Athletics Magazine

Embrace the Fear Or Quit?

By Brisdon @shutuprun

Last night we went to the open house at Sam’s new high school. It was like PTSD for me. With his schedule in hand, we had to go to each of his classes for ten minutes. I am one who actually liked school, but after going until the 18th grade (what cool grad school kids call it), I’m done.


Just sitting in his biology classroom and talking about dissection and photosynthesis made me want to scream. Don’t even get me started on the references to cosine, sine and tangents in math class. Ugh. Sam already got in trouble in Spanish class for cracking his knuckles. “No tronarse los dedos!” (I had to look that up). We are off to a good start!

I didn’t get in trouble much in school, did you? I remember one time in ninth grade my geometry teacher threw an eraser at my face and I cried. I’m sure I didn’t deserve it. These days if a teacher did that they’d be burned at the stake.

Good luck, Sam. See you at graduation. Hope you don’t get arthritis from all that knuckle cracking (also, never swallow your gum or it will take 49 years to digest).

Speaking of kids and high school, a reader emailed me an  interesting question yesterday.  I thought you guys might want to weigh in.

“My husband and I are really struggling with my son and running high school cross country. He loves the practices but not the meets. He has anxiety and gets down the  week before he has to run a race. He says it hurts too much (he goes all out, and it would not be an option for him to not do his his best in every race). I think because he is our best runner he feels that pressure. He likes to run and everything else about cross country except what it does to him. We have already told him he does not have to do track in the spring. Coming from a Christian perspective I feel God has given him a gift and the anxiety and stress is not from God. We want to do what is right, but it is a tough call.”

Embrace the Fear or Quit?

At first I thought this was similar to a a subject I wrote about a couple of months ago in a posted title, “Should We Push Kids to Run?,” but then I realized it was quite different. That older post referred to kids who wanted to quit sports, but were “forced” into continuing for varying reasons. The above question, in my opinion, is about the mental aspect of pushing hard, and if it is okay to quit when we feel scared and inadequate.

I don’t know what I would do in this mom’s shoes, and I never ran cross country, but here was my stab at a response. Maybe it stinks, but it came from the heart:

“My rule of thumb with my kids is that I encourage them to not make decisions based on fear.  If they hate something, that is another story. So, if your son hated cross country, I would say maybe he should finish out the season and stop. But, it sounds like the issue is ultimately his fear of failure and being uncomfortable.

Yes, he has pressure and anxiety, but that is likely rooted in him feeling he might not do well enough. I think any athlete who has  excelled and given it their all (and who is the best in their school at what they do) probably feels this. Running hard and fast is very demanding. For everybody. That is why coaches work so hard with their runners on the mental aspects of racing. 

It is also very tough to always be the winner because you have to live up to that each and every time. Maybe he needs to give himself permission to lose a race, to take the pressure off. Before quitting, I'd suggest some remedies to get to the heart of the fear and to manage the anxiety. Is his coach aware of what is going on? What is his/her advice?

If none of this works then in my opinion, it is his decision. If he truly loves running, he will come back to it. Yes, he may have a gift of running, but he also has other gifts. Just because we are good at something doesn’t mean we have to do it if it makes us really unhappy. We just need to make sure we stop for the right reasons.”

Can you help this mom out with some of your suggestions?

Did you ever deal with this personally while running cross country or track in high school or college? What did you do?

What is the best way to combat performance anxiety (besides Viagra)?


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