In all my years working with young athletes I’ve seen the lowest and highest levels of self-confidence. What’s important to understand as a trainer, parent or coach is that the biggest part of our job is to be a teacher first and foremost. We have to do our best to get into the mind of a young athlete and put ourselves back in time when we were kids. As adults, it’s sometimes hard to remember what it was like growing up and how we felt with all the pressure on us to perform in school, life and sports. Some adults still don’t have the confidence to deal with life, so how can we understand how to help our own kids and young athletes we coach.
When dealing with young athletes we have a responsibility to try and recognize different levels of confidence and support the ones who need to build it most. Self-confidence I believe is born within us and simply comes naturally as we grow up, but some athletes I believe can be born lacking confidence as well. Some can have it crushed, while others can have it built from scratch or re-built from being destroyed by various circumstances and experiences in life.
A young athlete needs to know the difference between real internal confidence, where they have a strong understanding of their identity and place in the world in relation to their surroundings. Others can a have a false perception of self-confidence through too much external praise, especially if they already lack confidence to begin with. That’s what I’ve seen lead to break downs in the future where kids rode the praise train, being put on a pedestal their whole life and hung on to that with dear life.
When in actuality their real internal confidence was always fragile and ready to break down when the external praise train faded away. I’ve seen this happen when some kids get to college or university and all of a sudden they can’t cope with fitting into a new crowd because growing up they had a false sense of confidence and could hide it because of all the external praise they got from others around them.
I grew up playing hockey at an early age but didn’t play for very long because I lacked the confidence and self-esteem to continue playing. My parents supported me but I think I was just naturally born a shy kid. I even remember growing up into my high school years, that internally I had very little self-confidence but I could fake it because externally I was well liked and a good athlete. I was popular amongst friends and treated well, praised by family for my accomplishments, but when faced with real life situations that tested my true internal confidence, I was completely terrified.
It took me years and constant self-reflection to try and understand where and why I belong. I was a very analytical person who needed to know how and why the world works the way it does. Friends, family, and coaches can provide all the support necessary to help build or increase confidence in young athletes, but unless that athlete is aware that they don’t need external praise to believe in themselves then it could lead to problems in the future.
Self-confidence is invaluable and means everything for dealing with adversity in the future, such as building relationships, the pressure in college and university or getting a new job. We can’t underestimate the value of internal appreciation for our own self and that needs to be communicated to our young athletes. Don’t just praise them all the time to make them feel better, but be real with them and let them know that life can be tough and it’s not about how many times they fall down but how they get back up. It’s about not being afraid to fail and learn from their experiences to become a better person and take the positive from every situation. When we stop worrying about what others think of us is when we can appreciate our true self-confidence. We can never give up on helping our young athletes learn during the hard times and give them a platform or foundation for growth.
Even the most gifted athletes might not go on to be successful in sports because they don’t have a true appreciation for their own abilities. They usually have a hard time identifying the difference from being so talented that in the long run, it means nothing if they don’t have the confidence to cope with adversity in the future.
How we deal with adversity is what shows our true character and I think we have all known someone with true appreciation for internal confidence but lacked the skills in a sport. Take the time to learn and reflect on how young athletes perceives themselves. Be there to discuss feeling and communicate effectively. Always tell it like it is, and don’t be afraid to know that a young athlete needs tough lessons to feel that self-appreciation and not a false sense of confidence that comes from too much unnecessary external praise.