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Focusing and Sports for Today’s Young Athlete

This past month, I had a new client come into my office with his parents. He is a teenage tennis player, who according to his parents, was having problems focusing on and off the court. During a match, he will sometimes start daydreaming and often get distracted by players yelling on other courts. In school, he stated that it is difficult for him to stay focused in some of his classes. Frequently, his mind will wander to his tennis matches, or just to thoughts that have nothing to do with his class. He said that several times teachers have called on him to answer questions that he wasn’t listening to, and he would be quite embarrassed because he had no idea what the question was. Both this young man and his parents were interested in finding ways to help him focus better and learn how to deal with his distractions. He had been tested for both Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The test results showed that he did not have either disorder.

In today’s society, it is very common to find young people on all kinds of medications, especially for ADD or ADHD or for depression and anxiety. All too often in my opinion, psychiatrists are quick to give a diagnosis and to put a young person on some medication that may not always be necessary. We have become a quick fix society, and it is much easier to give someone a pill, than to do talk therapy and find behavioral or other psychotherapeutic solutions to problems like concentration, anxiety or depression. More and more I am talking with adolescent and teenage clients who appear to be suffering from information overload more than from a psychiatric diagnosis. Young people today are bombarded with stimuli from every direction. Cable tv, Ipods, computers, cell phones, MP 3 players, video games… all provide venues to a young person’s concentration.
Email, voice mail, text messaging are different methods of communicating. In 40 years, we have come a long way from three television stations, transistor radios, and rotary dial telephones!

After three sessions with the young tennis player, we realized that his concentration problems were coming from stimulus overload. When he wasn’t in school or playing tennis (which he did approximately three hours a day) he was playing computer games or constantly text messaging his friends on his cell phone. From the minute he woke up each day until bedtime, his mind was constantly busy, with little time to relax and just hang out. We discussed a plan for him to take some time each day away from all the technology to just relax and visualize positive things happening in his life. After one week, he told me how much better he felt and how much easier it was for him to concentrate both in class and on the tennis court.

Many of the parents I have spoken with are frustrated that their young athletes have difficulty concentrating and performing to their potential. What I am finding out is that many of these young people are often involved in two to three activities at the same time. Typically, they will rush from one practice to another, doing their homework in the car and grabbing some fast food in between practices. Why? I believe it is because too many parents are in a hurry to keep up with everyone else. If their son’s friend is playing soccer, baseball and taking guitar lessons, than their son probably should also.

Perhaps the most important word I have been using lately in my sessions, especially with parents, is BALANCE. This doesn’t mean that everything is equal. It means that there is a place and time for everything. If you feel your kids are always rushing from one activity to another, that they are always busy, step back and take a reality check. Ask yourself if the stress of going from one activity to another is worth it for yourself as well as your child. How often do you have a family dinner at home where no one answers or uses their cell phones or Ipods and the tv and radio were off? Do your kids have time every day to relax and not have a planned activity? Can they go to bed and sleep through the night without being woken up by a voice mail or text message? Think about it and let me know your thoughts…

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