“I just want my child to be more confident.”
This is a common problem for parents and coaches: a capable athlete perform who does not perform to their potential because of a lack of confidence.
Often our response is to dole out positive affirmations (“You can do it!” “Just go for it!”), tempt them to succeed with motivational techniques (“If you don’t fall on beam you can get a new leotard.”) or to reason it out with them (“You never fall in practice…why now?”).
And sometimes for some kids these methods work. But more often than not they are not successful because they don’t get to the root of the problem: the need for the child to develop self-confidence from within.
So how exactly can we go about helping athletes develop their self-confidence?
Here are 18 tips:
Help them prepare. Preparation is the mother of self-confidence. When we are prepared we are half way there to being self-assured.
Do not push them too fast to achieve high levels. It can be tempting to take a gifted athlete and fast track through the beginning part of the sport. Be very, very careful in doing so. Kids develop the basis for their confidence in these early years and suddenly being put into extremely challenging situations can disrupt their emerging sense of confidence.
Be careful of the compliments you give them. Some kids are very sensitive about letting people down. Comments that well-meaning adults will make about a child’s participation in a sport (“Wow! I bet we are going to see you in the Olympics!”) can actually serve undermine a child’s confidence.
Use caution in the words you use to console them. “Don’t worry, next time you’ll win the competition!” might sound like a way to console a disappointed athlete, but the child might just hear it as “Next time I expect you to win.”
Help them draw the relationship between their efforts and their success. For instance, when kids understand that they are improving their skills because they are working hard at conditioning they understand that they control their progress by their efforts.
Let them fail. Part of lacking self-confidence is rooted in a fear of failure. When children learn that failure is normal and that it something from which they can rebound their inner strength grows.
Expect them to solve problems on their own to the best of their ability. When you child has a problem, step back and see if they are able to solve it for themselves. Instead of jumping in and giving them the answer, ask them questions or give them small hints or suggestions about how they might go about things differently to get a different result. When we teach kids that they have the ability to solve their own problems, they develop their self-confidence.
Teach them that part of solving your own problems is knowing that it is normal to need help. Like a baby who is securely attached to a caregiver is best able to go off in the world and explore, we all gain confidence to take risks in knowing that we can seek help from others if needed. Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.
Help them find the people and places that can help. Pointing out the resources available to children when they are struggling will boost their confidence. For example, knowing that they can ask for a coach for help, they can take a private lesson if they are stuck on a skill, or even that YouTube is filled with great examples of the skills they are learning helps kids understand where to look for help.
Reflect with them on both their successes and their failures. Getting kids into the habit of reflecting on what went well, what didn’t go well and what they will do the same and differently next time is a terrific way to help kids feel more confident. They can work on problem solving without emotionality. It is critical that you don’t insert your opinion of their successes and failures—just be their sounding board!
Give them responsibility. Responsibility gives kids a sense of belonging and that they matter. It builds self-efficacy, the belief that you are capable of or good at something.
Stress the importance of manners. How the world receives us plays a large role in developing confidence. Look people in the eye. Address them when they enter a room. Please and thank you. When others like us, we feel more confident.
Show them how to set boundaries. When we are able to set healthy boundaries, we feel more grounded. When we lack boundaries, we find ourselves saying yes to things that don’t serve our highest needs or that are consistent with our own values. Self-confident people are able to say no to the things that they do not wish to do.
Have more than one definition of success or one goals for the season. Success is not a singular measure. When there are multiple markers of success and several goals the child is trying for there are more opportunities to succeed.
Define success in a measure that is controllable. Always bring your measures of success back to the process, not the outcomes. Self-confidence is about having an inner sense of control.
Pay attention to physical cues. Kids need to understand the physical cues that they are becoming less confident and pay attention to them so they can use relaxation techniques to get centered.
Teach kids to reverse engineer. Reverse engineering is the idea borrowed from engineering that involves taking apart a product to analyze how it is made. When kids learn to reverse engineer their goals, they come to understand the processes that they will need to undergo to reach their goals. When people understand what they need to do to be successful, they feel more confident.
Lead by example. You are your child’s role model. When your child sees that you are confident he or she will follow your example.