November 27, 2014

What Hurts Young Athletes’ Confidence in Sports?

We believe that confidence is the most important asset that leads athletes to sporting excellence.

It’s critical for your kids to feel confident—to believe in their abilities—in order to realize their physical potential. Confidence helps them bounce back after mistakes, hang in there when things get tough, transfer the skills they learn in practice to competition, and much more!

“You still have to have confidence. If you don’t have confidence, you can forget about it. Every time you go up, you have to have a good feeling. You have to think you’re going to get a hit. If you don’t, you’re out before you even go to the plate.”
~Derek Jeter, pro baseball player

We want to help you boost your kids’ confidence in youth sports–that’s our mission actually. But, we need your help…

How do your kids lose confidence in sports? What experiences or which people take it away? Many of you have written to us already:

“How do I help my young athlete believe in herself and bring herself out of a negative slump?”

“How do we find ways to help our child feel good about herself with a coach who favors certain players, gives them more playing time, and benches the players who are not producing in the way he wants them to?”

“My biggest challenge is trying to help my child build confidence in her abilities…She does great during practices, but self-doubt seems to overtake her during a game.”

“My daughter’s self-confidence is at an all-time low due to negative comments from her coach and negative self-talk.”

Please share with us your stories. For example, high expectations from parents and coaches, perfectionism, doubt, criticism and fear of failure are top on our list of confidence busters for young athletes.

How does a lack of confidence affect kids’ play? Kids who lack confidence will often derail their own success, play tentatively, experience trouble bouncing back from mistakes, and yell at themselves–to name just a few.

Here’s the good news: Our goal is to help you boost your kids’ confidence and success in sports. Help us achieve our mission by sending us your stories about what hurts and what helps kids’ confidence in sports.

Please share your stories or experiences below:

We look forward to your input!

Sincerely,

Lisa Cohn and Patrick Cohn, Ph.D.
www.youthsportspsychology.com
www.kidssportspsychology.com

P.S. Your input is critical to helping us help you better. Please share with us how your kids lose or gain confidence in sports below:

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Comments

  1. Nancy Stephenson says:

    My daughter is a ringette player and she had a rough go a few years ago. She didn’t have the confidence to step on the ice at one of the tournaments. She was being hard on herself and expected a lot from herself. Fortunately we had an amazing coach who took the time to sit with her and tell her he didn’t care if they won or not, he just wanted her to come out, have fun and do her best. He convinced her to come out and at least sit on the bench with the team. He put her on the ice in the first half; no go. He waited a bit and then put her out as centre in the second half. Suddenly she hit her stride. She had a great second half. I won’t say we never looked back, but she has grown in leaps and bounds since then. It just took a coach who understood what she needed. He has continued to be very supportive of her through the years and she has become a kick-butt player because of it. We also learned not to discuss the game once it’s over and it has NEVER been all about winning with us. Constructive criticism didn’t work with her at that time. Now we have learned to say “you did this great; next time maybe think of doing this” – we try to always keep it positive. She has been submitted to some negative input from coaches since the above incidents but we just keep supporting her and trust that she will see her way through. She had to learn to trust her instincts. We also keep very relaxed at games and she knows she’ll always get a smile from us no matter what. Body language is everything!

  2. Hello,

    Last night at my daughter’s J.V. Basketball game (she plays guard) she had the game of her life. She tends to have confidence problems even though she is an excellent player. I often get comments from other coaches and parents about her defensive play, her passing and ball handling abilities. Well, last night she scored 12 points (including an incredible 3 pointer)! That was a huge breakthrough for her! She usually passes the ball when she has a shooting opportunity. We were all so proud. However, during the last few seconds of the game she took a fabulous 3 point shot and missed. After the game her coach proceeded to tell her never to do that again.

    My daughter said she was ‘in trouble’ with her coach. All she talked about on the drive home was the negitivity. My husband and I reminded her to dwell on all the GREAT things she did that night.

    What other things can I do (as a parent) to keep her playing lights-out like she did last night? Without offending her coach or going against his decisions?

    Thanks for all you do!
    Michelle

  3. Thank you for sharing your story… We tend to remember the last part of the games more so. She must let go of what the coach thinks or what he might do. Encourage her to continue to shoot, even when she misses.

  4. My son is 11 years old and is an excellent basketball player (NSW Australia). The biggest problem he faces is what we call the tall poppy syndrome here in Australia. He has been chosen to represent his state on a number of occasions and is also at present the fifth fastest 11 year old in Australia over 100m. Some of his team mates and so called school mates are obviously jealous and seem to target him – this affects his confidence immensely. As a parent this is very difficult to watch and to know how to handle affectively. Unfortunately my son is extremely sensitive, wants to be everyones friend and doesn’t cope with the constant “picking on me” he seems to get both at school and basketball. This makes him a very angry and miserable yopung man who is also having to deal with the start of puberty – so his confidence on a personal level is already shot. We have given him some strategies to try on the court – but mixed with adrenalin I’m not sure they will always work. His rep coach’s son is also on the team and causes many issues – need I say more? My son is usually a very confident young man – no arrogance because he wouldn’t be allowed to be arrogant – I’m worried because he does have a genuine talent and I don’t want nasty, jealous people to turn him away from his dreams.

  5. Dante Dalabajan says:

    Sascha is the eldest among all my three daughters who are all swimmers. She used to rank in age-group nationally here in the Philippines and was one of the best in her team. Early last year, she hit a snag and she hasn’t broken her PBs which she got almost 2 years ago. Her coach is a more of a technician than a motivator. Eversince, I have provided the “mental” balance and I must say that your write-ups are an invaluable guide. Since I moved to the big city, she has had difficulties maintaining her focus and confidence and I can imagine how crushing is the experience of seeing her younger siblings and teammates surpass her times. She’s got fine strokes, a balanced dietary intake, rarely misses practice but for some odd reasons all her hardwork doesn’t seem to show during competitions.

  6. Shahid Ulhaq says:

    My dream as coach and trainer was, my child should be great player and physically fit boy. When he was four he was participating in almost every activity of his level but soo it is disclosed that my child is epileptic and visuallu parited. I was shocked but still I am looking at my dream
    I lose my dream when I understand that he would not be able to as sporty as I want. He cant skate, cycle event play cricket. he has less balance and not easy for him to undersatnd the ball speed.
    I tried agressivly but failed to made it possible as he is physically immpaired.
    He is not able to play with other kids and loose his confidance and gradually he lose his interest in sports. He was neglected by sports teacher due to lack of knowledge and bad perception in our country for special people. My all efforts become disappointed for me and my child as well.
    he is now 14 and still not able to ride cycle but paly some cricket with me with special care. he can paly football but not with others peers. he some times reflect very poor gesture for his disability but I am helpless. he want to participate but I do not know how he could do that.
    I tried to design short targets for him in summer vacations to develop some of his hidden skills to revail. please give your suggestions . Thank you.

  7. Will Godfrey says:

    I would love for all to here my story in reference to confidence. My 11 year old son and I have been working on his baseball skills. My approach this year was totally different from last. Main reason is I read the book!. Before every pratice or game we would go to the batting cages an hour before. He was smashing the ball and performed well in practice. Game time it looked like some other kid, struck out because he was not aggresive. According to the the book it all pointed to his confidence. Before every game all I said was have fun! Never made issue out of his performance. After 10 games with no results, I told him a day before the game that he can hit, everyone see’s that, there is only one person who can decide when they are ready to hit that ball, and it is you. Now go out there tomorrow and trust in your confidence and do what you do in the cages. He indeed got his first hit! That is all it took, the switch turned on, game balls were given to him like pennies from heaven! Other parents started to bring there kids to the cages with us as well, they also benifited, besides hitting but benifited in their confidence level, I told them to trust in themself. When the kids played the dads for the last game, I stepped up to the plate and I herd all the moms say “Trust in your confidence” kids cheered and all had a good laugh! Lesson learned: childs confidence level is as important as the skill of hitting, both have to be present. Build them up!

  8. What I’ve seen in my children, and with MANY other children who are beginning to enter the world of more competitive sports at around the ages of 12-13-14 is the devastating effect a coach can have on a child’s confidence if the coach chooses NOT to play the athlete in maningful games . . . at meaningful times of the game. You don’t see this circumstance in a sport where individual performance is the essenece of the competition (x-country, track and field, swimming) In those sports, even in a team environment, only the most mean-spirirted/ignorant coach would keep a top performer off the course/track/or pool. However, with team sports (volleyball – football-baseball-basketball) you do have occasions where coaches who are so wired will take, out of necessity (for injuries, sickness, families moving away) more kids than they can put on the court/field (in for-pay club sports this also lowers the avergae cost per family) and then choose to play only the same starters over and over again – for the entire game. I tell you NOTHING is more harmful to a child’s confidence, self-esteem . . . SOUL than an adult coach doing this to a child! On one hand the coach gave the child the impression that he/she thought their talent level was “good enough” to be on the team, to contribute and to be further developed, to include in the stressors of game-time situations (which is ULRA -important to complete athlete development at these young ages!) and yet, once the season has begun, once the team/club/coach has begun getting the parent’s checks, some child find they’re really nothing more than practice players for the CHOSEN 11, or 5, or 6 – who start and play all the time. Can you imagine the devastation to the child’s pysche?

  9. Please help, because I am so upset with my daughter’s field hockey coach. My daughter has loved this game and devoted years of her life to playing on club teams, attending national events three years in a row, playing in all seasons (indoor and outdoor), taking special skills classes, etc. She’s practiced outdoors on bitter cold Feb. nights without complaint, gotten up in the dark for weekend morning practices, attended summer camps — you name it, she’s done it. She is good. We’ve heard that from head coaches at major universities say it. She’s been singled out at some of these camps attended by other girls from her school, and by coaches who coach winning teams. As the mother of an older daughter who played as well, I know this sport. I can tell who the good players are. This year the 8th grade moved up to high school. A freshman team was created. Five freshman players were picked for JV and 1 freshman – a girl who may show promise but is no great shakes right now – was chosen to play varsity. My daughter, who is clearly the better player, was put on the JV team. The other 4 freshman girls, as well as the fifth girl placed on JV, are all part of the same “clique.” They’re what Tina Fey would call the mean girls. I’m pretty sure that my daughter was put on JV instead of the freshman team because she is head and shoulders above the others and it would have been so outrageous had the coach chosen to do so. Meanwhile, these “mean girls” and their cohorts are teasing my daughter, who drew a lot of confidence from playing and excelling at this sport. It is so blatantly unfair, and it is especially unfair that these coaches would deliberately choose the “mean girls” to promote. I did speak to the coach about it, because I have noticed my daughter’s confidence slip – both on and off the field. The Varisty players treat the others like rubbish, including the freshman who has no right to be on Varsity in the first place. And I’ve heard that the junior players on Varsity have made cruel remarks to my daughter, which I believe is making her pull back from the game even further.
    The coach’s response to putting the far-inferior freshman on Varsity is that there was a “good dynamic.” Well, if you call being part of a “mean girl” clique, I suppose she’s right. But is that a fair way to choose who makes Varsity? I don’t think I would have minded my daughter not making Varsity, but it is galling to see another, much less deserving Freshman prance along to Varsity the year after she deccides she wants to play the game. My daughter has devoted almost 8 years of her life to this game, in every season. What is the message here — don’t work hard because your dedication won’t be rewarded? Be as snotty and mean as you can to other people you don’t consider “popular”? (A stupid notion anyway, as my daughter and her friends are greater in number than these so called “popular girls.”) But why must coaches be as immature as the students and play into those games? It’s just so blatantly unfair, and it is damaging my daughter’s confidence, and more importantly, her faith in the fairness she can expect from her coaches. After all the anti-bullying training they’ve had in middle school, it’s just so upsetting to see this coach buy into the whole thing.

    I find it so difficult to accept. I have always believed in justice and have always despised injustice. I have been thinkiing of pulling her portfolio together, along with all the endorsements she has received from truly professional coaches, and bringing them to the head of the atheltics department. I mean, this coach not only made the boneheaded mistake of picking this one, not particularly talented girl for Varisty, but she has done NOTHING to stop the bullying behavior that is occurring. Furthermore, the decision to put the rest of the girl’s “clique” on JV and leave the Freshman to flounder — no games scheduled, no uniforms, nothing — yet they’re required to watch the other teams play. Where do they find these coaches, and why do these awful coaches think they’re going to build winning teams with that sort of behavior.

    Most of all, they have destroyed my daughter’s self-confidence, and I cannot stand to see that. Other than have her quit her school team (which she really can’t do), I don’t know how to handle the situation. I have several friends on the school board — would approaching them help?

  10. It’s your right to go to the athletic department, but they might side with the coach. You should let them know what’s happening. I usually tell parents to use this as a learning opportunity for their kids. That some coaches will not always choose to be fair with the team members. Also, I suggest to my students that self-confidence has to come from within – based on abilities – rather than let confidence be thrashed around by others, such as the decisions of the coaches. That’s why we call it SELF-confidence.

    Patrick Cohn

  11. Please help, my son Brad, who is 11 now, has played soccer since he was 4. this past spring my son had a new soccer coach who was abrasive when he spoke with the kids, yelled at them while playing, and publicly degraded kids who did not perform up to his par, causing the loss of some games. He blamed it on the kids and said he would only play the kids he knew would be able to score a goal….my son ended up quitting the team…I am a single mom and want my son to keep in sports….No matter what I say to encourage him, he thinks he’s not good enough. He never had that problem before the bad coach. tamyra

  12. Hi,
    My son is also 11 years old and started sports a bit late (9 yrs old) in comprison with his peers in football and floorball. His agility and speed is not as fast as the others, for one he is also a bit small. He is very smart kid who is a ahead of others academically. He is very interested in football and even read books about it. Last year was a tough year when he had enough of the bullying of his football teammates. He also felt the coaches are not doing enough to stop the other kids on saying bad stuff to other kids. So after a training game he told me is quiting and its been going on for some time and thats it for him. The other kids told him he is not a good player and he is stupid. My son is a sensitive kid and he shows in the field when he is hurt by what others say or do to him. Last sat they had a match in floorball and during a break period, one kid from the other team tried to bully him and caused his shoulder a bit hurt when the kid grabbed his floorball stick. He was so angry and you can see his almost teary eyed-eyes in the play field when the game started. I saw his coach talking to him and I thought he will not be sent to play and will just stay in the bench. When he was playing during the game he made a very nice goal without assist and he almost break down in tears , so all parents can see the strong emotions my son is going through… i also almost cried.. crying now.. remembering about it as i write this…

    I was even thinking of leaving this town to maybe seek a fresh start for my son where people would be more sensitive and caring but after reading the others comments , it seems i cannot run away from this.

  13. Sure fire recipes for harming a player’s self confidence or booster a player’s self confidence are the comments of the team mates that are in competition for the same postition. Coaches say they want to see how a player gets along with the rest of the team yet does not have any clue about teambuilding. I see magnificent players that are given the silent treatment from the clique. The clique will not offer congrats or good job or awesome play to someone outside the clique. Yet criticism flies when those outside of the clique make a mistake. Coaches have a tremendous responsibility to build a team that respects one another. Older high school players seem particularly viscious and parents should encourage their player to support team members. If they would only get over their ego centric self and see that supporting each other is a win for all.

  14. My 14 year old has lost confidence in himself on the basketball court. He is a freshman in high school there is peer pressure all around, he let’s people and their negative comments get I’m his head. He has played basketball since he was 4 he has played on recreation teams and also on his junior high school team. He loves basketball but he seems to mess up lately when he gets on the court. How can I keep him encouraged or teach him to be mentally tough and ignore all the negativity around him. His spirit seems to be broken! He is a awesome young Christian guy and he feels abandoned in his prayers

  15. He should stop listening to the negative people around him and instead focus on his abilities, successes, and what makes him a unique athlete. He may be too focused on pleasing others or gaining others’ respect.

  16. HELP! I am a father of a 9 year old boy who is at his whits end. My son is a gifted young baseball player who made the major leagues this yr, but is struggling immensely with his confidence at the plate. When coaches or myself pitch to him he hits fine, but when he gets in a game and another child is pitching to him, he backs out of the box before the pitch is even thrown. He has this debilitating fear of getting hit by the pitch, despite the fact that he never has gotten hit by a pitch! We are 7 games into the season, and anytime an opposing team has any type of pitcher that throws fast, he mentally shuts down and cannot think of anything else but failure. I have been trying to stay as positive as possible, and don’t dwell on negatives, but no matter what I say he shuts me and all the other coaches out as soon as he sees the other pitcher throwing fast. I am desperately seeking any guidance you could provide to help me help my son.

  17. heybert says:

    I want to help my daughter build her self-confidence in her game. She is going to be a sophmore in high school. She is excellent when she is playing up to par. She has been asked to travel with the club team we joined and she was asked to tryout during the summer for the varsity team. She is not getting as much playing time as she would like because she is down on herself and thinking all she is doing is making mistakes. When she gets her head in the game she is decent and will progress as a 2nd string for varsity. He is going to choose 3 of the 5 and she is not going to be one if she doesn’t get her confidence up. Ideas??? I can see it in her playing and with the other girls. I am sure they don’t want someone who has no confidence.

  18. I play softball. I am having confidence issues when I got to the plate and give myself negative talk and I don’t know how to get out of it. Help?

  19. One way is to focus on why you are a good hitter. You also want an at-bat routine to help you focus on the right performance cues.

  20. Michelle S says:

    Hello. I have a daughter that was picked to play on an elite team. She is a good player and at times could be great. However it appears to me that the coach and she have no chemistry for one thing which is a huge concern to me. In addition the team itself is run by a group of very wealthy parents and a good amount of the time their daughters do not show up for games and almost never show up for practice yet these kids get to play regardless while my daughter sits frequently on the bench. I’ve put up with it all seSon and let her know she needs to play harder in the little time she gets bit clearly her confidence is diminishing. What would you tell someone like me to do? I’d like to pull her from the team and finish off the season with another team but Am I sending the right message? Is there someway I can get her to come alive and not put so much weight into the problems with the coach? I’m at a loss…

  21. You can always change teams at any time–if you have that option. You might use this as a life lesson and have to continue to work hard regardless. She should focus on how to improve her game no matter the coaching.

  22. my daughter is 11 and plays competitive soccer. She is captain on her team and plays every minute of every game. However, her father is constantly riding her about her mistakes, performance and even her failures in training and practices. My daugher is a perfectionist and I am sure she is holding herself back. Even her father agrees. How do I handle the pressure her father places on her and the pressure she puts on herself.

  23. Deb:

    We know that focusing too much on mistakes can make kids feel like they have to be more perfect. He needs to focus on what she is doing well after games and not discuss the game unless she wants to. Patrick Cohn

  24. My sone has done everything his coach has asked for. He was the number one cather until he got hurt. He never got behind the plate to catch they rest or the year and he was ready. Caught in practice much of the time. In hindsight to rest the other’s. He put in the grunt work to get back.
    And actually as a coach my self the you do not lose your spot from a injury. When you are healthy you come back to your spot. If you falter after much time to regain your play then okay. But to not get that time because of injury is against all rules in my book.

  25. My daughter was recently moved up to a higher level soccer team. She was highly recommended from her former coach and scored high enough in tryouts to earn her position. Our problem is that she is totally under-performing and is extremely disappointed in her own abilities. She criticizes herself and cries after practice. This is so surprising because she worked so hard to earn her spot. We thought she would see the payoff of her hard work and embrace her new role on the new team.

    She fears her coach doesn’t “like” her, that he thinks she’s slow and unskilled and that she’ll just be moved down again next season.

    I feel like I’ve said everything I can to build her up. How can we get her to realize she deserves to be on the team and to play like she really knows how? Why is she being self-destructive?

  26. She probably is a perfectionist with high expectations for her game. When she doesn’t reach her standards, she loses confidence and becomes negative. Make sure you help her manage the high expectations about her performance and not make comparisons to others athletes.

  27. My 10 year old son loves playing football. He was the MVP of his team last year and all the coaches loved and praised him last season. He is playing up with boys who are 11-13 years old this season. However, he is not playing the same this season. He is tenative and seems afraid to play. He has lost confidence in his football abilities. I finally was able to get him to tell me what is wrong- he told me he is afraid to make mistakes on the field. Why has he lost his confidence and is scared? Will this program help him?

  28. Once athletes start to worry about mistakes, they tend to play tentatively. This causes them to not play their game and they can lose confidence. I suggest The Confident Sports Kid.

  29. loKWNttie says:

    My son is 9 and plays soccer/football and it is supposed to be fair playing time for all the boys. We have a new 18 yr old coach who has been told by the manager who has not watched any matches to give boys fair time on pitch. He is not. He clearly favours 2 players who never go off and if parents complain he says \’why dont we run it; he\’s clearly arrogant and immature. Last week my son was off 3 times while otheres not been off at all so we confronted him and asked him why and he made excuses why he was off the pitch AGAIN. Our son is not the strongest player, and makes silly mistakes but he has the potential to be good and just needs encouragement. He is now uncomfortable as he is being hauled off and sees his friends aren\’t and was told he\’s not good enough; to play in a position he\’s like to try out. The coach is just clearly playing to win and not \’getting; that he\’s supposed to be developing the players not winning for his own ego. So frustrating as our son loves it and played for the club for years wih no problems as last coaches \’got\’ the playing times. Our son plays a few bad passes and is then off the pitch. We are informing managment of our frustrations but they are keen not to lose this coach as have no replacement but have given him a rota that he\’s clearly not adhering to! Frustrated doesn\’t come close to how we feel watching week in and week out. Do we keep him there as he loves it with his friends or take him away to be manage by a better coach without his friends? We don\’t see an alternative but can\’t sit by and let this \’boy\’ ruin it for my son. Any suggestions would be appreciated?

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