As many of you know my son suffers from some pretty severe anxiety. He was diagnosed in grade two and his Dad and I have worked hard with him to help him cope and manage situations where he feels nervous or anxious. He doesn’t like breathing exercises, so we’ve had to rely on numerous other tools available. But, I think anxiety will be an ever-changing and growing beast we will need to control in continuously new ways as he grows.
But, sometimes all the tools in the world don’t work and I see his face change, I see his chest begin to rise and fall faster and I see “the look” on his sweet face. In that moment, I know there’s nothing much I can do but let him know “I’m here” and he’s not alone. I hope it’s enough.
But this isn’t about the tools we use, this post is about the power of sport and coaching on kids with anxiety (or even on kids without anxiety).
What I’ve realized this year with my child in both hockey and baseball, is that in sport, I’m not alone in my battle against my son’s anxiety. In sport, I have coaches and this past year I have been honoured and blessed with incredible coaches who understand my child. Or, even if they don’t understand…they try, they’re compassionate and they’re everything I could ever ask them to be for my son.
A little background:
My son decided to play baseball this year. He’s 9 and this is his first year playing. So, I knew going into this we were looking at some anxiety episodes, 100%. I wasn’t wrong. His first introduction to his team had him sobbing, hyperventilating and unable to speak to his team. And that was just picture day. Luckily, one of our coaches who knew him came over, put a hand on his little shoulders and just talked to him. Although he had a minor panic attack that night, it would have gotten to be a full-blown attack without that time with one of his coaches. Win #1.
But recently, the power coaches have on our children became even more apparent. His baseball coaches “saved” baseball for my child. 100%. My child will play again because of his coaches this year.
How a Good Coach Can Save the Day:
My son had an awful game last week. Awful. He got hit by a pitch…twice. He was then playing left field when a pop fly headed in his direction, another kid called it so he backed off. The kid missed the catch. No big deal. But, the next time I see my big guy go up to bat, his face has changed. It’s his “anxiety face”. I immediately think “Oh f**k”. Something happened. He strikes out. Anxiety face is now deeper.
I go talk to him. He says it’s nothing. So, what can you do? I say “O, I’m here if you need me.”. Then he tells me a kid said something to him on the bench about how he messed up. Many kids can shrug that stuff off, but for a kid with anxiety, words cut deeper and he owns them…for days. But, I get him back onto the field.
It drops beside him. He pulls his baseball hat far down on his face, puts his hands on his knees and I see his little shoulders start to shake.
Let’s go, O. You got this.
Next time they’re out in the field. O is back in left field.
It drops beside him.
He’s fought this attack for a while now. But that…was his breaking point. But, kudos to my kiddo. Although he was crying, although he had anxiety all over his face…he managed. He finished the game and it wasn’t until we were halfway to the car after the game that he really let loose.
Sometimes his body just takes over. He dropped his glove and bag and just stood there with tears running down his face. I managed to get him to the car where he finally released the energy he needed to release. He cried, and cried, and cried. He couldn’t speak. It’s the silence that really breaks a Mama’s heart.
So, I start talking. “It was just a bad game”. “O, man…that was a suuuuuper shitty game”. “Terrible”. “We have to learn that you’re going to have both good games and bad games”. “We have to learn from this”. Blah, blah, blah.
All while the tears still stream.
“I’m done with baseball”. “I won’t go back”.
Those were the words he finally managed to get out after a few hours before I tucked him into bed.
“That’s not how we do things, O, but for tonight…okay”.
But here, my lovelies, is where the power of coaching comes in. The beautiful, amazing, brilliance of incredible coaches. The IMPORTANCE of coaches….who VOLUNTEER to HELP YOUR KIDS.
The next morning I see an email from O’s coach with my son’s name in the subject line. Now, I have to say, even I was anxious opening the email because I was hoping it wasn’t a “suck it up” email.
As I started to read the words the coach wrote my own tears began to fall. The email was written to my son and it was sentence after sentence and paragraph after paragraph talking about improvement, growth and being the kind of kid that all coaches want on a team. It was about acknowledging a bad game and addressing the fact that that’s sport. It was saying “I’d draft you to my team again and again because of the kind, hard-working and coachable kid you are”.
As I read the email to O, I could barely get through the message without tears again (but er…I’m emotional and kinda cry a lot when something impacts me). When I looked up after I finished reading his coach’s words I saw the best reaction ever. My son was beaming. BEAMING. He was proud.
(This is how his coach always talks to his players and how
I imagine he’d be talking to O as I read this email to my son.)
His coach had just saved baseball for him.
His coach. A volunteer. He took time out of his own life, from his own family to help my child. He wrote words that my son will take with him his whole life. Of this, I am sure. He said things that could only come from a coach because the same words from his Mama wouldn’t have the power.
After your child has a really bad game, followed by some pretty serious anxiety, taking him to the next game is a must. It’s not easy, but it’s a MUST. But, it wasn’t hard this time. He had confidence on his side because his coaches believed in him.
O has three coaches in baseball and each one has given him a gift that has led him to believe in himself again. They make him laugh, they coach him and give him jobs…all very effective ways of dealing with kids with lack of confidence and anxiety.
After that dreaded bad game, the coaches knew how to build him back up. But, not only did they know, they followed through and went the extra mile. The effort, time and words the coaches have taken with him to build him back up have been wonderful. It’s the little things: kind words, high fives, kneeling down and talking to him, acknowledging his strengths and also reinforcing the fact that sport is sport and you’re going to have good and bad days.
His coaches continue to teach him. They continue to push him. They continue to respect his needs and who he is. And as his Mama, the gift of incredible coaches to my child will be one of my most treasured gifts that he will receive.
Coaches – through the grief and bitching I’m sure you get from some parents, through the time it takes to plan practices and get to every practice and game, through the demands we, as parents, put on you…please know there are people out there who are beyond grateful for all you do.
You changed my son. You gave him confidence in a way that I couldn’t. You reached out and made him a better little man. You taught him. Honoured him. Respected him.
I cannot ever, ever, repay you.
If you ever doubt the power of your coaching, please know that you saved sport for my child. You saved baseball and he was so excited to go play his next game where he scored the winning run. And THAT…is everything to a Mama who works hard to build up her child while, at the same time, much of the world works to pull him down.
It’s comforting to know there are coaches out there on the same mission of raising incredible sportsmen. He may never play in the big leagues, but I absolutely know baseball will be a part of his life in a positive light…forever.
Mad respect and gratitude to all coaches out there. From all the Mamas in all the land…thank you.
Oh…FYI…congrats to Triangle Baseball for your incredible coaches. What an amazing organization, I am proud to be a part of it.