How to Help Your Child Feel Confident
(by guest contributor and Sport Psychologist Dr. Sam Maniar)
I recently returned from the NFL Scouting Combine where I evaluated nearly 150 players. I was struck by how confident some seemed while others seemed to be “shaking in their boots.” For these young men, their level of confidence could help them win or lose millions of dollars.
As a sport psychologist I am often contacted by coaches, parents, and athletes inquiring if I can help with someone’s confidence. Perhaps they had it once and recently lost it. Or, they have some but want more. Or maybe, they didn’t have it to begin with. I will share with you some of the things I tell them.
Based on my experience, some of the main components of confidence are listed below. It is by no means a fully comprehensive list, but my hope is that it gives you a starting point for helping to improve your athlete’s confidence.
• Preparation It’s hard to feel confident if you haven’t put in the work. Preparation is more than physical training, it’s also running through various scenarios and responses, it’s watching film or reviewing scouting reports, and it’s studying the playbook, and it’s visualizing the event in the days and weeks leading up to the competition. The more preparation an athlete puts in, the more confident they will feel.
• Past Success Like preparation, it is difficult to feel truly confident without having experienced success in the past. As a parent or coach, your job is to help remind your athlete of the past success they have experienced. It can even help to visualize them or watch them on video. If your athlete is new to a sport or has never experienced success in certain situations, help them to remember successes they have had in different situations that may apply in the new context.
• Goal Setting Setting and achieving goals feels great. Just think how you feel when you cross off items on your “to do” list. When our confidence takes a blow, it can be nice to look at all the accomplishments and improvements we have made. For this reason, I strongly encourage coaches and parents to help their athletes track their goals. A simple thing to do is to set a controllable or process-oriented goal each day. If the goal is attained, place a penny in an empty plastic bottle. Over time, the bottle will fill. This will serve as a visual reminder of all the successes your athlete has achieved.
• Growth Mindset Help your athlete view mistakes as learning opportunities or feedback. To truly succeed is to go through this cycle: 1. Make a mistake. 2. Identify why the mistake happened. 3. Make an adjustment to prevent the mistake from recurring. 4. Move on. (If you want more information on growth mindset, see my earlier article on the topic.)
• Optimistic Outlook and Hope Confident people believe that they will be successful or that things will work out. In many cases, optimism is engrained in one’s personality and can be difficult to change. Thus, I prefer to focus on the construct of hope which has been researched by C. R. Snyder. Snyder found that successful (and confident) people are motivated to achieve goals and are able to find multiple paths to solutions. Consequently, they are able to push through, or around, roadblocks. As a parent or coach, we can help our athletes stay goal-directed and also help them identify various solutions to problems. Note that this does not mean to tell them the solution. The key is that they learn to identify various paths on their own.
• Positive Self-Talk We have all heard the saying: “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are probably right.” Our brain sends messages to our muscles to respond in line with our thoughts. Therefore, negative thoughts will increase the likelihood of failure, while positive thoughts will increase the likelihood of success. Help your athletes see the positive or find the silver lining. Then, help them say these positive things in their heads (or out loud). When negative thoughts creep in, help your athletes flip those thoughts into positive ones.
• Focus on Controllables As I mentioned in my article on anxiety hacks, pressure is often the result of trying to control something that we cannot control. We can’t fully control outcomes of games, so trying to do so is not only futile, but it will also lead to more pressure. And when this happens, our confidence can slip. Help your athlete focus on things that are in their control, such as tactics (quick passes or getting to the end line), effort, or attitude. Focusing on mechanics is usually a bad idea, since it typically worsens performance.
If after trying all of these strategies your child is still struggling, let me know. I’d be happy to provide you with additional tips or connect you with a sport psychologist in your area.
Sam Maniar, Ph.D. is a Sport Psychologist and Founder of the Center for Peak Performance, LLC where he works with athletes, teams, and businesses. He holds a doctorate degree in Counseling Psychology with a specialization in Sport Psychology. His favorite two “athletes” are his eleven-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter. To learn more about Dr. Maniar, visit his website at www.CenterForPeakPerformance.com or follow him on Twitter at @sam_maniar