Youth sports teach more than just skills and drills – don’t you think?

From our friends at TrueSport.org:

It’s become a growing concern for some that today’s youth are becoming more dependent on everything from their parents to technology. Thankfully, that’s where youth sports come in. From accountability to confidence, youth sports provides coaches and parents the opportunity to create teaching moments that help build an athlete’s character from a young age.

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3 Simple Steps to Soccer Confidence

By Dan Abrahams

“Confidence takes constant nurturing. Like a bed, it must be remade everyday.”

So says the great soccer player Mia Hamm. I think she’s right. Confidence is an every day thing. It’s an every week and an every month thing.

I feel that many soccer players (and soccer coaches and parents as well) think that confidence is some magical, mystical thing. They think that it can’t be nurtured and it can’t be worked on intentionally. They think it’s something you either have you you don’t! In my opinion they’re wrong! Confidence can be worked on. It just takes time and effort. It must be worked on constantly, it must be an every day thing.

Here are three simple steps to help you develop confidence:

1. Use your memory. Possibly my number one tool for developing confidence is to take time out every day to remind yourself of you at your best. This should comprise your personal highlights. You might include games you’ve played well in, or training sessions when you’ve been on fire.

Whatever you include in your daily reel of inner images, make sure you make your mental movie big and bold and bright. Enhance your images by asking yourself these questions:

“What does my very best look like?”
“What does my very best feel like?”
“What do others see when I play at my very best?”

2. Just as it’s important to exercise your memory, it’s vital to use your imagination. I’d like you to take time every day to picture your dream game. And when I say ‘dream game’, I don’t just mean you at your best, I mean you surpassing your best. I mean you being quicker and stronger. I mean you showing Lloyd-like ball control, Neuer-like bravery in goal or Ramos-style defending.

“What does 10/10 look like? Feel like? What does 12/10 look like? Feel like?”

This is your opportunity to make your images unrealistic. It’s your chance to feed your brain a mental map of excellence that surpasses your current game. By doing so you create a blueprint on your mind to strive for. Don’t sweat the bad moments, the mistakes made so much. Focus your mind securely on the future standard you want for your game.

3. Finally, the third tool in my confidence toolbox is perception!

Mistakes WILL happen. You WILL have bad games. You WILL PROBABLY get dropped at some point. You MAY get injured. Bad stuff happens in soccer, it’s inevitable, and that’s ok. Accept the tough times, the bad games, the hairy moments. Be patient. Be persistent. Learn from them, but don’t dwell on them.

“I know I’ll make mistakes…that’s ok. I may be slightly disappointed when I do, but my job is to carry on playing, to carry on working at my game, to carry on getting the most from my ability”.

Great soccer players are, in part, great because they accept the rough with the smooth. They accept that along their soccer journey there will be some tough times. That’s part and parcel of striving to find out just how good you can be in the game we love so much.

Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist, working alongside leading players, teams, coaches and organisations across the world. He is known for his passion and ability to de-mystify sport psychology, as well as his talent for creating simple to use techniques and performance philosophies, and he is the author of several sport psychology books as well as the founder of the Dan Abrahams Soccer Academy. You can order his books and contact him at https://danabrahams.com/books/

Do Not Stress Over Your Competition In Sports

By Stan Popovich 

Many athletes sometimes get anxious when they go against a tough opponent. They get nervous on who they are competing with and they get so worked up that they lose focus on playing their sport. In the end, they make mistakes and end up beating themselves up if they do not win. As a result, here is a list of techniques that an athlete can use to help manage the stress of going against the competition.

The first step is to learn as much as you can on your opponent. Although this may seem obvious, some athletes may think they already know what they need to know. Remember there is always something to learn about your competition. Read the reports about your opponent and watch him or her performance. Try to figure out an angle on how you can beat your competition. The more you know about your competition the better your chances are you will win. This will also help to reduce your worries in the future.

Do not assume anything about your competition whether they are stronger or weaker than you. Every athlete has his good and bad times and just because you may be facing a stronger opponent does not mean that you will lose. Remember that you and your opponent both have an equal chance of winning. You are both starting from scratch. This should help you to give you confidence going into your next event.

Focus on how you can best strive for perfection in your own event instead of worrying about your opponent. For instance, you are going against the number one athlete in the tournament and you are nervous. Instead of focusing on how good your competition is, focus on your performance. Concentrate on how you can perform your event and how you can best improve on your problem areas.

Realize that you can’t win all of the time and that also includes your competition. You may be the best athlete in the world, however you will still sometimes lose. No one can win all of the time.  When facing a tough competitor, use this fact to your advantage. Even the best athletes will make some mistakes.

It is not uncommon to get nervous when you go against a better opponent.  All you can do is to focus on your skill sets and do the best you can. This will help you in the long run.

Stan Popovich is the author of “A Layman’s Guide to Managing Fear” – an easy to read book that presents a general overview of techniques that are effective in managing persistent fears and anxieties. For additional information go to: http://www.managingfear.com/

Ten Strategies to Build Unstoppable Confidence in Youth Athletes – Part 3

By Craig Sigl

In this third part of the series, you are going to discover that, quite possibly, the best thing we can do to foster confidence in kids is to eliminate what I call “Confidence Killers.”

I have a firm belief from my experience in working inside the minds of hundreds and hundreds of kids personally that confidence building happens naturally when there are no blocks stopping it.

So, I’m going to switch it up on you by starting out telling you about the things you’ve got to STOP doing that kill confidence-building in kids.

Strategy # 7. Stop giving your kid encouragement, praise and cheers ONLY when they do well in their performing.

Most of us adults have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. If I didn’t see them for years now, I would have too. Here’s what you need to understand:

When the young performer does well, and you cheer and praise you are giving your approval of what they have just done.

When the kid does not do well, and looks over at the bench or sideline at you, and sees your disappointed face and body posture, the child gets the message of Disapproval.

As sports fans and audiences, we are conditioned to cheer when things go right and go “Awww” when they go wrong for our team. Now, this is totally fine when you’re watching your favorite pro sports team. Those players are not your children and they can take it. But not your kids. They subconsciously take it, literally, as a form of rejection, and there’s nothing worse for a kid than getting that from their parent.

What you need to do is be passionately positive even when nothing exciting is happening…but especially when the child has a poor performance of any kind. You do not want your child coming away from a game, meet or match with the idea that your approval is dependent on their performance.

You may just be showing your disappointment in empathy for them but that’s not how they are taking it. This is a huge confidence killer. Here’s the best encouragement you can give to a kid so that natural confidence and resilience can be built: “I love watching you play.” Default to that and you can’t go wrong.

Strategy #8. Stop telling your kid how they could have done better on the car ride home.

Or otherwise giving unsolicited advice or questioning at any time right after a game/event of poor performance or a loss. Most often, the best thing you can do as a sports parent, is nothing or at most, “I loved watching you play.”

Kids can be very resilient and grow that muscle…if we let them. For example, If you ever watch little kids play in the sandbox together and one of them upsets the other, there’s crying and finger pointing for a few minutes and then after a short time, the kids are right back in the sandbox playing again like nothing happened.

Kids have a much greater natural ability to let go of difficult events faster than us adults. We learn how to hold on to things as we get older because we have all this complex thinking that requires full mental resolution on things.

Kids don’t have that yet and can develop resiliency through difficult events, if allowed to. That’s what we should want for them for their participation in sports – life skills such as resilience, right?

To do that, Kids often need the space and freedom to express, if they want to, and then process the difficulty in their own way. Let them. If a kid is holding on to the loss or poor performance and it’s effects for more than a day, then you can jump in and ask if he or she would like to talk or would like some help with their game to improve on the problem.

But, stop jumping in and saving your kid or teaching them how to do it right next time at the worst time, right after the event. That’s what we have coaches for. Resilience is the foundation for confidence.

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

Six Objectives for Mental Preparation

By John Ellsworth

I have been using mental preparation strategies for my clients for many years.  There are many places a mental preparation strategy can and will work.  Students use them to prepare for a critical exam. Athletes use them to prepare for a game or performance, and business executives can use them before they deliver a very important presentation.

Athletes use them in a number of different situations for pre-event, pre-practice, or pre-execution preparation for a specific skill whether it be a team sports or an individual sport.  It’s important to remember the overall aim of the mental preparation is to create a functional pre-game mindset that can carry you through competition. The overall goal is to achieve a focused, confident and trusting mindset prior to entering the competitive environment.  Below are a few primary objectives you will want to accomplish with your mental preparation.

1. KISS  – Keep the preparation very simple and specific.  The most simple objective of mental preparation is to to get your mind ready to compete and clear of distractions.  You have practiced all week long, have strengthened your confidence by working efficiently on the skills areas that require the most refinement.

2. Believing in one’s ability and skills.  It’s extremely important you go into competition with the right mindset, the right objectives, and without excessively high expectations for performance.  Confidence is by far the most critical aspect of the mental preparation.  Practice is where you develop the basic foundation for confidence. It’s about work ethic, and having the right practice plan focused on skills improvement.  Practice like you play and play like you practice.  There should be little difference between the two.

3. Execution, execution, execution.  The only things the athlete has absolute control are attitude, behavior and execution.  The first two are critical because they can make or break execution because execution is so much a mental game.  I incorporate focus drills, and exercises into everything I do with athletes and include tools to be used for refocusing when the focus gets cloudy.

4. Coping with the ups and downs.  I believe to adequately cope with adversity requires having a certain level of confidence as a prerequsite. Everyone is different so everyone knows where their breaking point is. Adversity can affect composure, confidence and focus (the 3 C’s as I call them).  It’s important to have a few generic coping tools for the  unforeseen situations.  Recovery from adversity, and the rate at which the recovery process takes place will directly affect an athletes performance and how they see themselves on the team or in the bigger picture.

5. Stick to the game plan.  I encourage and teach each athlete I work with to have a game plan for each and every competition.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should state intentions, and be focused on objectives for performance.  I did not say focus on outcomes!  The outcome is not what competition is about it’s more about having a basic understanding of how you plan to execute, and how you see yourself in the execution process.

6. Know your role.  As human beings we have many different roles in life. We are athletes, fathers, teachers, coaches, and wear many other hats. The key here is to be able to separate those roles from one another and be centered in the present when we are executing in whatever role.   There is a strategy I teach my client’s that helps them completely separate the role of the athlete from the other roles. Do well at the role when you are in that role, and prepare each day for the time when you enter the role of the athlete.

On some level every athlete aspires to these objectives some really never discuss them, write them down, put them into action and track their success against their objectives.  One of the things I give athletes is a system to first establish the objectives, and then to monitor and track them and their success.

One of the first things we do is to identify the challenges, roadblocks, thoughts, and feelings that support a belief system that is limited in scope and depth.  We also take the athlete through a process of recovery and re-engineer their belief system to support a level of consistent and repetitive success. If you believe you “can’t” based on past experience you will learn to dump the self-fulfilling prophecy and get back on a path of “I can do this.”

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.