Identifying the Top Confidence Killers: Part One
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An 11-year-old basketball player says that he loses confidence when his parents bring all 10 members of his extended family to watch his games. He feels pressure to perform well, and gets embarrassedâ€”and loses confidenceâ€”when that doesnâ€™t happen.
This is just one common confidence buster.
â€œI take on my teamâ€™s errors,â€ says Kevin, age 13, a baseball, hockey, and tennis player. â€œIf someone steals home base, I assume itâ€™s my fault. Iâ€™m really hard on myself. I get really down on myself.â€
â€œI wonder if I am going to shoot a good round of golf before I start. I doubt I can stack up to the competition and if I am good enough,â€ says Erica, age 15,
Itâ€™s important for parents and coaches to understand what hurts kidsâ€™ confidence and try to create an environment that allows them to feel more confident. That may mean parents need to watch what they say on the sidelines or help kids understand that theyâ€™re thinking in ways that hurt their confidence.
Research shows that these are sports kidsâ€™ top confidence killers:
1. Expecting too much of themselves: Kids with high expectations may tell themselves, â€œI need to pitch a no-hitter,â€ or â€œI have to be the top scorer.â€ These are expectations that even pro athletes wouldnâ€™t impose on themselves! When athletes have extremely high expectations, they set themselves up for feeling disappointed.
2. Having perfectionist traits: Perfectionists undermine their confidence by expecting to have a perfect game, or to throw a no-hitter, have a mistake-free performance or win the match 6-0, 6-0. Such accomplishments are rare in sports, but perfectionists aim for them. Perfectionists are hard on themselves and criticize their slightest mistakes, like Kevin, quoted above. They analyze each performance in minute detail, focusing on their bad stance, terrible posture, and horrible attitude. They have a hard time enjoying sports because theyâ€™re so determined to perform without making mistakes.
3. Feeling self-doubt: Young athletes who doubt their abilities are often nervous, anxious or fearful, like Erica, quoted above. Thatâ€™s not to say that even top athletes experience doubt at times. Young athletes whose self-doubt hurts their confidence may feel inadequate, unable to perform when others are watching, inferior to the competition, or may become hesitant when faced with adversity or opposition.
4. Failure to let go of negative feedback: Some athletes have a hard time with negative feedback. They hold onto it and it turns into their own negative voice inside their head. They might tell themselves, â€œCoach said I made a bad pass, so I must be a bad passer.â€ They may do this after a coach focuses only on their mistakes, when parents point out only the downside of their performance, or when teammates criticize them.
5. Failing to believe in themselves: When young athletes donâ€™t believe in themselves, they question their ability to perform. They ask themselves, â€œDid I practice hard enough this week?â€ or other questions. Doubt can deal a real blow to an athleteâ€™s confidence. Athletes who donâ€™t believe in themselves often have defeatist attitudes and use negative labels to describe themselves, such as â€œI am too small or slow to be a good athlete.â€ They wonder if sports is worth the effort, since the outcome will likely be failure.
Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, â€œTen Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletesâ€ by visiting http://www.youthsportspsychology.com.