Confidence is the ability to rely on your skills and strengths to overcome challenges. Youth sports play an important role in childhood development of confidence, as they give youth athletes an opportunity to overcome new challenges, while further developing their interpersonal skills.
Coaches and parents cannot make a young athlete confident, but there are important steps they can take to help kids develop their own confidence.
“Champions believe in themselves, and that starts with others believing in them first,” says sports psychologist Dr. Roberta Kraus, Ph.D. “Praising effort can give kids a strong foundation in self-belief. You can’t control outcomes (wins/losses), but you can control how you practice and play. In the beginning, before kids may have the skills or mindset to win, they can believe in their ability to hustle, learn, and improve. Once they believe they are in control of their effort, they can believe in their ability to win when the opportunity presents itself in the competitive arena.”
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.
Being humble has its place, but it’s also healthy to be proud of what you have accomplished through hard work and practice. However, it’s up to parents and coaches to help young athletes learn to express pride without being boastful or dismissive of the roles others played in their success.
Maintain reasonable expectations
Confidence is a balance between belief and fear. If your expectations for a young athlete are too high, he or she will be more likely to fear failure. Ideally, expectations should be challenging, but within reach. They should inspire increased commitment and effort, not generate fear of failure.
When young athletes encounter fear and self-doubt, parents and coaches can be great resources. The more comfortable kids are confiding in parents and coaches, the sooner they will talk about their fears and doubts.
Teach kids to redirect negative thoughts
All athletes experience self-doubt, even champions. The key is identifying those thoughts and countering them with positive affirmations. For instance, instead of passively dismissing thoughts like, “I can’t,” it’s important to proactively counter them with “Yes, I can if I just keep working at it.”
Kraus reminds parents and coaches, “Confidence is not a lack of fear, but a willingness to continue to take action and perform when fear is present.” Champions are successful because they are skilled at redirecting fears and negative thoughts instead of letting them take control.
Focus on the Positives
Failure is only damaging to confidence when it is not discussed or used as a learning opportunity. Parents and coaches can help young athletes think analytically about failures, so they can see the things they did right, as well as identify opportunities for improvement.
Kraus advises, “Be as specific as possible in terms of technique and skill when describing what an athlete did well. Equally important, create specific execution pictures of what to do differently next time. Pictures create feelings that then drive behavior.”
Confidence is something people learn and develop through their experiences. With the behaviors above, parents and coaches can help young athletes develop into confident and successful adults.