Confidence is an athlete’s best friend. It is an athlete’s belief in his or her ability to perform. It is also a core mental skill because of its impact on other parts of one’s life, like school and relationships with family and friends.
Jessica is typical teenager in many ways. She loves Facebook, and her iPod is glued to her hand. A typical weekend involves going to movies with friends, and although she doesn’t love getting up early for school, she knows that education is the foundation for her future. But Jessica is unique because she found an activity that she fell in love with as a young girl and is now using that activity to create opportunities to be a positive person on her way to college. Playing sports, specifically soccer, has been motivating Jessica for many years, and it continues to inspire her everyday.
“Soccer has changed my life and because of it many positive things have crossed my way,” Jessica says. “That’s the main reason why, when I touch that soccer ball, a smile comes to my face!”
Discipline, patience, and balancing time and energy are the challenging components of playing a sport. For Jessica, soccer creates opportunities to achieve, increases her physical and mental strength, builds her social skills, and teaches her the value of hard work in pursuit of a goal.
“Playing soccer made me realize who I really am,” says Jessica, who has been playing the sport since she was in sixth grade. “As of now, I am a student-athlete.”
Your child can feel this way, too. Here are some tips to remember when looking at how sport can strengthen your child’s self-confidence and improve his or her life.
Find a Sport Your Child Loves to Play
Jessica reflects with pride that the journey she began at age 11 has helped her develop into a positive and confident person. One of the most important parts of staying motivated is to love the sport. Building physical strength and endurance helps build confidence. Playing a sport allows a child to do this while having fun with friends. If the sport stops being enjoyable, maybe it’s too competitive or too much of a commitment. Talk to your child to see how she is feeling. See if she’d prefer to try something new. Most kids stop playing sports during middle school because they stop having fun. Trying a new sport could re-inspire the fun factor.
Make More Friends
Making a new circle of friends is a great benefit of sports participation. Connecting with others and learning about trust and teamwork is rewarding. It is also a great opportunity to build self-confidence by learning to get along with all kinds of people. Being a part of a group is motivating; there is a group energy that happens when people come together to participate in the same fun event.
Learn to Handle Stress
Playing sports provides a great place to relax. Being able to channel energy into playing sports can helps your child cope with obstacles in his life.
“Soccer has helped me a lot in life,” says Jessica. “When I play, it’s like I’m in my own world. I don’t think about my problems or anything, I’m just so focused in the game, practice scrimmages, etc. I became a better person playing soccer.”
Mistakes are Great
One of the best things about playing sports is that it’s a safe place to make mistakes; they are a natural occurrence in the game. How do your child respond to mistakes that he makes? Resilience is the ability to remain composed, confident, and consistent in the face of errors. A resilient athlete is one who can let go of errors and return to the present; he uses the error as an opportunity to learn and improve. Developing this skill now while your child is young will help him be successful throughout his life.
Increase Positive Energy
A good performance on the field can literally make you happier. Go out and play! Your brain creates endorphins and other happy brain chemicals that get released giving your mood a lift. Your improved mood will translate into all other parts of your life; improved performance at school and improved relationships with your friends and family. This is an excellent recipe for increasing your self-confidence.
Make It Happen
Playing sports helps create positive self-confidence, but ultimately how your child feels about herself is up to her. Remind your child that nothing of value comes easily, so she shouldn’t be afraid to apply herself and work at it.
“When I first started I wasn't confident in myself, and as I got older I realized that if I didn’t have confidence in myself then I was not being helpful to my team,” Jessica says. “I’m not the best player out there but I know that’s okay. I make sure before I play a game and even at practices that I have that mentality: ‘I know I can.’”
Jessica is proof that you do not have to be on your way to the Olympics to get the most out of playing sports. Find the sport that is the most fun for you, begin at the right competitive level, and you will be on your way.
And for Competitive Athletes…
If your child is already a competitive athlete looking to build self-confidence, here are five keys to success.
1. Winning is fun but it is not the main objective. The main objective is to have fun and improve. Learn from bad games but be sure to let go of the disappointment.
2. Success is related to effort. Remind your children that they have control over how much effort they put into practicing and games. Attending practices and keeping a good relationship with their coaches will help them keep improving.
3. Success and winning are not the same. Winning is about the outcome of a contest. Success is a personal achievement related to improving ability.
4. Failure and losing are not the same. Losing a game is not a reflection of self worth.
5. Encourage your child to be her best ally. When self doubt and negative thoughts take over, performance suffers. Help her visualize success and keep her thoughts focused on making that vision real.
COURTNEY CARROLL, M.A. sport psychology, is an expert in the field of sport psychology and the founder of Growth Through Sport, a company whose mission is to develop and enhance emotional and personal skills through sport. 917-880-9849 or www.growththroughsport.com.