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Building Self-Confidence in Youth Sports

Even the struggles should be rewarding. If, on some level, you’re not having fun, you’re never going to be confident.

Confidence is a tricky thing. Great athletes have it, but how do they get it? And why do so many seem to lose it? The easiest answer is the same as to the question, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”


In sports, it’s more than that. Practice your skills, yes. Improve your fitness. Know the power of visualization — see yourself cutting in front of the net or snapping a wrister from the faceoff circle. Come up with a mantra.

And recognize, too, that confidence is another skill you can hone.

Understanding Confidence

It ebbs and flows. But remember, “this, too, shall pass” cuts both ways. Bad times — a lack of confidence — are temporary, so let that knowledge steer you away from a drastic, permanent solution to a temporary problem. Good times — when the confidence seems boundless — will fade, too, so enjoy it when you have it.

Yet, you can improve your ability to maintain that confidence. Essentially, confidence can be a decision, a conscious recognition of:

  • The great plays, games and teams you’ve been a part of in sports

  • The work you’ve put in

  • The support you’ve gotten

  • The coaching you’ve had

That kind of conscious confidence recognizes that while not every game is a win, not every performance your best, it is not shaken by the inevitable valleys along the way to the peaks.

Don’t Be a Saboteur

Too many athletes treat their confidence like luck. In other words, if a goalie stands on his head to deny a shot put exactly where the shooter wanted it, suddenly the shooter doubts himself. Small failures convince them — or, more accurately, such players convince themselves — that only the more recent, negative results matter.

Remember that your confidence is born of the work you’ve done to maximize your talents. Don’t let emotions rule.

Yes, We Said Work

There are concrete things you can do as an athlete to strengthen your confidence:

  • Have goals AND the plans to achieve them. A goal is the destination. A plan is the map. Keep the goals realistically achievable, make the plans concrete. Both those things help confidence grow.

  • Prepare. When you know you’ve done your best to prepare in each facet of the game for the situations you’ll encounter on the ice, you can be confident that, if nothing else, you’ve not cheated yourself or the opportunity. “What ifs” rarely visit someone who prepares.

  • Be encouraging to that face in the mirror. Self-doubt is self-perpetuating. Self-confidence can do the same. Endeavor to make your inner voice a positive one. Try to find positivity in your everyday environment as well. Just as a body grows strong on a healthy diet, a mind fed with positivity gains belief.

  • Focus on development, not results. Goals and wins will come because you’re getting better, not the other way around. If you have a process, you can be confident the results will come.

  • Focus on your good shifts, not the bad. Postgame is the time to evaluate a bad shift. During the game, don’t spend energy on worry — build energy and momentum from the things you’ve done well.

  • Know your triggers. Certain actions make you feel good, strong, confident — embrace those behaviors. Certain actions fill you with self-doubt. Know what you can and can’t do. An honest appraisal allows you to be in a position to be your most helpful when it counts.

Remember to Love the Game

Even the struggles should be rewarding. If, on some level, you’re not having fun, you’re never going to be confident. You should be enjoying yourself on whatever your playing surface may be. Sometimes we forget that. Remember all that you love about your sport, let that guide your performance, and the confidence will flow.

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