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Self-confidence: The mark of a champion. That secret ingredient that all great athletes seem to possess, regardless of what level they compete at. Can you “grow it?” If so, how? Are there specific things that parents, coaches and teammates do that can kill it? Self-confidence is that intangible factor, a “cousin” to PMA, positive mental attitude that keeps an athlete working hard regardless of how many times he/she may fail or how many obstacles get thrown in his/her path. Self-confidence can give an average athlete or team the courage and focus to defeat a stronger opponent. Self-confidence can motivate you to attempt and accomplish the impossible. Likewise, lacking self-confidence, an athlete or team will consistently perform way below their potential. Low self-confidence can kill an athlete’s enjoyment of the sport and turn him/her into a dropout statistic

ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “What you can do to “grow” self-confidence”
PARENTS’ CORNER – “Raising a self-confident child”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Are you building or busting your players self-confidence?”
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES – “Beware the self-confidence killer: Comparison”


“What you can do to grow self-confidence”

Some days you just feel great about yourself and boy does it ever show in your performance! When you have confidence in yourself you feel like you can do just about anything, that the sky’s the limit. During these wonderful moments you don’t fear any opponent and perform loosely and aggressively. It’s like the fear of losing is completely non-existent when you’re confident. You defy the “experts” and even pull off an upset against that much tougher opponent. The funny thing is that when you feel good about yourself, in your mind this victory wasn’t an upset! It’s simply something you expected! If only you had access to that level of confidence all the time! If only….
Then there are those days when you feel completely overwhelmed, like a minnow swimming among sharks! You doubt yourself, question your abilities and seem too easily psyched out. Your play doesn’t have its normal zip or energy. You’re a half a step behind everyone else and you’re timing is off. You’re easily intimidated and you just don’t feel as strong or powerful. You’re quick to be distracted by worries of mistakes and failing. In short, your self-confidence is nowhere to be found. When you feel this badly about yourself you begin to question why you’re even still playing the sport.

There’s no question that self-confidence plays a key role in how well you perform. When you have enough of it, you’ll walk on water, performance-wise. You’ll play to your physical potential. However, when your confidence level is running on empty, you’ll perform like you’re ten feet under that wet stuff. Everything is way off and your level of play is just a shadow of your capabilities!

If only having self-confidence was as simple as telling yourself, “BE CONFIDENT!” Unfortunately getting to feel good about yourself is much easier said then done. Most people have a battle going on inside themselves. One part of them says, “be confident!” only to hear from a second part that says, “Fat chance, loser! Both you and I know the real story here!”

So what can you do to start building a solid foundation of self-confidence as an athlete? Plenty! Regularly practice the following “self-confidence rules” and your level of confidence will steadily rise:

  1. PAY YOUR PHYSICAL DUES – There is no substitute for hard work. Self-confidence comes out of a solid base of physical training. If you’ve done your homework and trained well you have a right to feel confident. If you’ve regularly slacked off, trying to feel confident is a joke and it’s on you! Do everything possible in your power, and then do a little more! Confidence comes from knowing you’ve trained longer and harder than your competitors.

  2. REMIND YOURSELF OF #1 – Before you perform it’s useful for you to remind yourself of everything that you’ve done to prepare. Sometimes under pressure you get too nervous to think clearly. You forget how well you trained. Get into the habit of regularly reminding yourself that you’ve paid your physical dues, that you’ve done everything possible to be ready.

  3. DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS – FOCUS ON YOU – One of the biggest confidence drains I know is to compare yourself with opponents, with their size, skill level, training habits, record, etc. Save yourself the aggravation! Comparison is a LOSING game! You’ll always find athletes who actually are or who you think are better than you. This is not a useful pre-performance ritual. Focus on YOU. Stay inside yourself. Play your OWN game. It really doesn’t matter if someone is bigger, stronger or faster than you. The bottom line is that in any given game/match/race the best athlete or team doesn’t usually come out on top! It’s the athlete or team that has more confidence and can keep their head on straight for that competition!

  4. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL – Another confidence drain is to focus on “uncontrollables” or things about the performance that are directly out of your control. Focusing on “UC’s” as I call them will make you uptight, kill your confidence and sabotage your play. “Uncontrollables” are your opponent, the officiating, the weather, field conditions, the past, the outcome, other people’s expectations, etc. Keep your focus locked onto what you can control (how you react to all the “uc’s” and should you find your concentration drifting from this, quickly return it!

  5. DWELL ON THE POSITIVE – Get in the habit of looking for the upside of things. Being negative will not only kill your own confidence, but it will also sap the confidence of those around you. If the weather is foul, dwell on how this will bother your opponents more than you. If an opponent is bigger, faster or stronger, think about how they have much more to lose than you since you’re not expected to win. If a competitor starts to suddenly cheat or talk trash, think about why they are doing it, because they don’t feel that their skill level by itself is enough to beat you. Be positive! You’ll feel better about yourself and perform at a higher level.

  6. CATCH YOURSELF DOING THINGS RIGHT – Start today to keep a “victory log” or a recording of the little things you did that day which were small victories. If you pushed yourself beyond a training limit, then record that. If you ran a little further, jumped a little higher, trained a little harder, record those. By getting in the habit of “hunting for your little daily victories” and writing them down, you will gradually build your self-confidence. Keep your victory log handy and review it daily, especially when you’re down.

  7. BE A GOOD COACH TO YOURSELF – Get in the habit of being a forgiving, positive coach to yourself. When you make mistakes, learn from them and let them go. Don’t dwell on your mistakes and failures. Forgive yourself for them and then move on. Dwelling on mistakes and beating yourself up will only fill you with self-doubts. It will not make you a better athlete. Good coaches are forgiving and positive. Practice being one to yourself.


“Raising a self-confident child”

Whenever I went over to my best friend’s house back in grammar school his dad would look at me with approval and then quiz me about all my latest athletic accomplishments. “I understand you won that Lion’s Club tournament you played in son, I read about it in the newspaper. It says you were awesome!” Then he’d turn to his son and say, “Barry, why can’t you be more like Alan? Why don’t you play tennis more? Why don’t you go running with him more?” I would stand there feeling horribly uncomfortable, terribly embarrassed and not have the words to be able to explain just why.

No wonder my best friend was severely depressed and had less self-confidence than anyone I have ever known in my life. How would you like to grow up with a father who never wasted an opportunity to publicly point out to you that you just weren’t good enough, that he would have preferred to have someone “more deserving” as his true offspring? How is a young boy supposed to realize that his best friend’s father was being a complete jerk and damagingly abusive? All I knew was that I hated going over to Barry’s house when his dad was home. The guy gave me the creeps.

While Barry’s Dad was probably just trying to motivate his son to be better, and to feel better about himself, the man didn’t have a clue that he was doing the exact opposite in spades! You will not build self-confidence in your kids by putting them down in front of their friends. You won’t help your child feel better about him/herself by consistently giving him/her the message that he/she isn’t good enough. Be careful here! Many parents, their brains scrambled by the words of too many motivational speakers, kindly intend to get their kids to do better by continually critiquing them. These parents mistakenly believe that all this “constructive feedback” will inspire their offspring to reach for greatness. Give it up mom and dad! This is NOT how you’ll get your kid to reach for the stars or soar with the eagles. On the contrary! This is exactly how you’ll get your child to turn out like my buddy Barry, who sadly has never been able to get off the ground.

Want to build self-confidence in your children? Want to really help them feel good about themselves? If so, then start catching them when they do things right. Start noticing the little things that they do well. Underline their positive behaviors, actions and accomplishments. Accept them for who they are and appreciate what they do. Please don’t waste your time and kill their confidence by comparing them with those around them. Comparing your child to their friends, teammates or classmates is a very subtle, and powerful. The messages embedded in your comparisons do not get lost on them. Indirectly you’re telling them that you think they aren’t good enough. Whether you mean this message to be delivered or not is irrelevant. Why? Because the real meaning of any communication is the response you get. Your intentions in this case are meaningless. Like my buddy Barry, that’s what your children will experience when you get in the habit of actively comparing them to their siblings or anyone else. Now I’m sure you just want to help your children excel, to reach their potential. And there’s no question that your son or daughter has great potential. Every child does! However, don’t make it your mission in life to free this potential up! Let the teachers and coaches push your child to greatness. That’s their job, NOT yours. Please understand that I’m not saying you don’t have a role here. On the contrary, you have a HUGE role in helping your child feel good about him/herself. It’s your job to build self-esteem, appropriately. You do this primarily by providing your children with an appropriate role model. Model in your own life and with your own behaviors this reach for greatness.

However, as far as their sports go, it’s not your job to get them to be better. It’s not your job to enlighten them as to all the things that they did wrong in their games. Don’t ever get yourself into the situation where you are forcing your “knowledge” on them. If they make it clear to you that they do not want your feedback as far as their sport goes, then save yourself the aggravation and save them the heartache.

I’m sure Barry’s father had no intention of severely damaging his son’s self-esteem. I’m also sure that if he had any idea how Barry’s life would have turned out he would have acted very differently towards him. Sadly Barry grew up hating his Dad. Barry also unknowingly organized his life so that in everything he did, he would actively disappoint his father. This was Barry’s way of expressing his anger and “getting even.” Unfortunately Barry chose a way of expressing his anger that was at his expense. He enrolled in a local junior college instead of the top 4-year University where he had been accepted. He continuously picked jobs that were way beneath his ability level. He dressed like a slob (his father was extremely particular about his own appearance). He refused to venture outside his comfort zone in every aspect of his life.

Growing self-confidence in your children requires a great deal of sensitivity on your part. Before you open your mouth, try to think about how your child will respond to your words. Don’t think about how you’d respond when you were his/her age. Try to ask yourself, “What do I want my child to learn from this interaction?” Try to keep your child’s sport in perspective. You will only be the mother or father of an athlete for a very short amount of time. Hopefully you will be their mother or father for life. Don’t jeopardize your relationship and their well being just so they can “get better” and win more.


“Are you building or busting your players’ self-confidence?”

Good coaches consistently build self-confidence in their players. They continually look for opportunities in practice and competition where they can help their athletes grow, improve and feel better about themselves. They have an innate understanding that athletes always perform in direct relation to their level of confidence. Knock your players down in the wrong way and at the wrong time and you will be “rewarded” with consistent performance problems and underachievement. Build your players up honestly and appropriately, and they will consistently over-achieve for you.

Keep in mind a fact missed by far too many coaches: No matter what you do, you are always building up or tearing down your athletes’ self-confidence. Whether you have lengthy, brief or no interactions with your players you are having an impact on how they feel about themselves. As a matter of fact, every interaction you have can potentially affect their self-confidence. Go through a practice with no eye contact and not one word to a player and chances are good that that particular athlete will leave feeling a little like you don’t care about him/her. As a consequence that athlete will begin to question his or her own worth as a player.

Truth be told, you hold tremendous power in your athletes’ mind. The committed athlete deeply cares about your opinion and wants you to believe in and respect him/her. As a consequence he or she is always searching for clues as to how you feel about him/her. A look, a voice tone, a particular comment all potentially insignificant to you, often has a powerful affect on how that athlete feels about him/herself. Nowhere is this more apparent or quite as devastating to self-confidence as how you deal with playing time and during-game substitutions.

Most athletes base their self-confidence on how much playing time, (PT) they get. If you don’t play them, the majority of athletes go through a crisis of confidence. “Coach isn’t playing me cuz he doesn’t believe in me. He doesn’t think I’m good enough. I hope he’s not right. What if he is?” It’s truly a rare athlete that can keep his/her self-esteem intact regardless of how little PT he/she gets.

Who you play and for what reasons is your prerogative as a coach. How you deal with substitutions, however, can dramatically affect the self-confidence and therefore the play of your entire squad. What I’m specifically referring to here is your style of pulling people in and out of the game. Many coaches have a “quick trigger finger” and will yank an athlete the instant that he/she makes a mistake. Usually it’s the role player that gets the quick hook while the starters enjoy the luxury of being able to make multiple mistakes before being pulled out.

If you do have a tendency to use this double standard with your bench consider this: Consistently benching any athlete the instant that he/she makes a mistake will give you several things that I doubt you really want. First, and foremost, it will get that athlete thinking too much whenever he/she does get in. If the athlete knows you have a quick trigger with him/her, then he/she will be out there, in the action, focusing on not making mistakes. Entertaining a fear of messing up while you’re playing is probably the best way to guarantee that you will mess up. Your athletes will always play their best when they have absolutely nothing to lose. When you have nothing to lose you play loose, relaxed and your focus stays where it belongs, in the action. However, if athletes think that their PT is at stake every time they step onto the field or court, then they will play tight and distracted. They won’t focus on the action and, as a consequence, will consistently play far below their potential.

Having a quick trigger with certain athletes will instantly set in motion a self-confidence killing cycle. The player worries about limited playing time and messing up. She goes out in the game tight, distracted and tentative. She plays poorly as a result. You immediately bench her when she does. Her self-confidence falls through the roof. The next time you do give her a chance to play, she’s even more worried and distracted, and the whole cycle repeats itself with the athlete’s self-confidence getting lower and lower.

I’ve seen D-I athletes with enough talent to be consistently starting, plagued by low self-confidence and devastated by this cycle and a coach with a quick trigger. Is this the fault of the coach? Yes, partially. I believe that you need to be more tuned in to how you use your role players. I believe you need to give a role player more room to mess up before you bench him/her. If you strongly feel that because of the nature of the competition in your league that you can’t afford to allow them more than one mistake, then it’s your job to help that player quickly let go of their mistakes and maintain a correct focus during playing time. It’s your job to be clear to your athletes when you bench them and why.

Keep in mind that every role player on your team is in a double bind. In order for them to play loosely and with more confidence they need to be able to completely oblivious about messing up. This means that they need to have absolutely no worries about being benched. This can only come with more, NOT less PT. Unfortunately, they can’t get more PT without playing well. They can’t play well without more confidence. They can’t get more confidence without more playing time, etc.


“Beware the self-confidence killer, Comparison”

A samurai, a very proud warrior, came to see a Zen Master one day. The samurai was quite famous and had won many battles. He was known throughout his country as one of the bravest, most skilled warriors alive. As he walked into the Zen Master’s humble home his eyes immediately were drawn to the Master. As he gazed upon the old man’s beauty and the air of tranquility surrounding him, the great warrior suddenly began to feel inferior.

He said to the Master, “Why do I feel so small with you? Why do I feel so badly about myself? Just a moment ago I felt fine. I was a great warrior. I was sure of myself. As I entered your home, suddenly I felt inferior. I have never felt like that before. I have faced death many times, and I have never felt any fear — why am I now feeling frightened?”

The Master said, “Wait my son. When everyone else has gone, I will answer you. ” People continued to come and see the Master the entire day, and the great Samurai, as patient a man as he was, began to get more and more tired waiting. By evening the Zen Master’s home was finally empty, and the Samurai said, “Now, can you answer me?” The Master said, “Come outside.”

It had turned evening and the moon was full. Its’ bright white shape was just beginning to rise on the horizon. Under the moonlight the Master, pointing to two trees over by the side of his garden said, “Look at these trees. This tree is high in the sky and reaches for the stars while this one beside it is quite small. Both these trees have existed side by side beneath my window for years, and yet there has never been any problem. The smaller tree has never said to the big tree, ‘Why do I feel inferior before you?’ This tree is small, and that tree is big — why have I never heard a whisper of it?”

The samurai said, “Because they do not compare.”

The Master replied, “Then you need not ask me. You know the answer my son.”

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