10 Strategies To Build Unstoppable Confidence In Youth Athletes – Part 4

By Craig Sigl

Strategy #9. Stop delivering typical sports cliches and trite sayings that mean nothing to a kid like:
“You just have to believe in yourself”
“When you’re out there, you have to be focused”
“Stop overthinking”
“Just go out there and have fun”

I often catch some flak for this but follow me here because this is my personal pet peeve having worked in this area for so long, and youth coaches are the worst offenders.

Think about this, can you explain to a kid HOW to believe in themselves? Can you give them the definitive steps to “Stop overthinking?” Or how about that vague command to “Get focused” or “Get your head in the game?”

They don’t know what any of that means, let alone HOW to do what you are telling them. And so what happens? You create confusion, uncertainty, worry that they “Aren’t doing it right” and will ultimately disappoint the adults giving them the advice.

So, instead of the kid just playing in the present moment with their body, which they do naturally and don’t have to be told HOW to do, by the way, we teach them with these silly cliche’s to get in their head and their useless fear-based thoughts.

Also, you might think that telling them to “Just go out there and have fun” is good advice and it CAN be…but, it is a risky move and here’s why:

The whole culture of youth sports is organized around winning and how well the kids perform. There’s no question about that.

Coaches, parents in the stands cheering good play and being disappointed in poor play like I already mentioned…and other messages constantly coming at them like:
Did you win?
How did you do?
Did you start today?
Did you score?
How many points? etc.

If that isn’t enough, Kids base their identity on whether or not they get playing time, make the team, get to the next level and even their friendships are centered around this. These messages are constant and everywhere…

and then you go and tell them to “Just go out there and have fun.” They hear that and at best, they forget it after 2 minutes and slip back into the whole performance-centered mentality they’ve been overwhelmed with. And at worst, subconsciously destroy their confidence in advice from you because of the mixed messages. Kids don’t need anyone to tell them that. Doing stuff is either fun or it isn’t… they don’t have to “try” to have fun.

The irony of of it all is that the parent or coach is giving the advice with the hopes that it helps their performance when in actuality, it hurts it.

Strategy #10. Do whatever you can to foster fearlessness.
The core of my work with all athletes is in helping them get over fears, in particular, all forms of “Fear of Failure.”

As the smallest boy in junior high and high school for years getting bullied and picked on, I lived with a lot of fear and carried it into adulthood. I vowed in raising my 2 boys that this would NOT happen to them.

I am proud to report that as young men, they are both pretty fearless. One of them has spent 2 summers selling pest control door to door. The other one joined the Air Force and had to be talked down by his mother from wanting to be a helicopter gunner in combat and has as his motto: “I just don’t care what others think.” The interesting thing about his motto is that he has tons of friends and has always had no problem making friends contrary to what most kids think. (I’m brushing my knuckles across my chest and patting myself on the back for that one!)

How did I do it? Well, of course, I taught them what I teach all of my clients and in addition to that, I think the piece d’resistance is that, regularly, I would grab my boys and get them in the car and just drive around looking for adventure.

Each summer, we would take off for a week or more with only a general direction and a map and see what we could find.

Here’s a typical example: One year, we decided to drive through Western Canada and went as far north as Edmonton. We kept seeing signs about the sport of “curling” and wanted to know what that was all about.

So, in our driving, we pass by a curling club, turn around, stop, get out of the car, knock on the door and as the owner comes to the door we say that we are from the U.S. and we are very interested in learning about curling.

It’s summer time and out of season for curling but the very gracious owner takes us in, shows us around, gives us a full tour and proudly explains the sport and all the champions his club has produced. We all had a great time and we thanked the owner profusely. (Canadians are so nice).

That’s just one simple adventure out of hundreds coupled with a consistent message I constantly delivered to them that there is no such thing as failure.

Conclusion and recap:
1. Get your kid to buy into the benefits of confidence and that it can be built like any other skill. 2. Give him/her a few tools to actively start working on it. 3. Eliminate the confidence killers.

If you want more, I’ve got a video program for confidence-building directly aimed at the kids on my website. I’ve learned a few things about how to get across a message to a kid. I sincerely hope you take these tips and use them to positively affect another person for their whole life. That’s my mission!

Craig has personally worked with thousands of professional and amateur athletes on the mental side of their game. He is an author and creator of 7 mental toughness programs sold in 28 countries and writes to over 30,000 athletes in his emails. Discover Craig’s programs for mental toughness and confidence building at: www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com

The Ball is a Toy

By Tony Earp

With the competitiveness and pressure around sports, it is easy to forget that every sport is just a game. Not much different than jumping rope, tag, or hide and go seek, soccer (like other sports) is a game to be played for fun. There are winners and losers, but the goal is to play, get exercise, and enjoy the time with the friends. It is sad when sports moves from this view into more of a “job” or work, both in which a game was never intended. Even when players play a sport for a living, for the most part, the best at the game still play it because it is fun and they love it. Like most games, when the game was invented, I am confident the “creator” did not do it so one day those who play this game at the highest level will get paid to do it. This means, at the heart of every game, every sport, and in soccer, the things used to play the game should be seen as toys.

Ask a kid to show you his toys. What do you think he will point to? Most likely, the child will point to a video game system, maybe some board games, an ipad, dolls or stuffed animals, but I highly doubt that most children would point to their soccer ball. To me, this is a very sad thought. As a kid, my soccer ball was always in my “toy bin” in my room. That is exactly how I saw the ball. It was not something I would go “train” with or use to “practice.” It was just a toy, and something I would go to have fun and entertain myself. It was no different than my Atari, Pogo Stick, or Voltron action figures (I will pause and allow for Google searches).

This is a change that needs to occur in the youth soccer culture. The soccer ball cannot be seen as a work tool, or something that is only used when asked by an adult or coach. That is not how toys work. Think of anyone who is amazing at what they do (an artist, writer, programmer, mechanic, architect, etc… ) and I bet those people see the “tools” of their profession more as toys they get to play with everyday, and that is the reason why they are the best at what they do.

When it comes to toys, what do kids do with them? Well, for one thing they tend to use the toy in way that it was probably never intended, or in other words, they find creative ways to use the toy. When it comes to soccer, this is a key thing that is missing with kids and their relationship to the soccer ball. Many kids will only do what they have been told to do with the soccer ball. This is rarely the case with something a kid sees as a toy. If anything, parents often, and even to the point of frustration, have to keep reminding a child what a toy should be used for. For example, I was constantly told, “Your sister’s Barbies are not Frisbees.” Although I think I proved my parents wrong by successfully throwing them over the house to my friend.

If we want players to be imaginative with the ball and creative when they play the game, they need to view the soccer ball as a toy, not just at home, but at practice and in games. It is something they play with and needs to be treated accordingly. It should not be something a child dreads to have during a game, or something they are asked to get rid of right away. Frankly, they should never be discouraged from “playing with it” for too long. This is why I think the soccer ball should always be part of activities during practice and the player’s should be around it as often as possible. No one likes waiting their turn in a line to play with a toy.

As adults, we forget how to play with toys. We tend to use things exactly for what they are designed for and use them how directed to make sure we do not break them or use them incorrectly. Unintentionally, we sometimes force kids to share our same way of thinking when they play. We ask them to see the soccer ball, or the game, through our eyes and share our views, but is that what we really want for the kids? Do you really want the kids view and understanding of the game limited by your understanding and view of the game? I think most parents and coaches hope kids discover the game in their own way, and their understanding and joy to play it surpasses their own.

The only way for this to happen, for kids to regain their freedom and enjoyment of playing the game, is for them, and all of us, to view the soccer ball in its purest form… as a toy. As such, parents will allow a kid to interact with the ball like it is a toy, and the child will play with the ball like it is a toy. This will unleash the player’s love to play with the ball and unlock the possibilities of what the player can do with the ball. Like with any toy, once the imagination becomes involved, there is not much a kid cannot do with it.

From now on, when a parent tells their kids to go play with their toys, hopefully the soccer ball (or the football, baseball, bike, skateboard) is considered to be in that category. Yes, it may still take a back seat to the PlayStation or Xbox, but maybe the players will consider playing with it if the power goes out.

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

Why would they take those?

Unless we’re mistaken, there is no high street demand for softballs. However some idiots decided to break down the supply door at the Lebanon (IN) Little League and steal $900 worth of softballs before the season started. Fortunately, the Lebanon Youth Football League has chipped in to help cover some of the cost, a terrific show of cooperation and community spirit.

Great information on hydration from TrueSport

Our partners at TrueSport.org have put together an important message on hydration for parents of young athletes:

Staying hydrated during the sport season is just as important for your young athlete as proper nutrition.

Just think of healthy foods as the fuel to your athlete’s sports-playing engine and water as the oil that makes that engine run smoothly.

Youth athletes should make sure they are more hydrated than their non-sports playing friends if they want to feel and perform their best on and off the field. Their high-level of activity causes them to burn through more calories and sweat more.

Whether you’re a coach or a parent, (or both!), you know that keeping your athlete hydrated during exercise generally aids in their sport performance and makes them feel better than any dehydrated athlete. Learn about the signs of dehydration and how to hydrate your athlete correctly for top performance during practice and in competition.

This month, we’re launching a new segment called Ask the Expert that answers the questions that sports parents and coaches may have regarding youth sport. If you’ve ever wondered if coconut water was just a trend or if it aids in the rehydration process, we’ve consulted with an expert dietician and USADA’s very own supplement advisor.

Calling all youth sport coaches and parents! We want to hear from you!
If you have questions related to your athletes, send us an email at TrueSport@truesport.org and we’ll get in touch with our experts for you!

To help maximize the amount of time athletes can spend feeling and performing at their best, TrueSport experts have created a number of resources just for you on our website:

Educators and coaches can enjoy the hydration lesson plan and brand new educational handouts that TEACH the importance of proper hydration in and out of sport.

Coaches and Parents can find more articles written by experts in youth sports and videos (including from Olympic athletes) at Learn.TrueSport.org

Kids will love the new activities in our PLAY App that will not only teach them all about their nutritional needs, but allows them to win cool awards!

The importance of learning about proper hydration during the sport season will help power your athlete’s healthy performance.

Discover more at www.TrueSport.org

That’s a funny team photo

Thanks for everything this year, coach. The players all really loved being on the team, playing and taking the team photo…well maybe not the last one. (Courtesy Guff.com)

Tip of the cap to these coaches

We don’t know how many readers enjoy The Charger Bulletin from The University of New Haven, but we’d like to get this article written by Sarah DeMatteis a little more airtime. She tells of her joining a Little League as the only girl among dozens of fifth-grade boys and the message the coaches imparted to all of the players before the first practice. A very uplifting message that renews your belief in the potential of volunteer coaches.

The Ride Home

Our friends at True Sport have launched a terrific campaign called, The Ride Home, aimed at positively changing the way parents interact with children after sporting events. This is some great stuff and is must-read for all sports moms and dads.