Are talented athletes confident because they are talented? Or are they talented because they are confident? It’s an interesting question isn’t it? I’m afraid I do not have a definitive answer for you.
Our hope during the #AnythingButSoft campaign was to highlight that coaches and parents are key players in fostering players' confidence. We hope that we gave you enough insight and tools to help you conduct this most important job. There are many drills to teach, plays to master, and strength to build in your young athletes, but if you focus on self-confidence, the rest will fall into place. Confidence building is a team effort.
Confident people think and act differently than non-confident people; the difference is in their mindset. They are aware of positive thinking and how their confidence enhances their sports performance. This is where parents and coaches come in! We can foster this awareness by tapping into it and continuing to communicate how powerful having confidence is.
Here are some of the best ways to work this into your season:
• Have your players keep a performance journal! Every day after practice or a game, have your players record their thoughts about their performance on that day. The physical act of writing their emotions will help them process it, and you as their coach can help them find ways to manage it. For example, an athlete of mine (a pitcher) wrote that she felt doubtful and nervous about coming in during the 5th inning when we were down 4 runs. She was afraid to fail. This was the perfect opportunity for me to coach her on how to change her mindset.
I suggested that the next time this situation happens that she repeat to herself “I’m coming in to help my teammate – the starting pitcher - and my team. I’m capable, I’m well rested, I’m warmed up, and I’m ready to focus." All of these positive statements help control mindset and limit the doubt and nervousness. While doubts may still sneak into their minds, being able to off-set the negative with specific positive statements is crucial. Negative self talk can sabotage the best athletic ability. Coaching each player to focus on the positive is such a powerful tool.
• Have each player come up with 5 positive affirmations that are specific to themselves and their goals. Write them on index cards and have them keep them in their bat bag or backpack. Have them bring them to all practices and games and read them before they step on the field.
Some examples to help them get started are: I am fast. I am a strong hitter. I love catching fly balls. I can get to grounders quickly. I play well under pressure. I am well-trained. I am a starter on the varsity team.
Try to avoid or tweak any statements that are weak, or negative such as: I want to be the best player on my team. I hope to get faster this year. I want to have a high RBI average this year. These statements are not specific enough to invoke confidence as they are hopes and desires, not full-fledged affirmations. I would change these to: I will be a reliable teammate this year, I will work my hardest every day at practice to become stronger this season, and I have what it takes to improve my RBI Average. Focus should always be on what they already are capable of and not what they wish they were.
• Utilize these affirmations at home in non-softball situations. Have them write their own list for what they feel good about at home and in school. For example, if your child is a great helper at home: I have a strong work ethic or I add important and valuable contributions to my family. If you have a daughter who struggles with math: I will allow 30 additional minutes each day to focus on math facts. If your daughter suffers from low self-esteem, have her write three things she loves about herself: I have beautiful eyes, I am strong and athletic, I am a wonderful older sister.
All of these should not only be written down but posted either in their room, bathroom, kitchen bulletin board, or screensaver on their laptop/phone. Having them see these affirmations and reading them at least one time per day is the key to them believing them and becoming more confident. These affirmations will come to mind when doubts and insecurities come around and your daughter will then be able to push those doubts aside. Affirmations are proven confidence boosters.
• Talk to them, trust them, and love them. Athletes are people! All people have similar needs. Many times we view athletes as confident, independent individuals and we forget that they are young people who need constant support, love, and communication. They are learning who they are and who they want to become. As parents, we cannot let that happen without talking to them constantly along the way.
Talking things out (and I mean everything!) helps them navigate through the muddy waters of self-confidence. We are their guiding lights along their path. All people want to feel trustworthy. We need to provide them with that trust. Give them opportunities for them to prove themselves trustworthy and you will foster this trait in them. Love them like no one else can love them. Don’t let them forget it. Don’t stop telling them you love them - even if you don’t hear it back. Knowing they are loved unconditionally ensures a confident and self-reliant young woman will emerge long after the softball season is over.
Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles, MS RDN CSSD, is a former softball player, coach and parent.