In my blog article, The Problem with Missing Self-Confidence as a young athlete, I already scratched some ways to address this problem, but there are more options to improve self-confidence. This is not only helpful for athletic performance but for life in general.
1) Pointing out achievements on every level.
When young athletes train and join all the practice sessions, it´s almost impossible not to improve in something. Simply showing up to each practice with dedication is an accomplishment worth acknowledging. That´s commitment, and being committed to something at a young age cannot be taken for granted. That´s why joining every practice with intention is something to acknowledge highly. Sometimes, they need to hear that they are capable of doing something that not every young athlete is doing. Showing up is building skills, and skills build confidence.
2) Setting goals as orientation.
In the blog post I mentioned above, I already talked about that adjusting a goal might not be the way to build self-confidence. No goal is unrealistic, just often how we think we get there. That´s why it is a good idea to break down the larger goals into smaller steps to show the way to the desired outcome. When they then take all the steps, they can already see if it is possible to reach the goal or maybe not. So it will not be shocking when the time is coming, and the goal is missed. This process allows young athletes to experience the whole picture on a different level. They will learn to adjust their actions to be able to reach the goal they desire.
3) Offer mini challenges
When young athletes get opportunities to challenge themselves, they learn how to deal with those situations. There discover more options and collect experiences of coming back after they have been disappointed. And they have the chance to experience that disappointments are just part of the athletic game. We will not be able to save our athletes from frustration or sadness. But overcoming those experiences can significantly boost their confidence and resilience.
4) Have them realize how they are talking to themselves.
There is this talk about being positive at all times. I am personally not sure about it. I would like to keep it realistic with the tendency that the outcome can be positive when doing certain action steps. Talking all the time positively, even when it´s not feeling positive, is confusing for the athlete. But I agree that athletes should not have a negative talk with themselves. They should consider being their own best friend. In this way, they don´t talk them down on something but encourage them to move forward.
5) Create a supportive environment.
A supportive environment should be neutral. Values should not be tight up with results but the work behind any result. No athlete should come home or back to the coach after a competition and feel guilty about a result. Getting support for effort makes them guilt free and also encourages athletes to take thoughtful risks and try hard, even when the outcome is not totally predictable.
6) Focus on skill development.
As more athletes try and experiencing their bodies abilities as faster and stronger they get. Their foundation of skills will be built up. Building skills is the best way to improve Self-confidence in young athletes. Self-talk and visualization is great and should be included as training, but gets even more powerful, when athletes actual experience their imaginations. That´s why it is necessary to provide them with opportunities to practice and refine their skills.
7) Lead by example.
Be your young athlete's role model. Work for your dreams, do what you said you were going to do, and point out your own setbacks and comebacks. It can be very helpful to see that getting in action boosts confidence.
8) Hold them accountable
In a loving way, remind your athlete of their goals, the ones that let their eyes shine. Brainstorm with them together on how to get there and then make a commitment that you, as a parent, coach, or other supporter, will hold the athlete accountable, so it will be easier to keep going when things get in the way. You basically say that you will be there when obstacles appear.
Developing self-confidence requires patience and consistent support. Find out which of the strategies above are working so you can help your young athlete to develop and nurture their self-confidence, to discover their full potential both on and off the field, track, rink, or wherever they compete.
Do you have a Dream? Keep going towards it :)
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