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Anxiety during competition
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Anxiety during competition

We have a soon to be 11 year old daughter.  She is very tall (5'2"), very thin (79lbs) , very intelligent (all A's except handwriting, she has fine motor skills problems), very popular and usually very confident.  She is in the very early stages of puberty (breast buds, hair begining to grow, etc.) She has been a competitive swimmer for nearly 5 years, and is very good (top 5-10%), though not exceptional.  She swims 4 times per week but only a total of 4.5 hours.  About a month ago at a big travel meet she had what she described as vertigo during 3 different events and was clearly terrified by not know which way was up and being dizzy in the water.  We had her examined, and she showed no signs of positional vertigo and no obvious infections, although the doctors thought perhaps a virus effecting the middle ear could be the problem.  Since then she has been very reticent about swimming.  She has recently had moody periods which are very unusual in that she is usually very bubbly.  We attribute that to normal hormonal and growth issues.  We also think that her problems at that meet were just magnifications of another element that she seems to have.  At big meets she gets so keyed up she doesn't swim as well as when the meet is less high pressure.  We think that some of the problem at the meet may have been anxiety related and wonder if there is some approach we should take in helping her cope with this.  She love swimming and competing during normal times, and we encourage her athleticism, but have hesitated putting her in a program that pushes the kids with much higher yardage and days per week.  We believe that increases can wait until she is 11-12 since her body type can't handle those stresses until she is further along in her growth cycle. Thanks for your insights.
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Dear Mr. Morgan,

You are doing the wise thing by not pushing your daughter to the more competitive level of swimming, both in relatioon to her physical growth and development and also in relation to the stress such a move might induce.

Relative to her concern about the higher levels of competition, two matters are of importance. One involves her cognitions about such events - i.e., what she is telling herself or saying to herself about such meets. Often some supportive discussion about such cognitions or perceptions, particularly if they involve some distorted thinking, can be of great benefit.

The second matter is that of stress reduction techniques. Such tactics as diaphragmatic breathing and muscle relaxation can go far in optimizing physical and mental performance at times of stress. With a little practice, such techniques are readily learned and can be utilized in many situations.
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