Raising Resilient Athletes


The Problem with Missing Self-Confidence

Andrea_henkel_Burke_The Problem with Missing Self-Confidence

Usually, Sports should boost self-confidence in kids. That´s why joining athletic programs at a young age is such a good idea.

Kids see progress very quickly. They extend their skill level, their fitness, their coordination, and so much more. Unfortunately, many kids lack confidence, which comes with a cost. 

First, they don´t perform at the level they want to and totally could. When athletes lack confidence in their abilities, they hesitate when it´s time to take action. They question themselves and their ability to achieve the goals they have. The dream they are dreaming. This is sad because they limit themself before they even try full out. What is the first thing they will do? They change the goal and create one that keeps them feeling comfortable for the moment. But there is a mismatch because it is not the goal they deeply aim for. This mismatch doesn´t boost the missing confidence, even when the lower goal is reached. It is more important to be fine with not reaching the goal, but the athlete knowing they gave all they had.  

I´m a strong believer that it is better to fight for the really desired goal, the one that is in the athlete's mind, and give it a try. Did I reach all the time my goals - not at all! I still loved to aim for all of them. Young athletes don´t want to miss discovering how it feels to push themselves beyond their comfort zones.

One important point I want to address here. They push themselves. It´s not that they get pushed, at least not all of the time. What they get is encouraged through the trust of coaches, parents, and other teammates that the athlete can do it. But the best push is the one that comes from inside, and a limited goal setting is settling for mediocrity rather than striving for excellence. I think we all agree that this is not boosting self-confidence either.

That leads us to the fear of Failure. Missing self-confidence is basically anticipating failure. The problem is they are always thinking about the result and don´t focus on the skills they want to work on or just use. Often they are way more skilled than they think they are. When athletes doubt their abilities and fear the outcome, they become overly cautious. You would think they avoid taking risks, but that might be even riskier. When a ski jumper wants to play safe, the risk of falling might be even higher than focusing on the different elements that lead to the result. 

Those athletes may also shy away from challenging situations, but when it´s time to compete, fear definitely prevents them from reaching their full potential and exploring new opportunities for growth and development.

Ignoring the inner push, avoiding challenges, and letting the fear of failure win doesn´t help to become resilient. Confidence serves as a buffer against setbacks and failures. When young athletes lack self-confidence, they struggle to bounce back from challenges and disappointments. That´s why they avoid them, and with that, they are missing out. It´s a skill to deal with setbacks. In sports or life, there will not everything go the way we would like to, and that´s okay. As earlier young athletes experienced that it might be easier to overcome a disappointing result or any other setback, as less dramatic it will be seen. That´s resilience, keeping on going, not letting setbacks, losing sight of dreams, and short- and long-term goals.

I said it already, lowering the bar by lowering the goal might not be the best idea because this also may impact mental and emotional well-being. Missing self-confidence can take a toll on young athletes when it comes to their mental health. Feelings of stress and anxiety do not just undermine their performance but the overall enjoyment of their sport as well.

There is nothing wrong with taking the kid out of sports if this is totally not their thing, but I would be careful about the real reason. If the athlete is totally self-confident in other areas of life, then I think it´s fine to leave the athletic pathway. If not, I would consider taking sport as the vehicle to experience resilience. Not every kid needs to aim to be an Olympic athlete, but for a long healthy life, it is a great foundation to move as much as possible as long as possible and, of course, enjoy all of it.  

One more problem I want to address when self-confidence is missing opportunities for growth is missing too. Those two are closely linked together. Young athletes who need more confidence most likely shy away from seeking feedback, coaching, or participating in competitive environments. By avoiding these growth opportunities, they miss out on valuable learning and experiences.

How can we support young athletes so they can build self-confidence? Understanding the consequences is often a good first step, showing them the results they secure vs. opportunities they may miss. Of course, we want to be clear that also the opportunities might not be reached, but we only find this out by giving it a try.

Supporting the athlete in trying - no matter the outcome - is better than letting them adjust the goal to their comfort level.

Do you have a Dream? Keep going towards it :)


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