Recreation

Young athletes may need help coping with pandemic shutdowns

Justis column: Find other, safer activities for your children

If your young athlete is feeling anxious about their sports seasons being canceled or delayed, have them try something n
If your young athlete is feeling anxious about their sports seasons being canceled or delayed, have them try something new and easy to social distance, like running. (The Gazette)

The very same day my last column was published, about how to resume youth sports programs safely, my 12-year-old grandson found out his 3-on-3 basketball season was suspended.

He had played just two dates. The stoppage happened because his coach’s 18-year-old daughter had tested positive for COVID-19 with no symptoms, and the family went into quarantine.

His second basketball team sidelined practices after that coach’s son’s high school baseball team was quarantined after one player tested positive. That family also went into quarantine.

After being sidelined from school, friends and sports since mid-March, after the excitement of returning to a small taste of normalcy — bam, disappointment arose again.

I have to say my grandson has handled this global emergency with maturity, but the situation is depressing. I’m depressed. So how do kids manage the blues — and how do parents assist their children in coping with this ongoing phenomenon with no certain end in sight?

A recent blog posted by InCourage noted we can “train ourselves to think differently.” It suggests several strategies athletes can use to help them cope with stress and sadness. It acknowledges that if you care about something and it’s not going how you wanted, it’s OK to be upset.

In addition, it advises:

— Give yourself permission to feel upset or anxious, rather than feeling like you always put on a happy face.

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How? Say out loud to yourself how you are feeling. Try saying the same thing to a friend or family member. They may be feeling the same way.

— How do you break paralyzing negative thought processes?

Start with an accurate appraisal of your current situation, which begins with acknowledging your thoughts about it. Visualize your “worry thoughts” on board a train leaving the station to “Worrytown.”

Write down each thought in order of worry by using the “What if? Then what?” strategy.

After you’ve identified your thoughts and written them down turn the paper over and take five deep breaths. Turn the paper back over. Identify each step in the process, what you can do to reduce the chance of that step happening, and how you would cope if that step actually happened. This will help you realize you are on the “train,” then slowly grab the controls.

The article also suggests putting yourself in challenging situations and role play coping strategies. Finally, it notes when you are facing anxiety:

— Get out, move and breathe.

— Use the image of a past challenge you overcame to remind your brain that things that seem insurmountable can be achieved. Take five minutes each morning to close your eyes and “play back the tape” of that challenge, using all five senses to make it as realistic as possible.

— Define mini- or short-term goals or milestones. Getting through the day, completing an exercise routine, trying a new thing you’ve always wanted to do.

Parents can help their child accomplish all of the above by showing how much they care. Smile, make their favorite meal. Remain calm, allow time to pass, resist rushing in to save the day and show empathy.

Allow children to grieve and emotionally heal. InCourage notes kids “have the right and need to deal with their feelings in order to learn how to work through their anger, frustration, disappointment and sense of loss.” Once you have given them their time, it’s then OK to ask them what they need.

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And, as my daughter continues to tell me, let the other person take the lead before you start offering opinions. They may just want to vent.

Encouraging your child to explore other activities, like a sport conducive to social distancing (tennis, golf, running, cycling) or something the family can do together. Anything to get their minds off what they have lost.

Despite parents’ best efforts to ease the pain, sometimes a child may need professional help to get through the turmoil. If you notice changes in appetite or eating habits, problems sleeping, irritability, sadness or depression, lack of motivation or substance abuse, you might call on your family physician.

Good luck. Stay safe.

Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at njustis@cfu.net

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