How Coaches Can Help Athletes Develop Self-Confidence

Wayne Goldsmith is a performance-focused professional coach with more than 25 years of experience working with some of the world's top athletes, coaches and teams. He offers a wide range of training services for professional coaches, corporate executives and organizational leaders who build on their experience delivering winning performances in high-pressure sports environments around the world. When it comes to helping athletes build self-confidence, two tried and true methods are preparation and success. Coaches can play a role in both, but ultimately, it is up to the athletes to take advantage of their own preparation and successes to foster confidence.

To become a more confident sports coach, the most effective approach is to dedicate yourself to practicing training at a level you feel comfortable with, taking small steps and learning from successes and failures, to gradually develop experience and knowledge. Additionally, trust can be built by observing other coaches, using verbal persuasion, and learning to manage their emotional and physical responses. A common mistake among coaches is to criticize their athletes when they make mistakes. The commitment required on the part of the coach would be to take more risks (involving possible “exposure” or embarrassment) to develop resilience, and this will require a balance between the right challenge and support from the coach.

If the contract is for training, then it is not a psychotherapy contract, unless it is explicitly agreed upon and is within the competence of the coach. For athletes with low self-confidence, they need a lot of help, support, and consistent, quality training to help them build self-confidence. At this level, coaches can work with people to understand what beliefs might be driving their impostor syndrome and what emotions those beliefs generate. Understanding how to apply this theory can provide significant benefits to coaches in developing their own confidence and performance in themselves and those of their athletes.

For a deeper look at how to instill confidence in athletes, I highly recommend two pamphlets by Bruce Brown from Proactive Coaching. Building confidence in athletes is important for achieving success as a coach for reasons other than simply improving their athletic performance. An outside-in approach is cultivated through training and parenting methods that are based on using fear and guilt as motivators and, unfortunately, this is all too common in sports culture. Basically, a level of resilience develops, to the point that expert coaches look to failure as an opportunity to learn and further develop their focus and confidence.

All coaches want their athletes to be confident in order for them to have the best chance of success; however, that implies that an athlete without confidence will likely not succeed. He didn't need coaches or team staff to show him everything he was doing in preparation for increasing his self-confidence; he didn't need to be presented with tests that would help him build self-confidence. He experienced excellence and clearly understood who he was and what he was doing. If you ask most coaches what the most important attribute they look for in a player is, self-confidence is at the top of the list.