Jeff Farris
Fear is a natural instinct that once helped protect humans from being eaten. Though being eaten is no longer a daily problem, fear is still a large part of life. Fear is a combination of thoughts, emotions and physical responses that work together to help alert someone to danger and prepare the body to react. When a person feels fear, additional adrenaline and other chemicals are produced which increase strength and decrease reaction times. At normal levels, fear can be helpful. At excessive levels, the chemicals and emotions triggered by fear can easily cloud judgements, create a feeling of nausea and sickness and actually decrease performance. In athletics, fear is common when players are trying something new, playing in a big game or attending team tryouts. To cope with fear, players can try these techniques:
  • Admit That You Are Afraid - Recognizing that fear is a factor is the first step in correcting it.
  • Learn and Prepare - Nothing minimizes fear more than being over prepared. The higher the confidence level players have in their ability, the less likely they are to become afraid of the outcome.
  • Focus on Positive Images - There are many images that players can visualize when motivating themselves. If the images are positive then the outcomes are more likely to be positive. Michael Jordan often visualized making free throws in his back yard when making high-pressure free throws in games.
  • Listen to Experience - When going into a new situation, seek advice from people who have been there before. Older siblings or players can help less-experienced players better understand the situation.
  • Stay Busy - Withdrawing into oneself provides even more time for negative thoughts. Staying busy with friends and family is an easy way to relax and minimize the opportunity for fear.
  • Talk it Over With Parents - Fear is normal and players' parents have had many opportunities to experience fear in their own lives. Parents have the unique advantage of helping players see a broader perspective.
Fear can help players. The fear of being scored against can make the defense try harder to block a shot. The fear of losing can make the offense work harder to score. However, when players keep dwelling on these fears before or after the immediate event, they need to quickly work to regain control of their emotions and stay focused on playing well rather than playing afraid.
Jeff Farris
Coaches can have a big impact on the way players deal with the fears that can arise from sporting competitions. Every competition has an outcome. But, focusing on an outcome before the competition is over means that players are not focused on the immediate challenges of game play. Coaches can improve team performance and increase the chances of a win by keeping their players focused. However, there are five easy ways to help players lose this focus and start focusing on the fear of failure. These include:
  • Make a Game's Outcome Do or Die - Every game is going to have a winner and a loser. If players are thinking about the end of the game, they are not thinking about playing the game.
  • Sharply Punish Failures - When players know that their mistakes will bring about a harsh penalty, their performances will often be motivated by images of failure rather than by images of success. Unfortunately, outcomes often follow these images.
  • Don't Acknowledge Player Concerns - Players know when they are playing in a big game. If coaches don't help shape the way that players think about these games, then players will shape their own thoughts and often with an excessive fear of failure.
  • Overemphasize Opponents - All teams are capable of being beaten. But, some are much more difficult than others. Elevating the stature of opponents can give players additional fears of embarrassment and humiliation beyond the normal fear of defeat.
  • Give Players a Larger Purpose - When audiences for games include more than just family members, it is easy to remind players that they are playing for their school, their organization or for some more significant purpose than the game itself. This takes a player's attention outside the boundaries of the game and into the stands.
Though most coaches have often played in big games, it is easy to forget that most youth players have not. When coaches help keep players focused on the game, they are giving them the best chances of success and the best tools for minimizing fear.
Jeff Farris
Whether parents put pressure on their kids or not, kids will put pressure on themselves. This pressure can lead to fears that if not handled properly will lead to poor performances and potentially a greater fear of failure. Helping young players understand and deal with fear and anxiety assists kids not only in sports but also in all areas of life. Failure and fear do not have to go together. Failure is result of trying something and not succeeding. Fear comes from dreading the consequences of failure. Helping kids separate these concepts assists kids in keeping fear in perspective. Some ways that parents can help kids deal with fear include:
  • Guarantee Love - Make sure that kids know that parental pride comes from the attempt and not from the outcome. If kids know they will have parental support regardless of the outcome, they are more likely to take chances and risk failure.
  • Explain that Failure is a Result of Trying - When kids do not try, they do not fail. If parents are going to encourage their children to try new things, they are also encouraging them to fail. Not all new things will result in first time success.
  • Remind that Failure and Success are not Permanent - Failing or being successful today do not guarantee like outcomes in the future. In fact, many future successes start with today's failures.
Kids are often fearful because they lack experience and dread the unknown of failure. When parents help their kids think through these unknowns, they are equipping them with the understanding to overcome this lack of experience.
Jeff Farris

Habit - A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.-- The American Heritage® Dictionary 

Each activity in sports has a correct way to perform and a way that only gets by. Whether throwing a ball, shooting a basket or passing a puck, there are techniques that provide better accuracy, distance and success. Excelling and playing at advanced levels requires the mastery of these better techniques.Replacing old techniques with new ones is not easy. The ability of the human body to walk and move without much thought also makes it difficult to change techniques. 

Many experts estimate that it takes approximately 21 days to break old habits and create new ones. For players, this means that learning new skills may require weeks of consistent thought and effort until these new skills are mastered. Like many things in life, consistency and patience are the keys to success.

Jeff Farris
Coaches are an important influence in a kid's life. Their words always carry more significance to the child hearing them than the to the coach who is saying them. As such, it is easy for coaches to phrase things in ways that are heard as much harsher than was intended. When helping kids develop new skills or when dealing with team selections, coaches should be careful to focus player discussions on tangible behaviors and away from things that have broader personal or family meaning. For example: Personally Focused and Confusing
  • What's wrong with you today?
  • We don't want you on our team.
  • Why can't you play as well as Tommy?
  • How long have you been playing this sport?
  • We are looking for better kids.
  • Why can't you play more like your brother?
  • Did your dad teach you that?
  • Are you this way in school too?
  • Would your mom be proud of this behavior?
  • Don't let this team down.
  • Why can't you be better?
Performance Focused and Better
  • Your effort is not up to your usual level.
  • There were other players who in our judgment made better effort.
  • You will need to move more quickly if you are to have an impact during the play.
  • Let me show you where you need to be when these events happen.
  • We need players with more advanced skills.
  • If you are not feeling well, take a break and try again in a few minutes.
  • We are counting on a good performance from you today.
When coaches are careful to keep discussions focused on behaviors, they are also keeping their players focused on things they can change. When conversations become more personal, it makes it harder for players to equate a simple change of behavior with improved performance. Giving players a clear set of expectations and measurements is the easiest way to get the most from a team.
Jeff Farris
The first few weeks that kids spend playing a new sport often determines how long they will continue. If the first few weeks are fun, then kids will stay with it. If not, kids will quit and find other ways to spend their time. Parents can help get their kids off to a good start by following these simple tips:
  • Get Instruction in Advance - Part of the fun that kids derive from sports comes from the confidence they gain by performing at a level comparable or above that of their friends. A few private lessons before the first practice from a knowledgeable friend or instructor can help kids start with confidence. While parents can sometimes fill this role, kids often listen better to another adult. If possible, parents should get instruction for their child from someone else and then be ready to help out afterwards with additional practice.
  • Attend the First Practices and Games - Parents can show their support for new activities by taking time to attend the first team events. These events provide parents a good chance to watch their kids learning new skills and interacting with friends. If kids don't know many of the other kids and are shy, parents should consider helping their kids get acquainted with the other players.
  • Be Generous with Praise and Encouragement - It is unlikely that the first time kids participate in a new sport that they will excel. Parents may have to be creative in their compliments, but parental praise is an important part of process. Praising a child's effort, listening, participation and outgoing actions are just as valid as praising a child's skill.
  • Don't Give Criticism or Correction - It will be tempting for parents to point out areas of improvement for their child. Especially during the first few weeks, this should be avoided to the extreme. Parents should let the coach work with their child to improve skills. There is plenty of time to fix skill problems if kids enjoy playing.
  • Provide Extra Time Before and After Practices - One of the biggest benefits for kids playing sports is the opportunity to spend more time with friends. Arriving immediately before and leaving right after a practice or game don't give kids time to enjoy this benefit. Parents should be prepared to arrive early and then stay late in order to give their kids the chance for more socialization.
Getting kids started on the right foot in sports is not difficult but may require some patience. At any age, there is always plenty of time for kids to build skills. But, there may not always be plenty of time to build enjoyment. The right parental actions during the critical first few weeks of a new sport can give kids and parents years of great memories.