TrueSport Resources

 Why Do Some Athletes Struggle with Body Image?
(10/21/2020)
 
 
   

Why Do Some Athletes Struggle with Body Image?


Tips on how to help with body image


Body image issues in athletes can come from a wide variety of sources: certain sports value specific weights and body types more than others, athletes will deal with puberty in different ways, and some student athletes struggle with control in other areas of their lives, which can lead to body image issues and unhealthy behaviors around food and exercise.

There isn’t one specific type of young athlete who’s at risk. Anyone can struggle with body image issues, and it’s important for parents and coaches to understand the different ways that those issues can be triggered. Here, Melissa Streno, a clinical psychologist who specializes in athletic performance and its intersection with disordered eating and body image issues, explains what might make certain types of athletes more prone to dealing with destructive body image issues. She also offers tips on how you can help.

Girls have higher risk

"Historically, in terms of gender, I think we would we have seen higher numbers of females with the experience of disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image concerns and thoughts,” says Streno. For some perspective, roughly 80 percent of women in the U.S. reportedly are unhappy with the way they look, and 70 percent of ‘normal weight’ women report that they want to be thinner. Even between the ages of three and six years old, half of girls worry about ‘being fat.’

How to help: Establish an open-door, judgement-free policy as soon as possible with your team or child so they know you’re available to discuss problems. For coaches, pay close attention to behaviors around eating and watch for signs of bullying. You can also consider holding regular team-wide check-ins where you discuss issues like body image, either as a group or with the help of an expert like Streno.

But boys are not immune

“People hear eating disorder and they automatically assume that it’s a female issue,” says Streno. "But there are issues like muscle dysmorphia, which is when someone is trying to achieve a specific body type or a certain amount of muscle to look a particular way. We see a lot of that with males. Now we're seeing a lot more men who need treatment and seek out support."

How to help: Role model open communication habits around body image. “Historically, there has been such a bias and stigma around seeking help and that males need to be strong,” explains Streno. “There was this idea that they can fix themselves on their own, but it’s important to ensure that young men are also seeking help when they’re struggling.”

Aesthetic and weight-class sports

“In certain sports, there is lot of pressure to look a particular way. We know that all sports can predispose an athlete to developing disordered eating, but there are absolutely sports that are more focused on the aesthetics,” says Streno. These include sports like gymnastics or figure skating that have subjective scoring, as well as sports with certain weight classes, such as wrestling or boxing. It can also include team sports, such as football or cross country running, where there are certain body types associated with specific positions or the ability to be successful.

How to help: Ensure that athletes have access to solid nutritional information that addresses how they can meet their sport goals in a healthy way. Streno also suggests that coaches reduce body image concerns by choosing uniforms that are more comfortable and offering a wider range of options.

Athletes going through puberty

As hormones begin to shift and their bodies begin to change, athletes are more prone to experience body image issues, and this can start as young as eight years old. “Puberty hits at different rates for males and females, and at different times,” says Streno. “It's so confusing for somebody to have their body changing outside the sport context, especially when they believe they are supposed to be maintaining a particular body image for their sport.”

How to help: Explain what to expect and what your athletes are going through. Most young people are confused by puberty and you can help by providing information about why and how their bodies are changing — and how they’ll be able to improve athletically because of it. For parents, be aware of how you talk about food and nutrition, especially during this time. Try not to comment on a child’s weight, shape, or size – and don’t compare them to anyone else. Empower kids by role modeling and encouraging self-talk that is kind and respectful.

Athletes with perfectionist tendencies

Unfortunately, the traits that can make an athlete great can also contribute negatively to their body image and lead to disordered eating. “When you think about perfectionism and orderliness and compulsivity, that predisposes some of these athletes to be rigid about the way they look in their uniforms, what they eat, and how much they work out in order to influence their body image," says Streno.

How to help: Watch your language. “As a coach or parent, be aware of what you're saying about your body and how you're treating your body. Kids are sponges and absorb everything that you say,” explains Streno. She urges parents and coaches to avoid talking about anything around body image, physical appearance, physique, food control, and discipline around eating. Seek out positive role models for your athletes, whether it’s professional athletes who are focused on spreading messages around body positivity, experts in sports nutrition, or even team alumni who are doing well in their careers now.

Athletes struggling in other areas

Unfortunately, many young athletes struggle with a lack of control in most areas of their lives, and their bodies can become the one ‘controllable’ component. “We see athletes start to struggle with this a lot when things are changing or they’re having issues in other areas of their life,” says Streno. “They use their bodies to maintain some form of control, whether it’s restricting eating, over-exercising, or beginning the binge-purge cycle. They want to feel like they have some control when everything else in their life is changing, sports-related or not."

How to help: Start by offering emotional support, not advice, and seek help for your athlete from an expert. Lastly, don’t normalize body image issues as ‘part of sport,’ warns Streno. Negative body image can lead to increased risk for depression, anxiety, and even suicidal tendencies. Often, there are underlying issues, and to promote the idea that it’s part of the game can be damaging to the athlete and keep them from getting help in another area of life where it’s gravely needed.

Takeaway

While awareness of body composition and body image is inevitable, there are some risk factors that contribute to the likelihood of negative body image issues. That’s why it’s important for parents and coaches to employ healthy communication and behaviors around body image.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Comparison v. Competition
(10/7/2020)
 
   

Comparison v. Competition


How to Develop Positive Body Image on Teams


For young athletes, maintaining a positive body image is difficult at the best of times, but when a competitive team atmosphere is added into the mix, that positivity can become even harder.

No matter how much you talk about the importance of pulling together as a team, your athletes are going to naturally compete with each other, as well as with rival teams, explains Melissa Streno, a clinical psychologist who specializes in athletic performance and its intersection with disordered eating and body image issues. This isn’t unhealthy, but it can go too far. “Teammates start mimicking each other’s behavior,” says Streno. “So, once you notice a problem with one athlete, know that there’s likely going to be a trickle-down effect.”

As a coach, you may not notice the subtle ways your team is creating an unhealthy environment when it comes to body image, eating patterns, and other habits. Below, Streno explains some of the warning signs to watch for as your athletes try to find success in competitive sports and how you can help foster a body positive image culture on your team.

Warning Signs
Changes in performance: “First, I would keep an eye out for a big shift in performance, where physically or psychologically, something seems off,” says Streno. “Physically, I think one of the easiest things to look for is a change in weight or body shape, or a major change in fitness.” Keep in mind that not all physical consequences of disordered eating or eating disorders are visible to the eye.

“Psychologically, we might notice a difference in their mood, more conflicts with teammates and coaches, and more isolative tendencies or less desire to be part of the team as they try to hide concerning behaviors.”

Behavior around meals: Streno recommends watching out for kids avoiding meals or changing their behaviors around mealtime. Are some kids making constant excuses to skip meals?

Overtraining: Body image isn’t just about changes in caloric consumption, Streno warns. “Pay attention for when athletes start to train beyond the prescribed amount or try to push through injury.”

Need for validation: When an athlete who hasn’t previously come to you for constant feedback or praise is reaching out for validation, that can be a warning sign, say Streno. “Coaches might see an athlete shifting how much they communicate and starting to ask, ‘Am I doing this right? Am I doing enough?’ when they haven’t done so in the past.”

Need for control: Often, disordered eating and overtraining are linked to an athlete’s need for control. Between parents, school, and sports, their sphere of control is limited, and their body is one of the few things that they can ‘control.’ “Very few athletes dealing with body image issues are merely concerned about performance,” says Streno. “It’s often about a need to control things.”

Bullying others: “Food shaming, or critiquing what other people are doing, is common,” says Streno. “And oftentimes, it's to make the person who's doing the critiquing feel better when they’re dealing with a lot of self-consciousness or low self-esteem.” Bullying obviously cannot be tolerated on a team, but remember that the food-shaming student is likely suffering and needs help.

Fixation on food trends: “If you constantly hear athletes comparing what they’re eating, talking about new diets, or gossiping about body image and comparing body types, that’s a sign of a team-wide problem,” says Streno. “Try to find the source of these messages." Research has shown that information provided by peers is more important to young athletes than what they see in the media or read about.

How to Help Foster Positive Body Image
Your words matter: “Athletes form an idea around even small comments,” says Streno. It may be unintentional, but your words can have dire consequences, so be extremely careful how you speak about eating habits, body type or weight, or any kind of physique-based advice.

Focus on strength: Rather than focusing on a specific type of physique, focus on strength. “Ask athletes what makes them feel strong, how can they maintain that level of strength, and what gives them energy,” Streno says. Create a team ethos that focuses on body positivity and what your athletes can do, rather than on flaws or places to improve. In addition to sharing that message yourself, seek out good role models in the community. Research has shown that younger girls are heavily influenced by older peers when it comes to body image.

Bring in an expert: If you notice that some of your team members are struggling with body image issues or implementing unhealthy eating habits, you can bring in a sport psychologist or another specialist to address the team, says Streno. This whole-team approach avoids singling out specific individuals, which can make the athletes who are struggling feel less self-conscious. But of course, if you notice an athlete is having extreme food and/or body-related issues, it’s important to get that athlete help immediately, rather than waiting.

Find positive outside influences: "I'm always encouraging athletes to filter out their social media, including the people that they follow,” says Streno. Coaches can help steer athletes to positive body image messages and accounts that promote a healthy approach to sport performance.

Takeaway
Body image is often influenced by surrounding people and cultures, which means that a competitive team environment can make it hard to maintain a positive body image. By watching out for these warning signs and fostering positive habits, coaches can help develop positive body image on their teams.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Helping Your Athlete Manage Performance and Social Anxiety
(9/23/2020)
 
   

5 Strategies to Help Your Athlete Manage Performance and Social Anxiety


Suggestions to help athletes control their sport anxiety


Every athlete will likely feel some kind of nerves during practices or in competition. Some athletes thrive under pressure and embrace the nerves, while others will crumple if not bolstered by a supportive coach and team.

Nerves aren’t inherently bad, and they can actually indicate interest in sport, but it’s important for athletes to learn how to manage anxiety for long-term mental wellness, especially since the anxiety created by sport is often similar to the social anxiety experienced outside of sport.

To help athletes control their sport anxiety, TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders , has some suggestions.

Sports should reduce anxiety, not cause it

Emphasizing the ‘fun’ aspect of sport is important at all ages, especially in the adolescent years. It’s easy to get caught up in the points spread or results as a coach, but that’s not the main reason sports matter for youth. Research has shown that playing sports can have positive impacts on mental health and anxiety in young people, and ultimately, it’s important to understand that for many young athletes, this will be the greatest benefit that sport will provide them. With that in mind, coaches and parents’ language and behavior should reflect that the goal of playing sport is the social and physical benefits, not the scholarships or tournament wins. For example, make your first question after a game, “What was your favorite part of the game?” rather than “What did you do wrong today?”

Teach mental strategies early and often

Coaches are often so bogged down by mandatory practices, busy competition schedules, and other demands on their time that they completely skip over the importance of teaching mental strategies to athletes. But visualization and other mental techniques have been shown to improve performance.

Start early in the season with a discussion of mental techniques and make practical recommendations, Chapman says. Walk athletes through a visualization exercise that they can do before games, have everyone download a free guided-meditation app, and have a discussion of what success looks like for this team, this year.

Avoid failure avoidance

When athletes are nervous or anxious, they often fall into a failure avoidance mentality, meaning that they begin to avoid taking risks that could end in failure. The problem with that, Chapman explains, is that while an athlete is avoiding failure, they are not going to be trying to win or to improve, they are just going to be trying to "not mess up.”

To avoid this mentality, explain early in the season that the goal for the team isn’t to win every game, or sink every shot, but to actually try new techniques, take risks, and make mistakes. Praise attempts, including the ones that fail, to create a culture where students can feel safe pushing their limits in sport.

Remembers, coaches can continue offering advice for improvement while fostering a positive outlook on failure. “Rather than saying something like, ‘Stop turning the ball over,’ a coach could try to say, ‘Focus on having better ball control,’” says Chapman. Flip your script to focus on positives rather than calling out errors.

“Punishment is meant to decrease behavior, whereas reinforcement is meant to increase behavior,” he adds. "And reinforcement is much more powerful than punishment. Therefore, the best way to get an athlete to do the right thing is to say something reinforcing."

Anxiety isn't always about winning and losing

According to Chapman, “The team dynamic piece is important and can cause a lot of anxiety as well. Social anxiety, fear of teammates making fun of you if you miss a shot, teammates won’t like you if you don’t act a certain way—that’s another huge contributor to anxiety in athletes. It always comes back to a fear of a negative evaluation.”

But this type of anxiety can be harder to recognize because, as the coach, you’re not in the same culture as the athletes. You aren’t privy to their texts and other communications, but you can help to create a team culture that doesn’t allow for bullying or the idea that winning is everything.

Listen to your athlete

There comes a point where the anxiety produced by a sport outweighs the benefits of playing. Chapman explains that if an athlete isn’t deriving any pleasure from playing, it may be time to consider a new sport rather than pushing through. “If an athlete is anxious before a game but always thrilled afterwards, that’s fine,” he says. “But if the anxiety never goes away, that’s a signal that there is a problem. I think that if they have a low desire, you never should push a kid to play, period.”

Takeaway

Sport anxiety is not preventable, but it should be manageable. It’s up to parents and coaches to communicate and behave in way that reduces anxiety around sport performance and reinforces the positive benefits of sport.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Reducing Anxiety to Make Game Day as Good as Practice
(9/9/2020)
 
   

Reducing Anxiety to Make Game Day as Good as Practice


How to best support your team


Game-day performance anxiety is common in athletes of any age, but the worst possible time to start tackling it is, unfortunately, on game day. Yet most coaches ignore the potential for pre-game jitters until the last minute, when a pep talk is the best anxiety-reducer that they can provide.

But with a few shifts in your coaching throughout the season, you can help foster a team that’s as mentally prepared for game day as they are physically prepared. Specializing in sports-based anxiety, TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, breaks down how you can best support your team.

Set expectations for competition that are process-oriented

According to Chapman, process-oriented goals give kids tangible things to focus on that they can control in a game. The more in-control your athlete feels, the calmer they will be.

“The reason outcome occurs is because certain athletes follow a process,” says Chapman. "To reduce anxiety and realize success, we can focus on processes like positive self-talk, game day tactics or strategies, mechanics or techniques, imagery and visualization, getting better, and having a learning mentality. When athletes focus on learning those things and perfecting them out of the love of the game, there’s always a successful outcome regardless of how bad or awesome an athlete plays.”

Watch your language around competition

Often, parents and coaches accidentally play into competition nerves. Telling your athletes that they are ‘absolutely going to wipe the field with the competition,’ screaming at competitors, and generally focusing on the score rather improvement is going to show athletes that winning matters most and everything else is a cause for distress.

Statements like “This is the big game,” or “This play could make or break the season,” are also likely to add to an athlete’s anxiety.

Help your athletes create rituals

To calm their nerves and focus on process, encourage athletes to create their own ‘down to business’ routines. That could mean creating a certain mantra, finding a lucky ‘talisman,’ or developing a ‘secret routine.’

“Most pro athletes have some kind of ritual, talisman, or secret pre-game routine that they do, and that's how they get into that game-day state,” says Chapman. "I think we really should be letting kids figure out what their secret routine is. What is going to help them feel focused and in the zone?”

Encourage your athletes to come up with their own rituals and stick to them on game day. For younger athletes, helping them write a mantra or practice visualization might work best.

Make practice like game day

If you can make some practices more like game days, then game days will feel more like practices, Chapman says. In more severe cases of performance anxiety or in higher-level sports, he actually will have hecklers in the stands during practice.

That may be extreme for a school or youth team, but as a coach, you can set up some practices to be like timed or scored competitions. Make it as realistic as possible: Set aside pre-game time for the usual pep talks and the time spent waiting for the game to start, have athletes do their own pre-game rituals, set up start and finish lines, put out the same food and drink you would normally have available on the sidelines, and even encourage athletes to wear their uniforms.

Takeaway

Game-day performances often look different from practice performances due to anxiety, which means that athletes need to focus on their mental preparedness as much as their physical preparedness. These strategies will get athletes mentally prepared and ready to manage anxiety to perform at their best on game day.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 3 Coaching Strategies to Manage Ongoing Rivalries
(8/26/2020)
 
   

3 Coaching Strategies to Manage Ongoing Rivalries


How TrueSport Expert, Nadia Kyba recommends coaches put a stop to rivalries early.


In some team dynamics, there are going to be unavoidable rivalries: teammates will struggle for starting spots, personalities will clash over leadership responsibilities, and issues will arise with other teams. Conflict is normal and not always a problem on its own, but ongoing rivalries can slowly poison a team. Nadia Kyba, MSW, TrueSport Expert and President of Now What Facilitation, has seen teams go through rough patches navigating these types of situations.

Here’s how Kyba recommends coaches put a stop to rivalries early.

Set Standards Early in the Season

Jealousy within the team can start from simple, easy-to-avoid misunderstandings. Inter-team rivalries tend to stem from competitive urges and athletes feeling as though they’re being unfairly treated. As a coach, you can set the team guidelines and rules of play early in the season to minimize some of these issues.

“Team guidelines help if there is some sort of conflict or rivalry between teammates,” says Kyba. “Having a system in place where they're clear on what the expectations around behavior are, and that everyone's bought into, gives players a sense of ownership and understanding.”

Check in with your team by scheduling short meetings throughout the season to ensure that there aren’t lingering undercurrents of problematic jealousy or rivalry.

Be Transparent

Discuss how players can get into the starting lineup, expectations for how practices are run, and explain the metrics that are important to you as a coach.

“If a coach is really clear about how they're making decisions, that takes away the opportunity to make assumptions, which can lead to rivalries,” Kyba adds. “One things I’ve noticed that leads to the rivalries is that coaches don't meet with athletes ahead of time to talk about how they're making decisions. In team sports, like soccer, basketball, or volleyball, oftentimes a coach will announce the starting lineup right before a game. And then players are left to have to process everything on the spot rather than having that team meeting a few days ahead of time to discuss the lineup and how the selection was made.”

Assess the Situation

What a coach perceives as a rivalry might be as simple as two people on the same team not being friends  — and that’s okay, as long as they aren’t actively engaging in fights, bullying, or disrupting the team. There’s an undertone in team sports that everyone on the team should be friends, but with young athletes, that’s not realistic or necessarily healthy to promote. And some jealousy can lead to healthy, not harmful, competition.

“It’s okay if athletes don’t love each other, they don’t have to be best friends,” says Kyba. “That diversity is actually what will make a team really strong, as long as they understand that they’re there for a common goal and a common purpose.”



At the end of the day, it’s easy to tell athletes to be good sports, but you need to also model that behavior on and off the field. If you’re yelling at the referee, cursing another coach, or complaining about players on the opposing team, you’re creating a culture where that kind of commentary is accepted and encouraged.

“I think the coach might not realize just how much kids necessarily soak up from them,” Kyba says. “If coaches are yelling at the referee, they’re modeling that it’s okay to question and yell at officials.”

Kyba adds that it’s also important to share guidelines and expectations with athletes’ parents. Make sure they understand that complaining or yelling at the opposing team, referees, umpires, and especially at the other athletes on the field isn’t acceptable behavior in the stands, ever.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.