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Growing a Happy, Healthy, High-Performing Athlete in this Age of Anxiety

November 29, 2021

I’m not a psychologist. I’m a soccer coach with a Master’s in Social Work. I am concerned. We at Play Higher are seeing what seems to be an anxiety epidemic in our youth.

I want to share information on this subject to:

  1. raise awareness,
  2. help kids and parents know that they are not alone, and
  3. explore solutions together.

Anxiety tends to play out differently in boys and girls. Boys lean towards bragging and self-promotion to cover their inner fear of ”not being good enough.” Girls, instead, display anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm and eating disorders to cover their fear of inadequacy. Of course these gender specifics are not exclusive. But the bottom line of feeling insufficient in our hyper-competitive, achievement-oriented culture is the same. Of the over 200 kids at Play Higher, we sadly know many youths displaying varying stages of the above symptoms.

We at Play Higher want to help grow happy, healthy, high-performing athletes and people.

We find that developing a high-level soccer player is not very complicated. If we connect with a motivated young soccer player and offer them great playing and training environments, we have success. However, the happy and healthy part has become more complicated.

It’s about us adults teaching young people how to think stress correctly. Mental strength training. It’s also about learning to love oneself.

Here’s what we coaches are seeing:
Kids seem to feel “not good enough.” (Why? We will explore this in a moment.) But first of all, they often don’t know how to deal with these negative feelings. Kids need help with expressing their true feelings to someone they trust – a friend, sibling, parent or another caring person.

Kids also need help with how to NOT do the things that make them feel “not good enough.”

Currently, it seems like the two contributing factors to increasing low self-esteem are:

  1. social media which leads to comparing, and
  2. measuring self by what is achieved, not by innate value.

We humans are inclined to addictions. We want to feel good. And when we don’t feel good, we do something to try to fix the bad feeling.

Some people drink alcohol to feel better. Others try drugs. Some might turn to technology to distract oneself from real feelings. Another strategy is self harm. Cutting yourself gives a high. Food deprivation can be tried in order to feel control. And, more common in men would be to turn to pornography and sex, though again, this is not exclusive.

A few people turn to God and/or to a trusted person to talk about their pain, sadness, feelings of inadequacy and/or lack of meaning in life. This is the healthy way. It’s very beneficial to seek out a support system: a therapist, a spiritual guide, a sports psychologist, a community of faith or a support group to grapple with perceived low self-worth. I’ve seen both therapy and turning to one’s faith really help parents and kids through these problems!

What we desire is that people know this is happening. I am hearing about kid’s suffering to the point of self- harm over and over again, unfortunately. We also hope that we (kids and loving adults) start working for change for our children.

We at Play Higher hope to influence change by:

  1. Articles such as this.
  2. Offering sport psychology workshops bi- annually with Jim Madrid. Jim is the CEO/Founder of Advance Sport Psycholgy, Inc. He is a highly sought after High Performance speaker and an expert in Human Performance and Leadership. Our first event with him is on Monday, December 13 from 6-8 PM at Saddleback Church, San Juan Capistrano. All are invited. Please RSVP by emailing justice@playhigherfc.com.
  3. Weekly small support Life Groups for athletes with high-anxiety and feelings of low self-worth.
  4. Life-Coaches offering one on one adult mentoring to kids whose family desires this.

We want to support families and parents on this journey of raising happy, healthy, high-performing young athletes. We want to be instruments of change to help kids think about life and competition and success in healthy ways. As coaches, we take the whole person to heart. If you or your child is having problems in these areas, please reach out to us or come on December 13.


Coach Betsy Duerksen