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How to Build Confidence in Teen Athletes
Confidence is as much about what athletes think is important as those things that actually are important. Athletes will often compare themselves to others in terms of how much they don't measure up, to their size, their speed, their performance - even the prestige of their competitors' school. They might compare their own performance to that of a close friend or family member.
What's needed is for each athlete to focus on making his or her own performance better, both as an individual and as a team member, and for you, as a parent or coach, to help them get to that point.
Put the Focus on What Can Be Controlled
Athletes can control the effort they make and they control their attitude about their performance; they cannot control how others play, the conditions in which they play, or their competitors. With plenty of components they cannot control put the focus back on what they can change. This takes much of the pressure off your athletes and allows them to feel more in charge of their own performance.
Focus on their attitude and effort during practice, when it's OK to talk about what needs to be improved and how best to go about it. Make it about individual improvement and emphasize how the best effort of everyone will be reflected in a better result for the whole team.
Emphasize the Importance of Failure
Point out that failure is essential to success. It sounds trite, but it's absolutely true. Coach Vince Lombardi, who knew incredible victories both on the field and off, once said, "It's not whether you get knocked down… it's whether you get back up." He understood the value of the effort it takes to stay in the game even when you'd like nothing more than to sit it out.
Look for role models who embrace this philosophy and find ways to incorporate these lessons off the field, with individuals who aren't sports figures. This reinforces the idea that the individual effort is important and separate from, but complementary to, the accomplishments of the team as a whole.
This will also help athletes who are frustrated at not being seeing enough time off the bench understand that if they obsess about what they want or think should happen, they're not focusing enough on their own performance and are instead taking on the role of coach.
Rethink Your Post-Game Talk
It's important to note that post-game talks go a long way to influencing confidence. Whether you're a coach or the parent of a student athlete, it's important not to drive home the fact that errors were made right after the game. Your athlete is well aware of what happened and, even worse, probably feels embarrassed and guilty.
Let everyone, yourself included, have some time to think away from the crowds and the adrenaline. Now is not the time to point out what they did wrong. Rather, it's a time to focus on the positive points in the game and make sure they know you want to be there with them, watching them work. If you lose your cool or start to lecture, you're not doing any good at all, and any progress you think you might be making will be at the loss of confidence and trust.
You're the adult: be an effective leader, even if that means keeping your own ego and emotions in check.
With hard work and good leadership, you can help improve the confidence of everyone on your team.
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