College applications, standardized testing, piles of homework. It’s no wonder high schoolers are stressed out. When you add competitive sports into the mix, this creates even more anxiety.
To help youth athletes learn healthy ways to relieve stress, parents and coaches are turning to mindfulness-based interventions, including yoga. These stress-busting methods can also help reduce injuries, enhance positive thinking, promote mental awareness and improve focus.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
So, what exactly is mindfulness? It’s an umbrella term to describe techniques, like yoga and meditation, that help people become aware of how they feel in the present moment. When practicing meditation, breath work and yoga, for example, you can achieve a deep sense of inner peace. When it comes to student athletes in particular, mindfulness is key as it can also be beneficial for enhanced recovery and performance - both in sports and school, according to experts and supported by the systematic review entitled “Effects of Mindfulness-based Interventions in High School and College Athletes for Reducing Stress and Injury, and Improving Quality of Life,” published in the June 2016 Journal of Sport Rehabilitation.
Better yet, “higher perceived performance led to higher satisfaction and improved motivation, which also had a positive influence on burnout prevention,” according to the article “How Mindfulness Training May Mediate Stress, Performance and Burnout,” published in the July 2015 issue of The Sport Journal.
“Athletes are under such immense pressure and at the high school level, they get the physical coaching but not the mental part that is achieved through mindfulness,” says Holly Meyers, a mindfulness coach and teacher in Washington D.C.
“These athletes are like gladiators. They go out onto the field and everyone is screaming. There is so much distraction,” says Meyers, who has worked with professional and student athletes for 16 years.
Through Meyer’s classes, workshops and one-on-one sessions, she uses breathing techniques, yoga movement and meditation skills to help young athletes cultivate awareness. Sports players can see positive results in just one class, she says. For example, during a class with the University of Maryland football team in 2010, Meyers worked with the group on breathing and relaxation skills to help them stay focused. She watched a room full of gladiators transform into peaceful warriors. A highlight of that experience: Two of the football players came up to her after class and asked if she could demonstrate the breathing method again as it helped alleviate their anxiety.
“It was amazing,” she says.
Where to Find Mindfulness Programs for Young Athletes
Because most student athletes experience school and sports pressure, mindfulness programs can benefit almost all involved in youth sports. But, if your child is having trouble sleeping, experiencing difficulties at school or dealing with mental health issues, mindfulness and yoga may be particularly helpful, according to a 2012 article in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics entitled “Yoga Shows Psychological Benefits for High School Students.”
If you’re lucky, your school or sports program may offer classes or workshops in mindfulness. If not, you can still find programs by calling your local yoga studio or contacting Pretzel Kids yoga.
Pretzel Kids can bring mindfulness programs to your school or athletic program, as well as conduct workshops for teachers and coaches. Another idea: Go with your teen to a local meditation class. You can also benefit from learning how to be more mindful - and then practice these skills with your child, says Meyers.
One final pro tip for stressed-out parents with anxiety-ridden kids and teens (don't we all have some level of stress?): Consider taking our online Pretzel Kids teacher training course. With this new set of yoga and mindfulness tools, you can help your own kids and teens, or start a business running Pretzel Kids classes in your community.