5 Simple Tricks Coaches Can Use to Build Confident Athletes
“I gotta ask, how do you do it? I’m not talking about the physical, I mean the confidence. I don’t know what it is you guys are doing but whatever it is it’s working. I’ve never seen her so confident and it truly has changed her in all areas of life.” -OPTC Athlete Parent
This is a conversation I have on a weekly basis with parents and it’s something I think gets lost in the shuffle in today’s youth training programs. At the end of the day, strength training for young athletes is nothing more than confidence training. Former NFL strength coach of the year Joe Kenn said it best when he says that the number one transferable trait from the weight room to the field/court is confidence regardless of the level of play.
When it’s all said and done, athletes are never going to remember how good the program was, what periodization style you used, or the methods of training you adhere too. But I promise that what they will remember is the way they felt when they were with you. People never care how much you know, until they know how much you care and that’s why I say we don’t sell better performance, we sell confidence.
Why Do We Really Train?
It comes down to this, every athlete, fitness junky, or average Joe is looking to solve an internal problem. If a 14-year-old soccer player comes in to train, they may want to get faster and stronger, and typically they’ll say it’s to improve performance, but really there’s so much more beneath the surface. There are two internal needs that everyone regardless of age, sport, goal, etc is looking to satisfy: they want to feel safe in their own skin and they want something to belong too. They want to define who they are by what they do or how they do it. You can have two athletes with identical metrics but if one has self-confidence and the other does not, it won’t be hard to guess who’s going to outperform who.
Training by nature builds confidence. If you take a person and make them stronger, faster, and more athletic, you’re going to see some positive results. A change in their physical image (how they look in the mirror) will directly affect their self-image. But does confidence stop there? There is a myriad of ways to give a young person more confidence apart from training alone, but here are our 5 go to’s at Optimal Performance Training Center:
1. Humans First, Athletes Second:
Whether you’re 11 and just getting your feet wet in athletics or have signed a Division 1 scholarship and looking to earn your stripes, we have to remember that anyone who comes through our doors is a human being with physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Find out what those needs are, as well as help them find a solution to those needs and you just got yourself a confident lifetime member.
2. Remember Their Name:
This may seem meaningless and insignificant but in my experience, this is the single most important step in building a confident athlete. When you remember someone’s name it shows you care. Your name is the best sound in the world (to you) and when you show up to a foreign place and are known by name you aren’t just another number on an attendance sheet… you are part of a community. We have a rule that our staff MUST greet every member by name as soon as they step foot through our door. The louder and more obnoxious the better.
3. Ask Specific Questions:
This is not only helpful in building rapport and developing relationships, but is also a great way to auto-regulate a training program. The deeper you dig, the more you discover and that goes a long way in assessing an athlete’s readiness for that day. John 16:24 says, “You have not because you ask not” and that could not be more true in the world of Strength and Conditioning. Don’t know if a kid is having trouble at home? Ask. Wondering if a kid is enjoying your program? Ask. Communication is a two-way street so start asking the questions you want to know the answers too. It’ll make you a better coach, build trust, and foster a relationship that last a lifetime.
4. Be Present Outside of The Weight Room:
More often than not, just being available will make you stand out in a time where constant cancellations and last-minute bailouts have become the norm. So, go to that baseball game, comment on their pictures, email the parents to see how things are going outside the gym. CARE. Odds are seeing a child 2x/week for an hour at a time might not be enough to build the kind of relationship you want. So pay it forward, and go the extra mile.
5. “Be hearty in approbation, and lavish in your praise” –Dale Carnegie
Translation: Encourage, encourage, encourage. Kids get enough negativity at school, home, and at practice, so why not be the one positive constant in their life? This doesn’t mean ignore faults and errors, and it also doesn’t mean be a cheerleader. It does mean have a tactical way in coaching and correcting. It’s hard to have confidence if you’re constantly being belittled for your mistakes. Glorify the good, fix the bad, and don’t sweat the stuff in between. The human body is much smarter than you, so odds are most of their problems will solve themselves through self-organization.
One Final Thought
These 5 points are “gimmes”, i.e. Low hanging fruit that takes minimal effort but achieves maximal results. In closing, I want to put an asterisk next to this and say that all these ideas are a wash if you yourself don’t have confidence, nor display confidence. Kids are some of the best BS detectors around, and they can smell a phony from a mile away. Even if you’re clever, you are running on borrowed time before someone finds out that you’re either telling stories or living a lie. I know this because this was me. Try fixing your own problems first and see what a difference it will make. Be your own role model, crush your insecurities, pull motivation from yourself, then (and only then) can you start helping others develop confidence that transfers to all aspects of life.