“It’s a chicken and egg thing.” That’s the way confidence was explained to me once.
Which comes first? Is a particular athlete confident because they played well, or did they play well because they were confident? The answer differs from athlete to athlete, of course. And with young athletes, the level – or the existence – of confidence can differ from day to day.
Ask most players when they are confident on the field, and the answer will be “When I play well.” Okay, now ask them for reasons why they play well, and they will say, “When I am confident.”
It’s frustrating for coaches when something so crucial to performance is so elusive and confusing to the players he or she coaches. Don’t you wish you could just hand it out? As soon as a player makes the team, you give them a big sack of confidence, enough to last at least through the season. Problem solved.
But since that’s not possible, coaches have to find other ways to build, re-store, or instill confidence in players. And, of course, every player is different and what works with one, might not work with another. It’s annoying.
Researching the topic of confidence, can also be annoying and frustrating. You can be inundated with articles that start with those two words that are supposed to attract the attention of someone trying to solve a problem, “How to …” You know “How to build confidence; How to restore your confidence.” They all provide superficial, one-size-fits-all solutions.
But there were some good suggestions buried in the search results.
- Encourage risk. Failure breeds inaction and inaction prolongs the problem. Embrace failure as the learning experience it is. As a coach, especially of young athletes, it’s important not to freak out when players make errors. Instead of the coach dwelling on a mistake, he or she could simply ask, “What did you learn?” and follow it up with “Okay, try again.” Additionally, make sure the athlete who is losing confidence has a mechanism to move past mistakes, failures or bad performances.
- Repeat what they do well. Small successes can boost a player’s confidence. Repetition of activities in which they excel can remind the player that they are not really horrible.
- Avoid comparisons: Players will inevitably compare themselves to other players. For a player going through a rough patch, comparing their performance to someone who is playing particularly well at the moment can be damaging. Tell the player that the situation is bound to be reversed at some point and that they can make it happen.
In general, when addressing confidence issues, the coach can remind players of what Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”
If none of that works, go get some big sacks of confidence and start handing them out.