Ten tips to boost confidence

By John Ellsworth

Athletes face many common challenges every day. It’s important for young athletes to develop an awareness of the challenges and how to best beat them. Here is a list of some common challenges:

  1. Performance in practice is better than in performances. Something changes between practice and competition, but it’s difficult to put your finger on it.
  2. Performance takes a hit when “others” are watching. When important people are watching you become aware of their presence, and lose focus. Faced with the worry about letting others down the focus is directed more toward not failing rather than a winning performance. This is similar to stage fright.
  3. Doubt limits performance before and during games. Confidence is gained in practice when the pressure is low, but when a competitive performance requires execution something happens. Doubt sets in and the ability to get the job done disappears. This is called “practice self-confidence” versus “competitive self-confidence.
  4. Fear of failure creates tension and performance suffers. Practice is free and without worry, however during games dear and anxiety paralyzes your execution. The dear and tightness comes from wanting to win so badly. Fear of failure or embarrassment causes the need to try too hard and worry too much about outcomes.
  5. Loss of focus during critical times during a game. When the pressure is on too perform in critical “crunch time” situations attention gets lost. It’s the pressure to perform that causes a “lights out” mental game situation. The mind becomes congested and consequently difficult to clear the congestion and focus in the present.

10 Tips to Boost Confidence & Mental Toughness

1. Boosting Confidence

Confidence is the athlete’s best friend. It is the most important factor determining whether success is felt and internalized. The confidence or lack thereof will spill over into other aspects of your life. That is of course if you identify with your sport performance as a major element to yourself image. Confidence is a core mental game skill because of its importance and relationship to other mental skills. Confidence is the athlete’s belief in his or her ability to perform..

Factors that help athletes feel confident:

  • Having a solid support system
  • Attending practices where pressure is less intense.
  • Performing well in practice
  • Access to good coaches
  • Access to good equipment
  • Being in good physical condition.

TIP: One of the best ways to BOOST confidence is by identifying beliefs, doubts, and expectations that undermine confidence. Beliefs like: “I am not talented enough.” Doubts like: “I can’t perform because I have not mastered the skill in practice.” An expectation: “I need to not give up any turn over’s in today’s game. Knowledge of these gives one the opportunity to practice positive thinking. Since you are aware of them you can then be proactive.

2. Coping with fear of failure.

Fear of failure is characterized by high expectations, a strong desire to succeed (not fail) and anxiety and tension. Fear of failure causes the athlete to worry too much and focus on end results, and about approval by teammates or peers. Fear is generally about:.

  • Feeling embarrassed.
  • Being reprimanded by a coach or peer.
  • Wasted practice time on the wrong things.
  • Not performing up to others expectations for you.

TIP: Fear of failure is rooted in social approval. Being accepted by the group causes the athlete to focus too much on what other people think. It’s important to be aware of your fears and the limited importance of others thoughts about your performance. It’s important that focus be placed on goals the athlete sets and the criteria for measuring success.

3. Identify self-limiting expectations

Expectations about performance cause athletes to focus on perfection and limited tolerance for making errors. Expectations can quickly torpedo confidence because the success target is always moving

Tip: Identify personal expectations or demands about performance that cause the loss of confidence and focus. It’s the constant judging against the unachievable levels of performance expectation that undermines success and joy.

4. Improve focus by dealing with distractions.

Concentration is important, but often the focus is set on a single issue that is the distraction. Example: “I simply cannot drop this pass” – wide receiver while on the offensive line before the ball is thrown. This is what is called a results-oriented focus. It’s best to remain focused in the moment, and let go of worrying about the results. Tell yourself, “One catch at a time,” or “One pass at a time.”

TIP: Focus on the process of the game, and not about the outcome. Decide ahead of time what thought or cue phrase that will keep you centered on catching the pass. For example; concentrate on executing the route pattern and seeing the pass into your hands.

5. Coping tools for setbacks.

When you expect too much of yourself it can be challenging to deal minor errors that are a natural part of sports. It’s important to take note of the expectations (write them down). Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Make a decision in advance on the number of mistakes you will allow yourself to make without judgment. It’s OK to not “make the shot” from time to time. No one can execute perfectly..

TIP: When you have an error or mistake it’s critical you move onto the next play or shot without judgment. Remind yourself to look ahead to the next shot, play, or period of play.

6. Have your own agenda.

Your participation or your performance is for you and not for anyone else. Understand why it is that you participate in sports:

  • Is it for the joy of competition?
  • Is it for the vigorous exercise and health benefits
  • Is it for the reward of reaching a goal?
  • Is it for the social aspect?

TIP: Tap into your reasons for participating in sports. Ask yourself, “why do I do this?” or “what is it that keeps me coming back for more?” Once you know the answers to these questions you will better understand your purpose for engaging in competitive sports.

7. Make sure you are having fun.

Everyone wants to win. Winning is exciting and gives one a sense of accomplishment. Above all make sure you are participating mostly for fun. Remind yourself once again why you are participating in the sport. If it is to please someone else you might be competing for the wrong reasons..

TIP: Fun and enjoyment is the seed that if cultivated develops motivation and desire. If you have allowed yourself to have fun, experience enjoyment, and the joy of being with friends or teammates you will most likely be free of unrealistic expectations for your performance.

8. Use positive self-talk and self-feedback.

It’s important to give yourself positive feedback. It’s easy to call out the critic and beat yourself up for making mistakes. However, I assure you that if you compliment yourself on the things you do well rather than chastising yourself for making mistakes you will perform at a higher level. It’s ok to identify areas needing improvement, but its far more important to give yourself five times as many positive compliments. By doing this you build character, self-confidence, and belief in yourself..

TIP: When your critic shows up try to park it. Ask yourself: What can I say after a game to help myself grow more confident? Don’t dwell on this mistakes or errors, focus more on the improvements made and the plays executed successfully.

9. Don’t let the coach get you down.

Develop a tool for that gives you the ability to hear the coaching and filter out the noise. Coaches have the ability to coach well, but they can often cloud the message with unnecessary chatter and emotion. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotion and miss the message..

TIP: Don’t shoot the messenger (the coach). Become your own coach and check in with yourself. Try to understand the coach’s agenda and philosophy. Then execute on only the critical aspects of the message.

10. Self-motivation versus motivation by others.

It’s just the greatest feeling in the world to have others acknowledge you and praise you for your efforts. Getting your name in the paper or receiving an award for your performance success is awesome. I am here to tell you that the most important message or rewards are those you give yourself. Every other accolade is simply the extra icing on the cake. In the end no one but you can really make the difference in your performance because it’s you that is doing the performing..

TIP: Self motivation is the best type of motivation. It’s the intrinsic motivation that is derived from your love of sports. Set goals that are achievable, but challenging. The #1 goal is to have success and feel good about what you have accomplished.

Conclusion:Confidence is the most important factor that influences how we see success and happiness in sports and life. Most athletes gain confidence from practice and success over time. However, you can take a proactive step on your own to boost your confidence and mental toughness by trying some of these tips on yourself. If they work for you who knows how they just might work to help your kids.

For more information about this article contact or for information on mental game coaching contact John R. Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach at Protex Sports, LLC. www.protexsports.com. You can also send your questions to Ask Coach John.


“Imagination”: Part Two

By Tom Turner (Part two of three)

Street Soccer Learning
Youngsters understand very little about the real game. When they begin to play at five or six, they consciously struggle to control the ball in any coordinated way and, invariably, labor to understand even basic ideas about the tactical nature of the game. They might have difficulty stopping the ball with their feet, so they often use their hands. They can be seen stumbling in the wrong direction and they have no appreciation for the lines or the markings on the field. They have little or no use for teammates because they are very egocentric in their thinking.

As these young players start to compete in games with their friends of various ages, they begin to assemble their knowledge slowly and in piecemeal fashion, with observation as their primary mode of learning. They learn how goals are scored and which surfaces of the foot can be used to dribble and kick the ball. They learn to tackle and recover the ball and they learn to find spaces to receive passes from teammates. They learn to move in relation to the ball and to combine with teammates in elementary ways. They learn about boundaries and fouls. Goals are often makeshift from clothing or bags or rocks, and games like “ten goals to half-time and twenty goals to win” often determine the time limit of the street game. Playing with the “star” of the elementary school, or with the big kids on the big field are milestones in a youngsters’ street career.

Significantly, motivated young players as young as six or seven will take time to practice skills that they have observed in others. At first their bodies may not be coordinated enough to successfully use these new skills in games, but they are planting seeds for their own futures. When they are the older, dominant players, the younger players will be the ones falling for their fakes. As they gain experience, they may begin to appreciate that by using their eyes and shoulders and hips and legs they can unbalance or unnerve defenders and buy time to escape a challenge or eek out an opening. Younger and smaller players must learn to adjust to the aggressive play of older or bigger opponents who limit their time and space with the ball and, by the time a street soccer player has reached the age of twelve or thirteen, they will have firmly established both their comfort level with the ball and their basic understanding of the game.

The motivation to play street soccer is found in scoring goals and being involved in the action and the images on television can be vivid and vital. Who would be Claudio today? Which team was USA? Who would be Mia or Michelle or Sissi? Heroes are worshipped by imitation. Emotionally the game is played to emulate and compete and score. There are no coaches or referees or timekeepers or parents. It is young boys and girls in their own world until the calls to return home to the dinner table or bed become too frequent and loud to ignore.

Learning Theory
In our adult world, survival is a matter of habits and routines. We create systems for much of what we do, including getting up, showering and leaving the house in the morning. We create systems for taking care of the lawn, for doing the laundry and for paying the monthly bills. By consciously or unconsciously organizing as much of our lives as possible, we can reduce our stress levels and meet most unexpected challenges. In doing so, we learn a little more about navigating life every day. And so it goes with sport. If a young player has the opportunity to learn the routines of tactical play through small-sided games, they build a repertoire of responses to game situations. As they gain experience, they develop the skill and understanding to play faster; success finds reward in growing confidence. When an unpredictable problem is confronted, the player must either find a solution or learn from the failure in the hope of a better outcome next time. When the numbers are small and the problems are highly repetitive, players can learn solutions in their own time and in their own way. When the numbers are too large, there is too much pressure to experience repetitive success, and frustration can lead to avoidance and eventual withdrawal from the sport.

(Part three of this article to come in next month’s issue).
Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at coaching@oysan.org.

Soccer: Club vs. High School

There has been much debate recently about the merits of club soccer players participating on their high school teams. Many clubs are pressuring their players to forgo the high school experience so that they can focus on the club team. Here is an article addressing the subject from Soccer America.

Another baseball one-liner

Q. How do baseball players stay cool?

A. They sit next to their fans!

Baseball one-liners

We’ll send you into the weekend with a silly baseball joke:

Q. Why was Cinderella such a lousy baseball player?

A. She ran away from the ball!

More tomorrow!

NSPCC – Harassment of Referees and Officials

Another brief video from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, (NSPCC), Keeping Children Safe in Sports series. This, a dramatization of the harassment of a young referee, might be worth passing along to the parents in your organization. Watch video.

Checklist for managing a youth soccer team

Adapted from US Youth Soccer’s brochure titled, “10 Point Checklist for Successfully Managing a Youth Soccer Team.”, Utah Youth Soccer has published a document that is stocked with information valuable to anyone involved in running a youth soccer team or club. The ten points are:

  1. Ensure Good Coaching
  2. Delegate responsibility to team parents
  3. Set guidelines for the sidelines
  4. Teach basic safety
  5. How to handle injury and illness
  6.  Give kids straight advice about soccer shoes
  7. Inform about good nutrition
  8. Prevent dehydration
  9. Develop a team philosophy
  10. Understand the game

The document elaborates on each point in a way that is easy to digest and understand. Of course, we think they could add an eleventh point…Get a CoachDeck!