How Parents Can Manage Sports Anxiety and Support Their Child on the Field

drawing of parent putting his hand on a kid's shoulder

Zoe Hansen / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • A third of all childhood injuries occur during a sports-related incident.
  • Sports activities have numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits for kids.
  • Parental anxiety about kids playing sports is normal; there are several factors to consider to determine which activity is right for your family.

More than 3.5 million kids ages 14 and younger are injured playing organized sports each year. In fact, a third of all childhood injuries result from a sports-related activity. Those numbers are enough to concern and alarm parents—and with more than 60 million children playing sports, the statistics represent a small but important number.

Repeat concussions have, unfortunately, become the norm and rarely stop kids from ongoing participation in a sport. But when something happens on a national scale, like the tragic collapse and cardiac arrest of NFL safety Damar Hamlin, parents are put in the position of seriously reevaluating their kid's long-term involvement in these types of activities.

Traumatic events cause people to react. Sometimes those reactions do not always serve us in the best means. I think in the aftermath of this event the best thing parents of athletes can do is talk about it. It is scary. Injuries are scary,” states Joseph Galasso, PsyD, Sports Psychologist, Baker Street Behavioral Health. 

Many parents grapple with allowing their kids to play team sports and their anxiety about keeping them safe. It's important to weigh all the pros and cons of team sports when determining whether to let your child play, while also maintaining an awareness of whether or not your concerns are based more on anxiety or fact.

Considering the Pros and Cons of Team Sports

There's no arguing with the assertion that kids benefit physically, mentally, and emotionally from playing team sports. It boosts their self-esteem and self-confidence, improves cognitive ability, reduces stress, benefits cardiovascular fitness, bone density, and can even lessen the risk of developing diabetes.

But anytime there's the combination of physical exertion, foreign objects flying through the air, and other kids who want to beat your kid in a game...there's a risk.

“Common injuries athletes face may involve accidents like falls, being struck by objects, collisions or even involving elements such as being overheated or frostbite,” explains Mykal Manswell, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Thriveworks, who holds a degree in Sports and Exercise Psychology. “Basketball and football typically have the most injuries among youth athletes due to upper/low body injuries, foot injuries, and brain injuries,” he adds.

Tracey Anderson, PhD

As the responsibility of each parent to make these decisions for their families, it is not a question as to what is ‘rational,’ ‘right,’ or ‘wrong'...What is most important is that the family unit weighs all the options with their risks and benefits and makes a decision they can all live with

— Tracey Anderson, PhD

Those injuries, and the unknown factors that can lead to them, are what scare most parents. While some choose to focus on the positives, this anxiety causes others to limit which sports they permit their children to play.

“As the responsibility of each parent to make these decisions for their families, it is not a question as to what is ‘rational,’ ‘right,’ or ‘wrong,’ as these are merely labels with their own judgments attached. What is most important is that the family unit weighs all the options with their risks and benefits and makes a decision they can all live with,” notes Tracey Andersen, PhD, LMHC, Operations Director of Clinical Services and Behavioral Health, RiseLife/Aid to the Developmentally Disabled. 

Most parents understand that their child could get injured. But they also understand the benefits of having them take part in a sport where they learn the value of hard work and cooperation. The true challenge arises when a parent tries to balance their anxiety and fear with their child’s desire to play.

When Caution Becomes Overprotection

Parents should protect their children, there's no question about that. No one questions telling a kid to look both ways when crossing the street or refusing to let a young child handle hot food on the stove. But when it comes to playing sports, most parents struggle with whether their fears around safety are rational.

“Based on statistics and the fact that being involved in sports may expose you to the possibility of getting hurt, parents’ concerns are well-placed. However, there may be an element of overprotection playing a role, as the parents’ fear or anxiety related to the thought of ‘what if’ may hinder the child playing sports,” says Catherine Del Toro, LMHC, Provider Partner for 

Catherine Del Toro, LMHC

Based on statistics and the fact that being involved in sports may expose you to the possibility of getting hurt, parents’ concerns are well-placed.

— Catherine Del Toro, LMHC

Constantly anticipating a “worst case” scenario also harms parents’ mental and emotional health.

“Anxiety begins to affect us internally and then manifests itself outwardly. Our thoughts related to the concern of our child getting hurt can impair our functioning by not allowing us to focus or concentrate and catastrophizing, to increased blood pressure and rapid heart rate, to having outbursts of anger and/or sadness,” Del Toro notes.

Kids also feel the impact. Research shows that when parents are overprotective, it prevents kids from knowing how to deal with disappointment and stress. In addition, kids may become fearful of risk, struggle with more anxiety, and even have a greater chance of dealing with psychological disorders.

Some Things to Consider

Before registering your child for a fall football season, take the time to identify to root of your anxiety.

A careful review of all the facts can help a concerned parent make an informed decision. Experts say to consider:

  • Is it a sport your child wants to play? Will they enjoy it?
  • What are the benefits of having them compete?
  • What are the risks associated with playing this sport?
  • What precautions can you take to help your child play successfully?

Take your child's overall health into account

“One main factor that must be considered by parents is pre-existing or at-risk medical conditions in the child prior to signing up for sports, especially in high-contact activities. This can include heart issues, asthma, skin conditions or rare blood issues,” Manswell advises.

Ultimately, life is full of risks. As you weigh the possibility of injury with the potential rewards of playing sports, you have to make the decision that is right for you and your family.

“It is our job as parents and adults to protect our children from what we believe to be a true danger. We have to gather information and use that information to make the best possible decision. If we are making decisions based on fear or anxiety, then it may not be the best decision for our child,” Dr. Galasso states.

“It is a hard balance, and we have to be open to having conversations with our spouses, our peers, coaches, doctors, and other community members to make sure we are making the right decisions,” he concludes.

What This Means For You

Parents want to protect their kids. It’s normal to be scared of them getting hurt on the playing field. Take the time to address your concerns before deciding to let your kid play. Talking to coaches, former players, and even other parents can help you make an informed decision about what’s best for you and your family.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Stanford Medicine Children's Health. Sports Injury Statistics.

  2. National Council of Youth Sports. Youth Sports Greatest Resource.

  3. President's Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition Science Board. Benefits of Youth Sports.

  4. Berkeley Political Review. Overprotective Parents and a New Generation of American Children.