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Mar, 2016

How to build confidence in football players

For all the talk and advice about how valuable it is for football players, young and old, to be confident, I am shocked at how little anyone really does toward actually building it.

The standard advice for coaches and parents to boost a player’s confidence is simply to deliver a lot of encouragement such as:

  • “You can do it.”
  • “We’re rooting for you.”
  • “You are an awesome lineman, defensive back, running back, etc.”
  • “You’ve done it before, you can do it again.”

And there ends the amount of mental work most coaches, players and parents do to build the player’s confidence, which is very ineffective.

Yes, of course, the more the players work on their skills and put in the time and effort in practice, the more confident they get. That’s true. However, I have worked with countless youth athletes who are the hardest workers on the team and still suffer from lack of confidence, so that’s not the answer.

We all know that having recent performance success tends to create confidence in the short term. If a player has just had a stellar game, he’s probably going to feel very confident going into the next game. No mystery there.

But what are we supposed to do if we haven’t had any recent success?

The answer lies in the dictionary definition above and the word “abilities.”

Follow me here. Vague “rah rah” encouragements don’t have any effect on building confidence because they are not specific enough for the young player to believe it. That’s the key to building confidence – specificity.

If I coached a youth football team, I would have every player keep a confidence journal throughout the season. We would dedicate five minutes before and after every practice to write down what we did well. I would encourage as much detail as possible when listing proof and evidence of our abilities.

Coaches and parents need to understand something about the human mind.

We have a fantastic ability to look at ourselves and find what is wrong with us and where we are lacking. We also are amazing at comparing ourselves to others. Those two functions together are a recipe waiting to cook your confidence. They are survival mechanisms passed down from our ancestors, and it’s not going to go away easily, especially in a young person. We need to balance that out by conditioning our minds to constant awareness of our strengths and what we do well.

Athletes who don’t do this conscious work leave themselves wide open to natural tendencies to be self-critical, which is the destroyer of confidence.

Let’s go further into specificity because that’s the key here.

When keeping this confidence journal, it’s good to write something such as:

  • “Made four tackles in the last game.”
  • “Did not let my opponent beat me in 10-straight plays.”

But it’s much more powerful in building confidence to write in detail what went well in getting those four tackles or protecting the quarterback, for instance.

  • What did the player think about while getting in his stance at the line?
  • Where was his focus?
  • What did he think about his opponent?
  • How was he feeling?
  • Describe his body, his stance, his energy, his vision.

Coaches should ask to see each player’s journal periodically and take notes off of them. Make this mental practice an entire team engagement, just like with drills and conditioning.

When the time comes in a high pressure situation prep players on the sideline with the specific things that are truths for them. Flood each mind with every little thing he does well to crowd out the negativity.

The other function of the mind that makes all of this normally difficult is our tendency to generalize. We gloss over our successes and obsess about our failures. What if we obsessed about our successes (abilities) and cleared out the failures? We’ll do clearing out our failures in another article.

Get your players writing a confidence journal.

Let’s do this.

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting: