Confidence on the field or court can go a long way in helping your youth athlete succeed. A confident athlete isn’t going to let little mistakes or errors bring them down; they’ll be more sure of themselves in a stressful situation (like bottom of the ninth, bases loaded kind of deal), and they’ll probably have a lot more fun! But every youth athlete, no matter how sure of themselves they may look, can probably use a little confidence boost from time to time.
Here are four ways sports parents and coaches can help boost a youth athlete’s confidence level:
1. Smile from the sidelines.
Think how much better you feel when someone smiles at you as opposed to sitting there stone-faced, especially when you are in a stressful situation. Imagine how much easier meetings at work would be and how much more relaxed you’d feel if people would just smile a little! A smile is simple non-verbal form of encouragement that might give your youth athlete that little confidence boost on the field. An angry or stern on a parent or coach look might read as disappointment or frustration, which can undermine their confidence and make them ever more nervous.
2. Remove the fear of making a mistake.
A lot of athletes freeze up because they are afraid of making a mistake and embarrassing themselves in front of their teammates. Sports coaches and parents have to make it clear to their team that everyone is going to mess up and that it’s okay! One great way to set everyone at ease is to play games that force your team to fail (like throwing a baseball with their non-dominant hand or playing soccer while tied to a teammate). It’s a simple game but it might help set everyone at ease—everyone is going to mess up sooner or later but that’s ok! No one will be singled out or teased for making a mistake.
3. Set smaller goals.
While it’s important to push your athletes to achieve and excel, you also want to set smaller goals along the way that your team can use as stepping stones to greater success. For instance, pitching a perfect game is a pretty high (and almost impossible) goal. Even something a little smaller like not walking any batters for an entire game can set the bar pretty high for a young baseball player. Obviously that’s an end goal you would love to see your pitcher achieve, but along the way why not set up smaller goals like staying ahead in the count (throwing more strikes than balls), focusing on perfecting a specific pitch or getting better and communicating with the catcher. These little goals contribute to their overall success but give them something to feel good about along the way.
4. Keep your criticism constructive.
Coaches shouldn’t be afraid to point out the mistakes the team made, but you want to keep your criticism constructive. Don’t just point out what they did wrong, also show what they should have done and outline a plan for how you’re going to address it. For instance, at the next practice the team will spend more time working on base running skills so everyone knows what to do in certain situations. You don’t have to pretend like there isn’t a problem, but don’t just get mad about it and not offer any solution.