Helping Sports Kids Increase Their Confidence: Identifying the Top Confidence Killers

Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. This is the first in a series of guest blogs about cultivating confident and coachable young athletes. Listen to their podcast with TeamSnap CEO Dave Dupont about being a committed and balanced sports parent.

An 11-year-old basketball player says that he loses confidence when his parents bring all 10 members of his extended family to watch his games. He feels pressure to perform well, and gets embarrassed—and loses confidence—when that doesn’t happen.

This is just one common confidence buster.

“I take on my team’s errors,” says Kevin, age 13, a baseball, hockey and tennis player. “If someone steals home base, I assume it’s my fault. I’m really hard on myself. I get real down on myself.”

“I wonder if I am going to shoot a good round of golf before I start. I doubt I can stack up to the competition and if I am good enough,” says Erica, age 15,

It’s important for parents and coaches to understand what hurts kids’ confidence and try to create an environment that allows them to feel more confident. That may mean parents need to watch what they say on the sidelines, or help kids understand that they’re thinking in ways that hurt their confidence.

Our research shows that these are sports kids’ top confidence killers:

1. Expecting too much of themselves

Kids with high expectations may tell themselves, “I need to pitch a no-hitter,” or “I have to be the top scorer.” These are expectations that even pro athletes wouldn’t impose on themselves! When athletes have extremely high expectations, they set themselves up for feeling disappointed.

2. Having perfectionist traits

Perfectionists undermine their confidence by expecting to have a perfect game, or to throw a no-hitter, have a mistake-free performance or win the match 6-0, 6-0. Such accomplishments are rare in sports, but perfectionists aim for them.
Perfectionists are hard on themselves and criticize their slightest mistakes, like Kevin, quoted above. They analyze each performance in minute detail, focusing on their bad stance, terrible posture, and horrible attitude. They have a hard time enjoying sports because they’re so determined to perform without making mistakes.

3. Feeling self-doubt

Young athletes who doubt their abilities are often nervous, anxious or fearful, like Erica, quoted above. That’s not to say that even top athletes experience doubt at times. Young athletes whose self-doubt hurts their confidence may feel inadequate, unable to perform when others are watching, inferior to the competition, or may become hesitant when faced with adversity or opposition.

4. Failure to let go of negative feedback

Some athletes have a hard time with negative feedback. They hold onto it and it turns into their own negative voice inside their head. They might tell themselves, “Coach said I made a bad pass, so I must be a bad passer.” They may do this after a coach focuses only on their mistakes, when parents point out only the down side of their performance, or when teammates criticize them.

5. Failing to believe in themselves

When young athletes don’t believe in themselves, they question their ability to perform. They ask themselves , “Did I practice hard enough this week?” or other questions. Doubt can deal a real blow to an athlete’s confidence. Athletes who don’t believe in themselves often have defeatist attitudes and use negative labels to describe themselves, such as “I too small or slow to be a good athlete.” They wonder if sports is worth the effort, since the outcome will likely be failure.

Above are the top five confidence killers. In our next article, we’ll talk about Confidence Busters 6-10.

Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting http://www.youthsportspsychology.com.

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