Building confidence in players
Self-confidence is the best isn’t it? We all love the feeling of absolute belief in what we are about to do. We can see it when our players have confidence too and how it apparently makes them perform well. And it is true, when I work with a variety sports people the most common area of concern is a lack of confidence. Sometimes it’s a general sense and other times it’s a small part of their game, say, confidence when under the high ball, confidence tackling with a particular shoulder or something similar. Helping athletes work through areas of low confidence is big part of coaching as well.
Watching players have confidence in themselves does make performance all the more satisfying, comfortable and usually does result in a more success. So the question is, how do we get this magical feeling of confidence for our players and what can we do to create it?
Well to start with that question itself is what causes a lot of the problem. If we spend all our time trying to create a feeling of confidence, then we are probably missing the point… But more on that later.
The research shows that the main ingredient to improving self-belief and confidence in a particular tasks is to go out and successfully perform that task well. Seems pretty obvious! But are we giving players the opportunity to do that and then believe and understand that they have done it successfully? As coaches you can work harder to create opportunities to enhance this feeling of achievement. As an example, one method might be simply having goal setting conversations and creating plans so that you can acknowledge goal achievement. This is a great way for an athlete to see that they are getting better at something which will in turn help them develop belief in themselves and their own ability. Being specific in feedback and pointing out improvements via video also helps players recognize that they can actually do it!
Other methods to help increase confidence can involve a player watching others do something that they lack the belief to do themselves. This vicarious involvement makes logical sense as well, we’ve likely all experienced times when we’ve doubted our ability to do something and then felt the increase in self-belief after seeing a friend or someone on the same level go ahead do it successfully. It’s the whole “If they can do it, then I can do it as well” type of thinking.
Having players watch others perform tasks that they want to be able to do also helps activate our mirror neurons which are the brain cells that fire in the same way as if we were actually doing the activity! So watching others, through digital media or live, can help to build belief in ourselves and may even start to lay down the neural circuitry required for them to do the task, in that way, in the future.
Additionally, to a lesser extent, verbal persuasion (encouragement) alongside how someone is feeling physiologically and emotionally can help or hinder the development of confidence. As coaches you should always consider these elements. For example, when we are learning something new and we want players to develop confidence in doing it, are players fresh, fast and ready to perform? Or are they sore, tired and unengaged? If the latter is the case, the road to confidence might be much more difficult. This may sound like common sense, but the problem with common sense is that it’s not that common! For example, if you’re planning physically demanding sessions after a loss to “punish” players and then getting athletes to perform and practice tasks that they lack confidence in, you’re not setting up and environment that’s likely to build confidence in abilities.
Having self-belief is great, but it takes work and effort and there is no “quick-fix.” To start helping players on their journey to performing with confidence, I have listed three important points below that every coach should be aware of. Once a player understands these they can begin their path to improving their performance and the confidence will come. Notice carefully how that is worded. The goal is not to improve or create a “feeling” feelings are fickle and can change rapidly. Feelings are transient and in many ways, uncontrollable. Feelings shouldn’t have a place in our goals. We want to focus on what’s important, and that’s improving our own performance out on the pitch. Confidence is just a pretty nice by-product to get along the way and it can happen and grow over time.
So here are my three important facts about player confidence:
1. Real, lasting confidence is not something someone can give a player. They will have to take action. If players look toward a coach, teacher, parent or friend for confidence, it can be a dangerous path. Relying on others for confidence is relying on something not within your control. And don’t get me wrong, encouragement from them is great! but if you’re giving the power over your confidence to someone else, then you’ll build an unhealthy reliance on other people.
2. Players CAN perform well without confidence. And there are examples of this all over the world, in all performance domains. The belief that they can’t is likely to be the thing that is causing a lot of the problems and creating a struggle. Just think about the power you give to your feelings if you believe that: “I must FEEL confident to perform well.” Or if a player claims to be “a confidence player” how does this set them up to perform when suddenly they’re not feeling so confident? Remember this: Good player’s play well when they are feeling good, great players play well no matter what they are feeling.
3. Confident feelings come AFTER the purposeful action (towards your goal) – not before. People gain confidence by doing. We don’t gain real confidence by simply concentrating on creating a feeling of confidence. Actions are what matter. Nothing else will increase a players’ true confidence as much as taking positive steps towards their performance goal. If players are waiting around for a confident feeling they’ll be waiting around for a long time.