Pressure to perform. 

In some instances, it drives us to exceed our typical abilities and achieve things we never thought possible.

At other times, it can feel like a heavy anchor or weight, making activities feel impossible.

In youth sports, all too often, success is measured singularly as wins/losses or records, without considering the cost to a child’s mental health. 

We know that in order to be the best athlete, you also need to be mentally sharp. There are ways we can teach young athletes to manage the pressure so that they can focus on improving their sports skills.

Here are five tips for parents and coaches to help kids manage the pressure to perform:

  1. Talk about it. Build the habit of checking-in with your young athlete about their thoughts and feelings. This will give you insight into how they are processing their experience and dealing with pressure. Download our conversation starters below to begin talking about how they’re feeling.
  2. Teach athletes how to manage their emotions. It's no secret the “mental game” is part of success in any competition. Professional athletes focus on ways to manage stress and pressure, overcome obstacles, and deliver their best performance when it matters. We can help athletes focus on these same skills starting early in life. Spend time teaching athletes how to manage all the different emotions that may come up when playing a sport, from winning a big match to performing poorly. See our guide to emotional empowerment for suggestions at different ages. This will help them far beyond the field of competition and into adulthood.
  3. Make room for other things. Encourage athletes to have other hobbies and activities outside of sports. This allows them to take natural mental breaks to engage in other enjoyable activities and promotes that other parts of their life contribute to their self-worth. Encourage self-care activities that allow them to reset and destress daily.
  4. Words matter. Using phrases like, “Don't quit,” sends the message that if you don't succeed, you must have a character flaw or not be trying hard enough. Instead, highlight trying your best.

Don’t Say

Instead Say

“Your team is depending on you.”

“Do your best out there.”

“Win or go home.”

“Give it everything you’ve got.”

“You just have to want it more.”

“We believe in you.”


  1. Find reasons to praise effort or specific skills, especially after a difficult loss. Create a team spirit of congratulating each other or congratulating your child no matter the outcome. Make it a point to list something about how each player on the team improved in that practice or match. This is easy to do after a win, but more difficult (and important) after a loss or poor performance.


Starting conversations and breaking stigmas are at the heart of The On Our Sleeves Movement For Children’s Mental Health. We applaud the athletes who are starting these conversations and spreading the message that mental health – is health.

Talking About Pressure Conversation Starters


Pressure Convo Starters


A little bit of pressure can be helpful because it motivates us to grow and work hard. However, when pressure becomes too much, we have to take a step back and regroup. That’s why it’s important to have conversations about it. Fill out the form below to download our conversation starters around pressure.