How to Handle Stress as a Sports Parent | Q&A with Coach Sara

Today’s Topic: How to Handle Stress as a Sports Parent


About Me

Hello everyone.  This is Coach Sara from Complete Performance Coaching.  I am here to help support your athletes with mental training because sports is not easy.  Today I’m here to talk to parents directly.

I had some big plans for what I was going to prepare for you today.  I had some great questions come in and I couldn’t get it together.  I have felt very stressed this week, so  I’m going to talk about stress today.  I’m going to talk about how to handle stress as a sports parent because guess what?  We get stressed out too.  That can rub off on the rest of our family, which I’m sure parents, you already know, right?  When we are stressed, other people feel it.

Stress Management

I thought it would be useful to talk about four different ways to help you handle stress as a parent.  All of these tips your athletes can use and you can share with them.  I find that when I am stressed, not only does my family notice it, but everyone feels it, and we’re in it and creating more stress together.  That’s really when I have to tap into the same mental skills that I teach the athletes I work with.

I always talk about mental skills as life skills, and I wholeheartedly believe that not only for our athletes but for ourselves too.  These skills have been something I have relied on since I learned about them, but especially since I’ve become a parent.  I’ve realized not only how fun it is to be a parent, but how much stress can come with it, especially when you’ve got a lot going on personally, professionally, your kids have a lot going on, they’re in season, your shuttling to and from practice – it can be a lot.

4 Ways Parents can Handle Stress

Let’s talk about four ways parents can handle stress.  Of course, these are absolutely applicable to your athletes as well.

1. Talk About It

Share it.  Let your family know.  Now, this is not meant for you to snap at them.  I’ve been guilty of that.  I’ve snapped, but I try to get better.  I calmly let them know hey, mom’s got a lot going on right now.  You can get specific.

“I have a deadline I’m working on” or  “We’re packing for a family trip”.  Let them know.  It’s not to pass the stress on to them, but to be very transparent.  “Hey, I’ve got a lot going on right now.”  Then, you can even go so far as to say, “It would be really helpful if you could do …”, and then let them know how they can help you.  Hopefully you’re getting some support.

You’re not bottling it up inside you that you’re dealing with this stress, but I also think that it’s really important to model for our kids that you know what?  When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, you can talk about it.  As an athlete, you can tell me as a parent how I can best support you when trying to handle stress.

Again, as a parent if you’re feeling stressed, you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to let your family members know.

2. Breathe

Take some nice deep breaths.  Again, for those of you just joining us, I’ve been stressed out this week and find myself pausing a lot, taking some deep breaths.  I have a very observant six year old who says, “Mommy, take a deep breath.”  I appreciate those reminders.

When we’re feeling stressed out we start to get more physically tense.  You might notice some neck pain, jaw pain – we all hold our tension in different places.  You might notice you’re clenching your fists if you’re typing that email it’s a little more frantic.  We all have physical manifestations of the way that we experience stress.  This is true for our athletes as well.

We need to relax and take some nice, deep cleansing breaths.  Nice inhale through the nose, a brief pause, and then a nice deep exhale through the mouth.


If you do that a few times and you really focus, it can help you start to feel much calmer.  Part of this is because we’re breathing in some good oxygen and we’re getting out all of that bad carbon dioxide we don’t need.  It’s also really cleansing to think of breathing in fresh positivity and breathing out negativity.

If you’re focusing on that it doesn’t really give you the opportunity to think about everything you have to do – the assignments you’re working on, whatever is causing you stress.  You’re simply focused on your breathing, so it’s an exercise in mindfulness and really staying present.

3. Monitor Your Self-Talk

Your self-talk is really how you’re talking to yourself, it’s what goes through your head. Sometimes we mutter it out loud, especially when you’re stressed you might be talking to yourself and people say, “What was that?”  Whoops!  You’re thinking, Nothing.  That wasn’t for you.  That was for me.  That’s your self-talk.  And the way that we think affects the way we feel and that affects the way we perform.

This is for our athletes if they are thinking negatively they might be feeling stressed. Their confidence is lower, they can’t perform their best.  The same is true for us as people, so this is going to be true for your athlete in their day to day life, but also for us as parents both in our life as a parent.

I like to think being a parent is not a fake performance, but it’s where we perform.  It’s where we get out and take action.  If we’re thinking negatively, we’re not feeling our best, and then we can’t really perform as a parent the way that we want to.  That’s also true in our work life and our personal life.

When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you really do need to monitor the self-talk that you’re having because chances are it’s reflective of the overwhelming feelings and the stress you have.  You’re thinking things like, “I’m never gonna get it all done.” For me, it’s, “Why did we plan this trip this weekend because we were away and I’m still catching up and now I have to pack again,”  it’s, “Why did we plan it this way?”

Negative Influence

Your situation, your stress, your overwhelm, it’s influencing your negative talk, and then that negative talk is feeding back into the way you’re feeling.  It’s this cyclical relationship that you need to then get out of.  This is where the breathing can be really useful, but once you’ve monitored it, you’ve noticed it, you want to work on shifting that self-talk and shifting to your gratitude – what you really appreciate about the situation, focusing on something positive, can be a really useful way to shift out of that negativity and to shift away from some of that stress and being overwhelmed.

Again, for your kids, you can support them in doing this.  I know that we have school coming up in a couple weeks for some of our kids, a little bit further out for some, but getting back to school can be an overwhelming and stressful time.  The beginning of school, it’s a new teacher or not quite sure what to expect.  There may be a meet coming up – I know we have some swimmers who have a meet this weekend.  It’s normal to start to feel some stress and to have some negative thinking go along with that.

Encourage your athletes to notice it.  They can take a breath, help them calm down, and then shift to some more positive, useful, and appropriate thinking for that situation.  Maybe focus on some gratitude, what they really have to be thankful for. You might start to notice that stress and that overwhelm start to shift away a little bit. So that’s our third way as parents to help manage that stress that is very common as parents and as people too.

4. Self Care

Sometimes that can mean taking a break.  When I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed and I have a lot going on, I feel like I can’t stop.  I need to keep going.  I have a big long list of things that I need to do, and I need to keep powering through and checking them off.  While that is helpful, again, that overwhelm can start to build on itself.  We look at all these things we need to do.

Give yourself a break, even five, 10 minutes.  Step outside.  Go for a quick walk.  Take your kids to the park for a little bit.  Take a break. Focusing on getting away from it sometimes seems counter-intuitive, but we can then go into whatever the situation is a little bit more refreshed and focused.

That fourth way to handle stress is to really make sure that you are taking care of yourself.  Add in some self-care, and when you can’t, maybe take some dedicated time to do that, to take a break from what’s going on to reset, regroup, refocus.

Again, perfectly appropriate for athletes too when they are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe they’re in the high point of the season.  They’ve been at practices, they’re doing extra training.  We’re in summer so maybe school’s not a factor right now, but if that overwhelm is happening it can feel like there’s a lot to do.  Stay in it.  Go, go, go.  More, more, more.

Take a Step Back

Sometimes we need to do the opposite.   We need to take that step back.  We need to not just breathe, but we need to give ourselves that space to breathe and to not think about everything that’s contributing.  Then we can return to it.

Maybe it’s encouraging your athlete, you know, let’s take an hour and you really love hiking. Let’s go for a quick hike. Or it’s still warm out. Let’s hop in the pool for an hour. Have fun and then you can get back to preparing when we’re done. So that self-care, that taking a break is ultimately really important.

How to Handle Stress as a Sports ParentParents, You’re Not Alone

Again, as parents, we feel stress.  It really is important that you take care of yourself because your kids feed off of that.  We can get into this loop of feeling stressed and they’re responding. They’re feeling stressed. They’re coming back at you and it can build in a negative way from there.

By managing your own stress, not only do you feel better,  but your family probably functions better.  You’re modeling not just your kids, but for your whole family, of how to better manage and deal with your stress.

Again, these four strategies – talking about it, keeping people in the loop of what’s going on and asking for some support, taking some nice deep breaths to help deal with the way that you’re feeling, and monitoring your self-talk and then changing it as best you can.  Then, fitting in some self-care and taking a break.  All of those are really important strategies for yourself and for your athlete.

Setting an Example

As I said, these mental skills I teach to athletes are ones that I rely on to get through my day.  There is no shame in us as parents using our mental skills.  It models and sets the tone for our kids.  These are skills that we use and we need as people.  It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you.  This is how we better function as people in the world, and it’s useful for athletes.

I hope that these four ideas have been really helpful for you.  I’ve been using them a lot this week.  I’m going to continue to use them as we get through the week and into the weekend.  Hopefully they will be helpful for you and your athletes.

If you find that your athletes need more support, don’t forget we have tons of options. We have some one-on-one coaching.  We have our Perform Happy community that we would love to have you be a part of.

Don’t forget to breathe, show some gratitude, enjoy the moment, try and handle stress as best you can.  It’s normal, but you’ll get through it.

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.