Beth Brown

Beth Brown

The most consistent finding in peak performance literature is the direct, positive relationship between confidence and success.

Research doesn’t say success causes confidence, but it clearly tells us that outstanding performers are confident.

Confidence is all about believing in ourselves. It’s having realistic faith that we can make anything happen, fulfill our dream and reach our goal.

Society teaches us we need to have successful results to become confident, and it’s natural to pass that belief on to our kids and youth sport team members. But what if confidence can be created through an intentional process and doesn’t have to be solely based on winning?

Brain science tells us that confidence is a choice. Helping kids choose to create their confidence doesn’t guarantee they’ll always play great, but it gives them the best opportunity to perform closer to their potential (and have more fun).

Apply the following seven tips for creating confidence in kids and youth sport team members:

1. Reinforce and reward effort

Sometimes it’s easier to reinforce effort during practice than during competition, when we naturally tend to focus more on outcomes. By creating a plan to emphasize effort during competition and reward effort after competition, you will increase levels of motivation and fun.

• Pre-determine regular intervals — like the end of a quarter or half-time — to check in with kids and ask them to rate their effort.

• Develop a system to reward effort, like a hustle award, and not just outcomes, such as stickers for making touchdowns.

• On the car ride home, ask younger kids if they tried their hardest and ask older kids to rate their effort on a scale of 1-10.

2. Focus on self-improvement

One of the top three reasons kids play sports is to improve. We need to create a mastery-oriented environment where they feel successful when they learn something new or experience skills improvement. A mastery-oriented environment is about “me vs. myself.”

When kids improve skills, they also build confidence. We can help kids accomplish both by creating optimal levels of challenge. We can model what we do after the video game industry, which gradually increases levels of challenge to keep kids engaged and builds skills and confidence in the process.

• Track and celebrate progression by charting and sharing important statistics.

• Ask kids to set up a practice activity, or game, to create level-up challenges.

• Record videos of kids swinging, throwing, shooting, etc. to show them visible skill-improvement.

3. Celebrate the good and great

Emotions are like a highlighter on the brain. We best recall experiences attached to strong emotions. The more we help kids store positive memories by celebrating the good and great, the more they’ll be able to recall those positive memories the next time they need them. Celebrating may be visible “on the outside” in the form of a high-five or fist-bump, but it also happens “on the inside” through positive self-talk and imagery.

• Ask kids how they plan to celebrate the good and great. Have them show you how they plan to visibly celebrate and, for older kids, help them determine what they plan to imagine or say to help store positive memories.

• At the start of each practice, have team members show you how they’ll celebrate the good and great.

• Throughout the day, catch kids doing something right.

4. Model and develop a growth mindset

Carol Dweck, Ph.D., coined the phrase and wrote a book about the growth mindset, which is seen in kids who believe new skills can be developed through practice, embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and think effort is essential.

On the contrary, kids with a fixed mindset think skills are something you’re born with, avoid challenges out of fear of failure and believe effort is something you do when you’re not good enough. Her research shows young people with a growth mindset continually outperform young people who have a fixed mindset.

• Be intentional about modeling the use of the phrases “yet” and “not yet.”

• Teach kids to use these phrases as they’re developing skills, such as “I’m on the right track, but I’m not there yet.”

5. Practice confident body posture

Research tells us our physiology can affect our psychology. How we sit and stand, as well as our facial expressions, can trigger chemicals in our body, which affect how we think and feel. Sitting up straight in a chair gives us more confidence in our thoughts. Two minutes of power poses a day can boost feelings of confidence, and choosing to smile can help us feel happier.

• Have your child create their own “power pose” — a physical position they stand in when they feel confident. Challenge them to use their power pose throughout the day.

• Lead an activity where kids experiment with different facial expressions. Ask them to notice how they feel. Encourage them to incorporate a facial expression into their power pose.

• Help team members develop and practice a confident walk. Ask them to think about a performer in their sport or activity who is confident and walk around the room like they are that person.

6. Give specific, skill-based feedback

Coaches tend to give a different type and frequency of feedback to players they perceive to have different levels of ability. When we have expectations that a young person is good or has the potential to be a high performer, we tend to give improvement-focused feedback more often.

When we believe a young person is not very good or doesn’t have potential, we give less feedback, and it’s usually “good job” feedback that doesn’t help them improve. How we give feedback can contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy where good performers get better and poor performers don’t.

• Give specific, skill-based feedback in similar doses to each kid or team member. Increase awareness of how you give feedback by asking somone else what they notice. If you’re a coach, videotape yourself coaching in practice.

• At the end of a class or practice, take five minutes to get feedback from students. Ask what they learned and what feedback you gave them that will help them improve. Listen to what they say and provide skill-based feedback, if needed.

• Create a coaching or teaching cue card to carry in your pocket. Look at the card as a reminder to provide skill-based feedback to each kid, regardless of their current skill level.

7. Re-frame mistakes as learning

There are countless stories about great performers who have failed, messed up or lost hundreds or thousands of times. They’ve learned that failures and setbacks are essential for growth and development.

The more we can support kids as they make mistakes and help them reframe losing as learning, the more they’ll persist and improve. Helping kids separate who they are from how they perform can increase motivation and retention.

• Share examples of well-known athletes, artists or musicians who “failed” before they become highly successful. Hall of Famer Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team; Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb; and Oprah Winfrey was once demoted from co-anchor to a writing and reporting position.

• Challenge kids to think about other sports or areas of life they’re currently good at. Ask them to share how good they were when they first started and what they’ve done to improve. Make the connection between effort, practice and skill development.

• Tell kids or team members how much you enjoyed watching them play, regardless of the outcome.

Getting confidence from winning games or hearing positive statements from others is great when it happens. However, it’s almost always outside of our control. By applying these tips, you can help kids and youth sport team members create confidence.

Beth Brown, Ph.D., is a life-long educator on a mission to inspire families and kids to have fun, become more active and learn life lessons through sports in her children’s book series "Adventures with Divot & Swish." After picking up a basketball at age 2 and swinging her first golf club at age 8, Beth was hooked on sports. Her youth sport participation paved the way for her collegiate success as a member of the University of Oklahoma basketball and conference champion women’s golf teams.

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