Setting Healthy Boundaries for the Young Athlete

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Setting Healthy Boundaries
M I K E M O R R I S

Establishing limits for your child is essential. Here are 3 reasons why.

By TrueSport

It’s important for parents to work on setting healthy boundaries for the young athlete, and encourage their child to take a proactive stance on their overall wellbeing. This is achieved by them setting healthy boundaries for themselves.

Between school, sports, social activities, and life at home, student athletes have a lot of responsibilities that are often associated with high expectations and pressure. Knowing how to draw healthy boundaries for themselves is essential to their mental wellbeing and physical health.

As Sarri Gilman, LMFT and psychotherapist, explains in her TED Talk, “Self-care is a much bigger landscape than eating and exercise. Self-care is how you treat yourself. It’s how you find enjoyment, play, happiness, balance, rest, and companionship.”

Oftentimes student athletes feel pressured to continue adding to their already-stacked schedule due to the unrealistic expectations placed on them by parents, coaches, teachers, or friends. Moreover, many haven’t been taught how to maintain healthy boundaries to protect themselves on a mental, emotional, and physical level.

What Are Healthy Boundaries?

According to the Newport Academy, an American therapy program for adolescents with mental health issues, having healthy boundaries can be defined as guidelines that each of us create for ourselves to better manage our actions and interactions with others.

Setting healthy boundaries for the young athlete allows your child to practice self-care and self-respect, while empowering them to be assertive in their decision making by knowing what they want, need, and are willing to accept when it comes to interacting with others.

Here’s how and why you should be setting healthy boundaries to encourage your young athlete to take a proactive stance on their overall wellbeing by setting healthy boundaries for themselves:

1. Beat Burnout

With nearly 8 million student athletes participating in high school sports in the US today, it’s inevitable that a certain percentage of them will experience burnout at some point. One study suggests that burnout results from the young athlete feeling entrapped by sport, a state characterized by decreasing attraction to the sport combined with a sense of obligation to remain involved.

Protect the wellbeing of your child and beat burnout by encouraging them to set firm boundaries, as the only treatment for burnout is rest. For example, let them know that just because they can attend an extra practice after school, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should.

Help take some of the pressure off your athlete and challenge them to reflect on what is most important to their health, especially when they’re on the brink of exhaustion.

2. Prevent Emotional Fatigue

Trying to find the right balance between their many commitments can lead to significant mental stress on a young person—which can easily push them to experience fatigue on an emotional level.

Gilman recommends that in order to preserve emotional and overall health, you need to “pay attention to your mental health and take your mental health seriously, as your immune system is impacted by your thoughts and feelings, so don’t ignore them. Do everything you can to make your mind a happier, healthier, and more peaceful and comfortable place to be.”

For example, if you notice your young athlete exhibiting signs of stress from their sport, and you know they enjoy other activities outside of that sport, encourage them to pursue another skill or hobby. This will take their mind off the demands of the sport and should allow them to feel more content.

Remember, the first step to helping your child set boundaries around their emotional health is learning what they need to feel calm and at peace with everything going on around them. Another good way for parents to model healthy emotional boundaries is to take ownership of their own feelings as well.

3. Avoid Physical Injury

Without clearly defined boundaries when it comes to sport practice and competition, young athletes are susceptible to overtraining syndrome, a condition of maladapted physiology in the setting of excessive exercise without proper rest.

One of the most telling warning signs of over-training syndrome is when you notice your child’s performance deteriorating—even when it’s clear they are exerting much more effort during their practices and games. This overexertion can result in an overuse injury, which is defined as a microtraumatic damage to bone, muscle, or tendon caused by repetitive stress without adequate time for recovery and reparation.

When it comes to setting boundaries to prevent injury, help your young athlete prioritize their health and identify what works and doesn’t work on an individual, personalized level.

The TrueSport® mission is to change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build the life skills and core values for lasting success, both in sports and in life. Published with permission of SportsEngine.com.

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