How to play sports while self-conscious

Palooka asks: I am a 10-year-old boy. I love sports but my dad is the coach of my football team and I get really nervous when he’s not at the game but I get kinda nervous when he IS at the game. I’m okay during practice but when there is a game I feel kinda weird. What should I do? Thanks Shirelle. You are so wise.

Hi Palooka –



Oh what you’re describing is SOOOOO normal for humans!  You’re talking about something called Self-Consciousness.


Now we dogs do get self-conscious at times.  Like when you see pooches whose owners have dressed them in fancy sweaters and even booties, and those dogs see us other dogs (who are dressed more normally – wearing nothing more than collars) seeing them, and they’re mortified.  Sure, they had no choice in the matter, but they look so goofy, and they know it!


But most of the time, we pups really don’t feel that way at all.  We just live our lives, pursuing what we want and trying to stay out of trouble while we do it.  And it’s all fine.  But not humans.


Humans tend to be Self-Conscious, to some degree or another, all the time!  They go to school, feeling like everyone’s looking at them and judging the way they’re dressed or how their hair is that day (not realizing that everyone else is worrying about the same thing about themselves!); they create art and literature and poetry and songs that express their feelings and thoughts, hoping others will understand and feel their feelings; they develop opinions and are upset when others don’t understand and agree with them.  These are all qualities that only humans have.


And humans play team sports.  And humans watch team sports.  And those who watch cheer and scream and groan and stomp and cry and even get in fights.  And every player has no choice but to know that all those emotions are all about him or her, and whether or not they succeed at what they’re trying to do.


Now the nature of sports is that it’s always hard to do what you’re trying to anyway.  Why?  Because there’s another team out there, doing their best to make it hard for you!  So if they’re doing their job, it’s already taking all your strength and skill and concentration to do your best.  But then you add the Self-Consciousness you’re bound to have about your what your teammates think of you, and that from the watching crowd, and it makes that job a lot harder.


And then..?!  You, Palooka, have your dad out there – and he’s not just a cheering fan, he’s the coach!  So if you make a mistake, or just do something not as well as you hope, it’s your dad’s job to get on your case about it!  Truly, you might as well be a Mastiff in a pink perfumed nightgown, walking into the toughest dog pound in town.  You’re feeling noticed, judged, and critiqued every second – and you’re right!


So what can you do?  Well, there are two things.  The first is to quit.  To give up, say this is just too difficult, and find other ways to get your exercise.


But the second way is more interesting.  And that’s to accept your Self-Consciousness, and work as hard as you can to get better at dealing with it.  To know that you’re bound to play a bit worse in real games than you do in practices, but work to play better each time you’re in a game.  To face your fear of your dad’s judgment, and know that it’ll always be part of you, and see how well you can do while you’re feeling his eyes beating right into you.


Have you ever been to a tennis tournament?  It’s quite an experience to see live (or so they tell me – we dogs are never allowed in to tennis tournaments, because we always jump out and chase the balls around the court!).  Unlike in football, the players are out there alone, half-naked, with all the focus of everyone on them.  And somehow, the good ones learn to take it.  They learn to let in the cheering of their fans, and not let those who cheer for their opponent get to them.  Some of them kind of ignore the audience, while others play to them like rock musicians, loving the thrill.  But all of them, in order to be considered good players, have had to learn to not let that Self-Consciousness bother them too much.


So that’s my wish for you, Palooka.  To work to overcome your nervousness.  But the only way to do that is to get out there and try.  And that means to fail sometimes.  And to look like a fool out there sometimes.


But if you can learn to take it, doing so will open so many doors for you in your life.  You’ll be better at public speaking, at asking attractive people out on dates, at job interviews – all the areas where adults get the most Self-Conscious.


So why not give it a try.  If worst comes to worst, you can always quit.  But in the meantime, just see how well you can do.  Maybe there are a few things you could ask your dad (like to try to keep criticism of you to a minimum!).  But overall it’s great to just test yourself out there.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Well, being watched while you play football won’t kill you.  So I’m guessing your strength is just about to explode!!







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