How to Build Confidence in Young Athletes
Athletic confidence is a key piece to success. And the earlier an athlete focuses on building their confidence, the better.
As a mental performance coach, I've worked with many athletes who've struggled with low self-confidence. They doubt their skills, and as a result, they underperform in games.
Through working with them, I've also seen their confidence grow, and as a result, their performances improve. But it's not just that their performances improve, but also that they're having more fun.
It's enjoyable to compete with confidence and miserable to continually doubt yourself.
Not to mention the fear of failure and sports performance anxiety that are caused by a lack of self-confidence.
Knowing the importance of building confidence in sports, it's easy to see that the earlier an athlete begins to work on their confidence, the better.
Which is why, in this article, you're going to learn how you can help build confidence in your young athlete.
Why Building Confidence Matters in Youth Athletes
With older athletes, a lot of the focus is placed on performance. There seems to be an increased amount of pressure placed on them to perform well...and this is true.
For younger athletes, there is still a heavy amount of focus placed on performance, but what matters even more is enjoyment. And what usually happens is the more they enjoy themselves, the better they will perform.
In fact, I believe this is true for any athlete.
The older athletes I've worked with who've lost the love for the game have seen a large improvement in their production on the field or court once we've worked on bringing that joy and passion back into their sport.
And so how does confidence play into an athlete enjoying themselves?
Because playing with confidence is fun!
When a young athlete has confidence, they trust in themselves more. By trusting in themselves more, they are able to perform freely. They are not holding themselves back and second guessing what they're doing as much.
When a young athlete doesn't have confidence, they have an increased likelihood of developing mental blocks. These mental blocks take away the joy they feel for their sport and can quickly turn an activity they used to love into something they dread.
We also can't overlook the increase in performance that results when an athlete competes with higher levels of self-confidence.
Even though the majority of attention is on enjoying themselves when it comes to youth athletes, there is also still the truth that you want them to perform well, just as they want themselves to perform well.
The greater their confidence, the better they will perform. And the cool thing about this is, it creates a wonderful cycle.
When a young athlete has confidence, they perform well, which is fun so their joy grows. The more fun they're having the better they will perform in the future. And the better they perform, the more confidence they will build.
Building Confidence in Young Athletes
Confidence is a skill and needs to be viewed as such. One of the major problems I've seen in terms of confidence, no matter the athlete's age, is hoping to feel confident.
This means the athlete shows up to a game, wondering if they're going to feel confident today.
As they warm up and as the game begins, the hope is there. But more specifically, the fear is there that today will be a day where they doubt themselves or feel overly nervous, knowing how detrimental that is to their level of play.
But confidence should not be something an athlete hopes for. It should be something they control. And the way they control it is by building it just as they would any other skill.
Building confidence in young athletes needs to be done so proactively. This means, you take a few tools and exercises, teach them to your young athlete, and help guide them along.
This is a very similar approach to how they improve their physical skills.
Let's say you have a young baseball player who wants to improve his hitting. What you would do is identify the aspects of hitting he needs to work on. Then you would find a few drills that would help him improve that area.
The same is true with confidence.
You want to take the tools outlined below, teach them to your young athlete, and help them begin applying them to their training.
Tool #1: Changing Their Thinking
At the core of feelings are thoughts. They are what drive our emotions and ingrain beliefs in our minds. Which is why it's crucial for young athletes to learn how to manage the thoughts they have.
The way a young athlete speaks to themselves and thinks about themselves is known as self-talk.
This self-talk is going to have a direct impact on how confident they feel in the moment, as well as a large impact on building confidence and developing beliefs moving forward.
A lot of athletes who exhibit negative self-talk have developed this form of thinking over many years. It doesn't happen on purpose, but is more caused by oversight.
Without understanding the importance of your thoughts, it's easy to allow negative thinking to flourish. However, this is detrimental to confidence.
What you want to do is help your young athlete recognize the power of their thoughts and the role they play in how they feel.
But what you also want to make sure of is that you are helping them use their thoughts to increase their confidence.
This can be done through a simple self-talk exercise:
- Have them list out all the negative/unhelpful thoughts they have.
- Work with them to create a confidence building alternative for each one.
- Have them repeat the new alternatives to themselves once every day.
This exercise will work to train more confident self-talk, which over time will help them develop more positive thought patterns, as well as increasing the belief they have in themselves.
Tool #2: Mental Rehearsal
To truly trust yourself, you need to have a memory of success.
This means you have the memory of seeing yourself perform your skills well. The best way to gain this is through experience. But there's another tool we can use to leverage this idea of building a memory of success: mental rehearsal, also known as sports visualization.
With mental rehearsal, what your young athlete will do is imagine themselves performing their skills. They will go into as much detail as they can and see themselves perform well.
The more they do this, the more they are creating that memory of success. Couple that with actually playing well in practices and games, and you have a powerful recipe for building confidence in your young athlete.
I've seen a lot of success with visualization for young athletes because they have such great imaginations!
Here's a step-by-step guide to performing mental rehearsal for confidence:
- Have them get in a comfortable seated position.
- Have them close their eyes and breathe deeply for 1 minute.
- Have them begin to imagine the scene, going into as much detail as they can.
- Now have them visualize themselves performing. As they do, have them work to generate a feeling of confidence.
- When they've finished, have them see themselves succeed and really feel successful, just as they would if they played well in real life.
Tool #3: Identifying Their Strengths
As an athlete, it's easy to overlook strengths and always look at your weaknesses. This is done out of a desire to grow, but what's not often taken into consideration is the blow this has to your confidence.
Athletes should always be striving to improve. But that must be coupled with a strong understanding and recognition of what they already do well.
To help your young athlete learn how to recognize their strengths, what you can have them do is make a list of all their strengths. Then, each day, have them read over the list (much like with the self-talk).
It is through repetitive reflection their confidence will grow.
As you have them looking over their strengths, one thing I encourage you to do is to continue to push them to improve and look for areas that need work.
These areas are valuable. And with them already realizing their strengths, they will be in a perfect position to truly learn and improve.
Tool #4: Create a Confidence Resume
This is one of my favorite exercises for any athlete to do. Simply put, it involves them listing out all the reasons they have to feel confident.
Confidence is all about experience and understanding. Most athletes already have plenty of reasons to feel confident, even if they aren't very confident. They just likely aren't paying attention to these reasons.
They're easy to overlook, especially if the athlete is hard on themselves or maybe has some perfectionist tendencies. But paying attention to all the reasons they have to feel confident is crucial to long-term self-belief.
What you can do is have them answer the following questions:
- What have you accomplished in your sport that makes you most proud?
- How would you describe your skills to others if you took the most positive stance possible?
- What can you say about your training that gives you confidence?
- What can you say about your commitment or work ethic in sports?
- How are others supportive of your sport that helps you feel confident?
Once they've answered these questions, have them read over the answers once a day, or at the very least a few times a week.
Just as with all the exercises, repetition is key. The more the young athlete reflects on all the reasons they have to feel confident, the more confident they will become.
Mental Coaching for Young Athletes
The four tools outlined above will help your young athlete build self-confidence. The important thing is that they put the tools into practice and do so consistently.
Now, if you're looking for a more in-depth and personalized approach to helping your young athlete build confidence, then you need one-on-one mental coaching for youth athletes.
With mental coaching, I will work with your athlete on building their confidence.
What they'll do first is take an assessment, which gives me a good understanding of their current strengths and challenges when it comes to their mental game.
From there, I will create a custom mental game plan for them that focuses on the main mental skills and tools we will use to build their self-confidence.
The work takes place during weekly coaching sessions that last 50-minutes. Following each session I will give your young athlete action steps. These will be exercises for them to do during the week to really begin applying the tools and techniques they're learning.
To learn more about mental coaching for youth athletes and to see how you can get started, please fill out the form below or schedule a free introductory coaching call.
No matter if you work with me, or apply the tools outlined above on your own, it's important that you begin helping your young athlete develop high levels of self-confidence.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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