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Three Ways To Boost Confidence In Your Athletes

Thursday, April, 28, 2016

Originally published in Coaches plan by the Coaching Association of Canada on coach.ca and written by Dr. Shaunna Taylor, PhD from the Canadian Sport Psychology Association. (Original post available here).

Every coach has struggled with building confidence in their athletes and team, and yet, there are surprisingly few resources that help address this important challenge. While every athlete has their own individual profile and history, there are some important foundational theories that apply to all.

Confidence really begins with the idea of belief. It emanates from an athlete’s core beliefs and is combined with the effect of real-life evidence. Core beliefs are formed throughout childhood and are integral to how we operate in our lives. They are foundational and affect the way we view the world – many of these beliefs are set by the time we reach the age of ten. They tend to drive our actions and the way we navigate life.

Belief is the “director” that often runs the entire production. Early in life, we are heavily influenced by the people who cared for us, and the early experiences that formed our worldview. Our core beliefs involve such things as whether we believe most people are essentially good (or bad), whether we are capable and powerful (or incapable and powerless), or whether life can be satisfying and joyful (or a struggle and full of sadness). Beliefs are the lens through which we determine if the glass is half full or half empty.

Although beliefs are forged at a young age, they do not have to dictate our destiny. In fact, when we re-evaluate them later in life, we can come to see that many core beliefs aren’t based on fact. But unless we examine and critique the core beliefs that drive our actions, they will continue to run the production, and we may find ourselves limited (versus being set free) to make the necessary choices that can move us in new, positive directions in life. In light of this, here are three concrete steps coaches can consider to help athletes increase their confidence:

1. Help them become aware of – and challenge – their core beliefs:

Some of the athletes you are coaching will have very positive and empowering core beliefs. When mixed with a strong work ethic and a solid base of skills, this can be a potent combination. But you may also have athletes with a strong base of skills who also have negative core beliefs. As a result, the confidence levels – and performance record – in this second group may often be more inconsistent and volatile.

One way to help athletes put their core beliefs to the test is to challenge them with evidence. For example, show athletes (through videos, storytelling, recalling past performances as a group or individually) that they are capable of overcoming adversity, or achieving past positive performance outcomes. Create a highlight reel, or encourage them to come up with one of their own. Show them the evidence of their past accomplishments.

If your athlete has a generally negative self-view, or you observe negative body language, it can help to offer up evidence of their capabilities. Talk about your belief in them, and provide them with goals to override their defeatist perspective. This can serve to build competency which, in turn, can lead to greater confidence over time.

2. Build a confidence and evidence inventory:

One form of irrefutable evidence that can demonstrate an athlete’s capability is examples of past wins and strong performances. But sport is a dynamic and often heartless arena, and wins come and go. Coaches need to build a steady bank of strong past performances, and include current examples of how the athlete’s strong work ethic is paying off – as well as evidence of skill progression and mastery – in order to challenge an athlete’s negative core beliefs.

Athletes can also incorporate visualization while reviewing techniques and tactics through mental rehearsal. Coaches can also encourage them to engage in constructive self-talk that involves optimistic, evidence-based statements.

3. Keep your standards high:

Coaches who maintain high expectations for their athletes and teams should also follow up with constructive and encouraging actions. If you believe an athlete can reach their goals and you have faith they can improve, then be sure to act like this is the case. Expect hard work and commitment, factors that are within your athlete’s control and have nothing to do with outcomes. This will translate into a greater probability of encouraging a self-fulfilling prophecy in the athlete.

The belief we have in ourselves drives our actions and our ability to strive for positive performance. Don’t compromise or lower your work ethic, be sure to create a positive environment, and incorporate a relentless pursuit of daily improvement and mastery. Setting the bar high will drive everyone – athletes and coaches included – to rise up and feel confident when it comes to aiming for their goals.

Shaunna Taylor, PhD, is a sport leader at PacificSport Okanagan and co-chair of the managing council of the Canadian Sport Psychology Association, as well as an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia in the Masters of Coaching program. She has been consulting with coaches and athletes from the grassroots level to the Olympic/Paralympic level for 15+ years.

Coaches plan is an online magazine for Canada’s coaches published three times a year by the Coaching Association of Canada.  To read more Coaches plan articles, please visit coach.ca.