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4 Questions to Help Change a Young Athlete’s Negative Thought Process

As a coach for young athletes, whether they're in elementary school or high school, you're going to deal with the emotional rollercoasters that young people experience. A fight with a friend over the weekend can translate to feelings of despair on game day, and stress over a championship game can leave an athlete feeling paralyzed. But as a coach, you can teach your athletes how to examine their feelings and move on from negative moments.

"Coaches care about athletes, which means we tend to give them reassurance when they have a negative thought," says TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. "That works for maybe 30 minutes, but it's ultimately going to backfire because now you have to keep reassuring them. The way to get out of that is to teach an athlete to think flexibly by asking the right questions." According to Chapman, "The whole point of these questions is to get the athlete to look objectively at situations and not rely on emotional experiences. As the coach, you know the answers to the questions that you're asking, but it's going to be much better for the athlete if they work it out for themselves rather than you spoon-feeding them the answer.” Here, Chapman offers some of the best questions to ask when your athlete is having a tough time or a negative moment on or off the field. And remember, these are also questions that you can teach athletes to ask themselves so that they learn how to question their behaviors and solve problems for themselves.

QUESTION: What's the evidence that this thought is true? "This is one of my favorite questions to start with," says Chapman. "If a kid were to say, 'I know we're going to get blown out at the next game,' I would ask, 'Well, what's the evidence that this thought is true?'”

“He might answer something like, 'They beat us by about 20 in the last game.' Now we're starting to think evidence, not emotion."

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