I received a phone call this morning from a distraught father who is facing one of the toughest scenarios in sport-parenting. His seventeen-year-old daughter has been a first-string performer on a top-level volleyball team. However, a combination of circumstances (a new coach and new talent) on the team has suddenly shaken his daughter's confidence and her personal swagger has taken a hit. How can I help her get it back he asked. It's painful to watch her struggle so much when it's obvious this is more mental than physical.
Confidence is a fragile commodity for young athletes, and it seems to be especially fragile for young female athletes. Recovering personal swagger requires that an athlete first identify the basis for the swagger that's now lost. The exercise below works best when some one's confidence is founded on a set of beliefs about who they are and what they're capable of doing, as opposed to some position they've held on a team without earning that spot.
This exercise really cuts to the heart of the matter and is also a good visual tool. Have your athlete build a personal list of strengths on a piece of paper under the heading Who I Am. The list should include every possible quality, skill, or talent that is already true about them that contributes to a good performance. Examples for a volleyball player might be, I am quick to the ball or I'm an excellent setter. What truths does your athlete believe to be true about the best that's within them? The list should be as long and complete as possible, and very specific about particular attributes and skills.
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 we allow in our head based on what we fear a sub-par performance means about us, but not based on fact. For instance, I'm afraid I'm not as good as I need to be, or I'm afraid I can't come through under pressure, or I'm afraid I'm not as fast as other players. 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. It may be helpful for you to share some of the lies you have overcome during your life to illustrate that point. 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.