Sports Confidence: Why It Comes and Goes Written By John Michael Kelly
As a sports psychology/mental game professional I know that at the root of all great athletic performance is a rock solid foundation of sports confidence.
Simply stated, in the absence of doubt any athlete can perform consistently at their potential on the diamond.
But here is the tricky part that can plague any adolescent athlete: in any given moment an athlete can have supreme confidence in one part of her game, yet possess very little in another part of her game.
Let’s look at it another way. On a confidence scale of “1-10” your athlete may be at a “9” on hitting and only a “4” on defense. But let’s dive a little deeper. She could be a “9” hitting the inside pitch, but only a “5” on the outside pitch; maybe an “8” hitting with no one on base, but only a “3” hitting with the bases loaded.
On defense she may have a confidence level of “9” on balls to her forehand side, but only a “3” for balls hit to her backhand side.
In the circle your athlete may possess a confidence level of “8” throwing her screw ball, but only a “2” throwing her change up. However, with the bases loaded in a tie game that confidence level may drop to a “4” or “5” throwing ANY pitch.
The bottom line for parent or coach is that sports confidence, particularly for a teens or pre-teens, will likely be a moving target and a roller coaster ride…up one day (or one inning), down the next. The important message is to understand that hers is not a blanket confidence or a blanket “lack” of confidence in any moment.
So be sure to separate her game and look for the confidence swings she has in the various aspects of it.
Here are five tips to help your athlete to climb up the “confidence scale” in all areas of her game:
1. Praise and nurture her confidence levels in the areas of her game she has success and she believes she is good at. Encourage her to understand her “strengths” and to be sure to play to those strengths during the games (ex: Look for the inside pitch early and be aggressive with it if that is a confident location).
2. Have a discussion with her about her weaknesses as a player (be sure to get her to agree to them), and how she feels about them. Discover her true confidence level in these areas and prioritize working on these weaknesses. Remember, the more prepared an athlete feels the less doubt (and more confidence) she will carry into a game.
3. Be sure she approaches her game focusing on her effort and the “process” of getting better instead of only looking at her results. Results only thinking can quickly diminish fragile game confidence.
4. Be on the lookout for the worst case scenario: that low confidence in one area of her game will spread to her entire game. I see far too often a player struggling in the field taking that frustration into her at bats…causing poor at bats, elevated frustration (or “catastrophe thinking”) and plummeting confidence in both her hitting and fielding. In this situation work hard with her to separate the various parts of her game and remind her, again, her strengths and weaknesses in each. Get her excited about getting back to work after a tough weekend, motivated to get better and turn those weaknesses into strengths!
5. As parent or coach understand that her sports confidence can and will seesaw back and forth, so don’t become excessively concerned by minor drops in performance. As with your athlete do not focus solely on her results. Game mastery is a process that includes two steps forward one day and a step back others. One great at bat doesn’t mean her confidence level as a hitter has gone from a “4” to a “10.” Likewise one error in the field does not signify her defensive confidence is dropping. More importantly, look for signs her confidence is on the ropes via her body language, being extra quiet on the ride home, not wanting to put in extra time practicing, seemingly more frustrated or annoyed on the field or in the dugout.
At the end of the day the game of fastpitch softball is one of failure and frequent disappointment. The better your athlete is able to cope with this reality the easier it will be for her to enjoy the game and build her confidence playing it.
Again, the more prepared she is the less doubt she will experience. Competence breeds confidence for any athlete. She needs to build a solid and steady foundation of both physical and mental skill mastery to develop and maintain the high level of sports confidence you want for her.
And even though her sports confidence can come and go, if her foundational confidence level is strong she will be far more able to withstand the emotion hits the game will throw at her.
I will cover “foundational confidence” in my next article on Fastpitch TV.
John Michael Kelly: John Michael Kelly, America’s Sports Confidence Coach, is known for skyrocketing the self-confidence and game performance levels for thousands of youth athletes and teams from coast to coast by reducing the stress and increasing the joy for playing the game! John also coaches travel softball with the 18u and 18 Gold teams for The Next Level (“TNL”) organization in sunny San Diego. You can follow John at SoftballSmarts.com and Facebook.com/SoftballSmarts.
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