Instead of punishing players for making mistakes, coaches should shift their focus to guiding players through the learning process and making an effort to recognize and reward them for their successes.
This is an open letter to encourage all associations in our great state to evaluate their coaching selection process and consider how prospective and/or existing coaches will work to build player confidence as a part of their duties as a coach.
Let me explain. I think we can all agree; youth sports have the ability to teach our kids many valuable life lessons. Not the least of these lessons is the opportunity to develop self-confidence.
In order for our kids to develop a healthy self-confidence through sport, it is imperative coaches understand the reasons kids play team sports in the first place. Most likely, these reasons will vary from kid to kid however I suspect they include the following:
To have fun
A love for the game
To get exercise
To be on a team with their friends
An opportunity to meet new friends
There are probably more reasons than just the above, but two things you never see listed highly in research articles for kids’ motivation are winning and to be ‘elite’. Certainly, every kid that plays likes to win and the idea of being a great player. At the core though, those are not why kids play. They are typically byproducts of kids who love to play.
Knowing that, the manner in which coaches communicate to their players should never be taken lightly. Everyone, including the players, wants them to improve, but many younger players won’t be motivated by that purpose in and of itself. It’s up to the coaches to create an environment which promotes learning while also focusing on the reasons listed above.
A key part of this is understanding mistakes are a part of the learning process. In particular, hockey is a sport where mistakes are made on a regular basis throughout game play. In order to be successful, players need to develop an ability to recover quickly when mistakes are made.
If coaches consistently punish players for making mistakes during game play, it creates an environment where players fear making mistakes. If players fear making mistakes during game play, it often lowers their confidence and makes them tentative or nervous, leading to more mistakes.
Let’s be honest, youth hockey is not the NHL and none of the kids are getting paid for how they perform on the ice. Instead of punishing players for making mistakes, coaches should shift their focus to guiding players through the learning process and making an effort to recognize and reward them for their successes. This will build confident and mentally resilient players who will be able to recover quickly and the whole team will benefit from this approach.
Denis Waitley, motivational speaker and author of the best-selling book “The Psychology of Winning” says it best:
“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.”
A shot aimed directly at lack of confidence in one self. Whomever is in charge of making hiring decisions for coaches, I beg you to ask the following question as part of your interview process this spring and summer:
“How will you help to build confidence in your players, both individually and as a team?”
And then please follow through with mid-season and post-season evaluations to ensure this actually happens.
Twenty years from now, only a handful of current youth players in Minnesota will still be playing this game competitively. For the other 50,000+, two of the most important things we can provide them are positive memories of the game and a strong sense of self-confidence.