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By: Nicholas Boon

Self-confidence is a tricky topic in youth sports. It is so inherently dependent on the individual and the context. As a coach, it can seem overwhelming, even unrealistic, to build and nurture the self-confidence of each of your athletes.

Some kids seem to be naturally confident, see themselves as leaders among their peers, and have no problem accepting responsibility or taking on challenges. Others may not be so confident in themselves, shying away from confrontation and avoiding situations where risk failure. Players all respond differently to criticism and praise, to positive and negative feedback, and to failures and successes. This post will outline four of the cited sources of self-efficacy, all of which are easily applied to a youth sport context, followed by some tips and strategies to cultivate confidence among your team and program.

4 Sources of Confidence
There has been considerable research done on the sources, qualities, and effects of self-efficacy (or self-confidence), with recreational sport as a popular medium through which theories are tested and refined. Albert Bandura, perhaps the most prominent researcher in self-efficacy theory, describes four primary sources of self-efficacy:

#1 Past Performance

The single best way for an individual to improve their confidence in a particular situation or with a particular skill is to perform that task successfully. This is quite intuitive; if you have hit a game winning free-throw before, you will be more confident that you can repeat that success.

#2 Vicarious Experience

Vicarious experience, or social modelling, is the opportunities to witness someone else (ideally of comparable skill or experience) complete a particular task. Seeing someone whom you consider similar to yourself succeed in a rigorous series of sprints will improve your belief that you can too.

#3 Verbal Persuasion

Positive feedback can come from a number of sources, including parents, coaches, or other athletes. The most effective form of verbal persuasion, however, is “self-talk” or an individual’s inner monologue. Telling yourself you can defend the opposing team’s start point guard puts you in a mindset of toughness and resolve, an effective tool to increase performance.

#4 Physiological & Psychological State

Finally, the physical and emotional state of the individual can have a profound, though individualized, effect both on self-confidence and performance. Some athletes feel more game-ready when they are “fired up”; others may be more confident when they are relaxed. Some athletes spend their time before a game composing themselves mentally; others focus on the physical warm-up and skill preparation.

These sources of confidence are well documented, though they can affect everyone differently across various stressful situations. Knowing when, and how, to adopt and engage in these sources is more of an art and less of a science.

5 Tips to Promote Confidence
1. Create Opportunities for Success

Structure drills and activities so that all athletes can experience success. Progress the difficulty of skill drills up, instead of regressing them down. Use games and activities where everyone can participate and feel competitive; elite or elimination games both limit development opportunities and may negative impact some players’ confidence. Finally, play up individual players’ strengths in games (though continue to develop well rounded players in practices).

2. Express Confidence in Players

Let your players know you believe in them! As a leader and authority on basketball, your athletes will hold your opinion of their abilities to a high standard. If an athlete doubts themselves, you are in a powerful position to change their mind. Continue with constructive criticism but provide positive feedback as well, applauding effort and focusing on improvements rather than results.

3. Provide Equal Playing Time

Nothing is a confidence killer quite like riding the bench. Not only does this limit development of the individual but you are actively limiting their opportunity to experience success. If past experiences are the single greatest source of confidence in young athletes, how can they be expected to believe they will improve if they are deprived of experience at all?

4. Encourage Mistakes

Youth athlete development is fundamentally grounded on trial and error; the best way to learn is by making mistakes. Create a culture where players are not afraid to make mistakes and see them as opportunities to improve rather than as reflections of their abilities.

5. Use Mental Imagery

Mental imagery is a positive sport tool, and has been shown to be especially effective in promoting self-efficacy among beginner athletes. At the end of a practice, go through a visualization exercise with your team. Help them to imagine a situation such as hitting a free-throw or finishing on a fast break, focusing on what they see, hear and feel. Most importantly, ensure that players visualize a successful performance in that situation.

Source: Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog
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