young athletes?
It can be really bad, actually, especially when you consider that every poll out there shows the #1 reason why kids play sports is to “have fun” (coincidentally, rarely does “winning” make the top 5 reasons). When kids feel pressure to win at all costs it leaves them at risk to using performance supplements (and steroids), over-train (and risk injury and burnout), and have to cope with unusually high levels of stress (which can lead to drinking and drug usage).
What’s your top 5 “must knows” to offer to our parents who support their youth sports athletes?
How about these…
1. Make sure you make the experience FUN at all times
2. Help kids identify and use athletic transferable skills (i.e. goal setting can be used in school just like in sports).
3. Find examples of athletes who have overcome obstacles and talk to kids about them – this can be inspiring for kids and help them understand that not every great athlete started out as great (Michael Jordan was once cut from his HS basketball team!).
4. Similar to the last point, help kids understand that EVERYONE deals with stress, frustration, adversity, and failure – eliminate perfectionistic thinking and work on resiliency and coping skills instead!
5. Set goals – if you don’t how will you ever be able to gauge your success and the areas that need most improvement.