Boosting Kids’ Confidence on Game Day

By Dr. Patrick Cohn

We often see kids who excel in practice, but freeze up during games. This can be frustrating and confusing for parents and coaches. What’s going on in the young athlete’s mind and what can sports parents and coaches do about it?

First of all, sports parents and coaches should help young athletes understand that they create their own confidence. If kids begin a game wanting immediate results (such as getting the first hit or basket of the game), they’re setting themselves up for frustration.

Many athletes have a fragile sense of confidence. They need to understand that it can take years to build up confidence in sports. Many only feel confident when they experience immediate success, especially during a game or performance. Don’t let them lose confidence by worrying about achieving immediate results!

What’s more, athletes need to understand that they’ll be more successful if they assume full responsibility for their own confidence before competition begins. Often, athletes unknowingly wait until the game starts before they decide how confident they should feel. If this is how your young athletes think, they need positive results before they feel confident. In other words, they need to make that great hit or basket before they can begin to feel confident.

If this is true of the young athletes in your life, you can help. Tell them they need to change how they think before entering competition. Tell them not to worry about making that first hit, goal or basket right away! Instead, they should draw on their many successes even before the game or competition begins. That means recalling positive experiences—great hits, blocks or assists. It means recalling how it feels to be viewed as a great team player.

Keep in mind that confidence develops over months and years of practice and play. Remind your child about this. In addition, confidence should come from within. That’s why it’s called self-confidence. Your kids should not have to depend on what you say to boost their confidence on game day. They should learn to take personal responsibility for their confidence.

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, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting