A skill that separates an exceptional athlete from the rest is the degree to which that individual believes in themselves and trusts that they can be successful in the sport. Confidence is defined as how strongly an individual believes that he/she can achieve the desired goals. This skill is applied at all levels within sport and is developed over time. The way that Tom Brady is able to make that winning touchdown pass or LeBron James making that defensive stop in clutch moments all stems from this confidence and the belief that they can perform these tasks on a regular basis.
I believe that this idea of confidence is more important in youth sports as these young athletes do not necessarily rely on the technical performance skills to excel, because they are still developing these skills in the given sport. With that said, these young athletes do not have the experience of playing in the sport, compared to those individuals playing at a higher level. For example, Steph Curry will know what it is like to go to the free throw line in an overtime game with one-second left on the clock, and know how to react to the pressure in making that shot, because that comes with experience. Whereas, a young athlete just starting out in the sport, cannot rely on that experience, rather they are separated from other athletes by the amount of confidence and self-belief they possess and the ability to make the shot.
When it comes to youth sports, challenges such as new opponents, pressure situations and unfamiliar conditions (ex. away games) are fairly new to young athletes. An individual who has a high level of confidence is willing to seek out these new challenges and pressure situations, as well as see tougher opponents as a positive challenge to overcome. I think that no matter how much work a young athlete puts into practice and games; it won’t matter unless the child believes in him/herself. However, practice has the ability to increase confidence levels for that young athlete by developing and improving skills that are used in the game, he/she is able to see the progress made through practice and therefore have increased confidence levels to accomplish those abilities in a game setting.
As a coach for an under eleven boys team, I try to instill confidence in all my young athletes at each and every practice and game. Although this may be a hard task at times, I feel as though it is important that this skill is developed starting at the young ages of the sport, that way as they start playing at higher levels, they WILL believe in themselves to succeed and rise above their opponents.
A good example of this, I have a young player on my team and he is an amazing mid-range shooter. In practice he dominates; however, when it comes to games, he is a completely different athlete. He doesn’t take the shots we all know he can make simply because he doesn’t believe he can make them. Once he takes a shot and misses, his game continues to get worse because that one shot makes him believe that he can’t hit the other ones. I tell him to keep his head up and as Michael Jordan said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!” Before each and every game, I encourage him to say, “I am a good shooter, and if I miss, that is okay!” Take the next one. All he needs is a little reassurance and I believe that with time he will gain that confidence in himself and know that he is potential to be a great basketball player.
With that said, there are many ways a coach is able to enhance the confidence levels of their young athletes. Some examples may include:
Create challenging situations for that young athlete and help them work through the options on how to positively overcome the circumstance
- I think that during practice, the drills should be within the child’s range of difficulty – meaning not too hard that frustrations occur, but not too easy that the young athlete is bored
- Challenges help build confidence levels as young athletes ‘face their fears’ throughout sport and develop that experience to know how to deal with a certain situation
- Create a challenge, allow the young athlete to overcome the obstacle (only help and/or guide when needed so the individual learns on their own), and once completed the young athlete will feel a boost of self-confidence
- Knowing they CAN overcome their challenges – and become better
When players do something right, LET THEM KNOW!
- Always take that chance to tell your young athletes that they are doing something right – increases self-esteem and confidence levels
- Do this positive reinforcement in games and practices!
- Verbal recognition is always good; however, sometimes giving an award and/or certificate can even further boost the athlete’s self-confidence (hang it on their wall in their bedroom or on the fridge)
Remind the young athlete of successful past experiences
- If the young athlete is struggling, try recalling the past success of when the athlete did something right
- Able to remind the young athlete that they CAN do what they put their mind to
On the other side of the coin, parents are able to use many techniques that can build their son and/or daughter’s confidence levels while at home. Some of these examples include:
Compliment your child
- No matter the type of game they had, always find the good! Focus on the positives and turn the things to improve on into a teaching lesson – this will boost the child’s confidence levels
Allow your child to play the sport that they choose
- Allowing the young athlete to play what interests them – instead of being forced by the parents on what sport to play
- Allow the child to have fun doing what they love!
- Support the sport your child chooses to participate in – if the child believes they are good in the sport, it helps boost confidence levels and more eager to learn new concepts/skills
Teach them that making mistakes is okay and bound to occur
- In sport, learning and working through mistakes and failures is bound to happen and it makes the athlete stronger in return
- Teach your child to believe in themselves and that making mistakes is essential to our learning process
- Encourage the child to step out of their ‘comfort zone’ and try new things pertaining to the sport – new challenges arise, gain new experiences
Confidence is an ongoing process that needs to be built starting from the very early ages in sport. This process continues as children move from one learning block to the other, overcoming one success at a time. Coaches and parents are able to help build this sense of confidence in their young athlete and nurture them throughout the given sport. Having confidence is what will separate the great athletes from the rest! Just remember to…
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!
Feel free to post any comments, thoughts, and opinions in the section below!
Chery Bennett is the Domestic Development Intern at Canada Basketball. She is currently pursuing her Graduate Certificate in Sport Business Management at Humber College, and has a passion for basketball and a former athlete within the sport.