Confidence is defined as a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities. In the sports context, an athlete believing in their abilities is key in competition. Confidence enables them to take risks, overcome challenges, and bounce back from setbacks. No matter the amount of time spent practicing or training, if an athlete lacks confidence, their ability to perform when it matters will be limited. When youth athletes are confident, they perform at their best and enjoy their sport more.
When an athlete lacks confidence it impacts the ability of the athlete to show growth, find enjoyment, and have success in practices and games. Signs of low confidence can include poor body language, hesitancy in their movements, decreased enthusiasm or motivation, and frequent errors or mistakes. Low confidence can come from a variety of causes, fear of failure, anxiety, burnout, or even body changes from puberty.
It can be tough for parents and coaches to watch an athlete, your athlete, your child, struggle with confidence. Unfortunately for parents and coaches, we cannot force confidence onto, or into our child or player. But in researching the topic we have come across some tips that we can take to encourage them to find their confidence within themselves.
When young athletes encounter fear and self-doubt, parents and coaches can be great resources. Talking openly and letting them know it’s okay to talk about their feelings is one of the first things you can do to help a struggling athlete. The more comfortable kids are confiding in parents and coaches, the sooner they will talk about their fears and doubts.
HELP PLAYERS AVOID MAKING COMPARISONS- FOCUS ON SELF NOT OTHERS
For many athletes’ low self-confidence comes from athletes giving too much energy to other competitors or teammates by making comparisons, creating a feeling like they do not belong at the current level of play. Constant comparisons of strengths and characteristics by a player can lead to doubt about ability, performance, and contributions.
Help your athletes avoid putting other athletes on a pedestal, as if they are better than your athletes or superior. Encourage them to stop making comparisons to athletes who they think are better than them or contributing more. Try to have them focus on their own strengths and characteristics instead of thinking about how they stack up compared to other teammates or competitors.
CREATE INCREMENTAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUCCESS
Confidence builds when an athlete accomplishes goals and overcomes challenges. Parents and coaches can create a series of progressively more challenging tasks so the athlete experiences incremental success as skills and fitness improve. These experiences should be challenging enough that kids experience some setbacks, but not so difficult that they experience only failure.
DON’T TRY TO BE PERFECT-PLAY FUNCTIONALLY
A functional mindset is the opposite of trying to make everything perfect. It starts with the idea that athletes DO NOT have to be perfect to perform their best. They are human and humans can’t be perfect. Players will make mistakes but can still contribute and be successful. Tennis coach to professional players, Brad Gilbert, calls the functional mindset “winning ugly.
BE MINDFUL OF LANGUAGE AND FEEDBACK
As a coach or parent, how you communicate with your athlete can significantly impact their confidence. Be aware of your language and tone of voice, and avoid negative or critical feedback. Instead, focus on constructive criticism and praise for effort and progress. If you have over-talked about performance in the past or been critical, some athletes will be unwilling to share openly (see COMMUNICATION above)
We hope this provides both parents and coaches a framework for providing the guidance needed when your player or child shows signs of struggling with confidence.
Here are links to some of the resources utilized for this article.
- When Your Athlete Loses Confidence-I Love to Watch You Play
- 7 Ways to Help Your Athlete Be Confident-TrueSport.org
- 7 Steps to Help Your Athlete Be More Confident-Blue Star Lacrosse
- Parent’s Guide to Bolstering Confidence in Youth Athletes-Coach Up Nation
: Mary Rose Jacobi Photography