How to Help Young Athletes Build Confidence

Sometimes players lose their confidence leaving parents with the burning question, “What can I do to help restore that swagger?”

I’ve witnessed many coaches who rebuke and scold to such a degree that players experience fear more often than confidence. They become so afraid of making a mistake that they lose their natural swagger and turn into paranoid mechanical athletes who only hope it’s their good fortune to avoid being yelled at this time around.  This is not coaching.  It’s emotional abuse and serves no good purpose toward improving skills.

Recovering personal swagger requires an athlete to first identify the basis for the swagger that's now lost. I favor an exercise that cuts to the heart of the matter and is also a good visual tool.

Have your athlete build a list of personal strengths on a piece of paper under the heading “Who I Am.” The list should include every possible quality, skill, habit, or talent that is already true and that contribute to a good performance.

Examples might be, "I am quick to the ball,“ or “I anticipate very well,” or "I stay focused during a game." The list should be as long and complete as possible, and very specific about particular attributes.

When the list is complete, it's time to turn the paper over and create the “Who I’m Afraid I Am” list. This is a list of lies that the athlete allows in his/her head based on the fear of a sub-par performance and what he/she thinks that means about him/her.

For instance, "I'm afraid I'm not good enough," or "I afraid I can't come through under pressure.“

The more attention and energy an athlete gives to this list, the more crippled swagger becomes. The worst performances come from dwelling on these "lies" before and during a competition. Everyone has a two-sided piece of paper on a sub-conscious level that holds these two lists.

Everyone must make a choice about which list they read from every day.

Explain to your young athlete that we are at our best when we focus on our finest qualities and refuse to give any attention or energy to the negative side of that paper. When we hear ourselves reading from the wrong side (“I’m afraid I’ll choke.”) we must turn the paper over in our mind and ask this question: “What am I going to do about it?” This immediately gives us the opportunity to dwell on the best that is within us and use the power of those qualities.

Everything Growing Champions For Life does is to help sport organizations create the most positive learning environment for athletes, parents, and coaches. I have shared our strategies with stakeholders in many sports. If you are interested in learning more about our in-person seminars and workshops, webinar series or online learning program, I would love to hear from you.

Now it is time for you to learn what to do when swagger is lost and continue Growing Champions For Life.

About the author

David Benzel
Sport Family Coach at

Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

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