As a judge, I can always see the teams who just ooze confidence as they take the floor. It’s not fake. When they walk out, I know they are 100% confident and stand behind what they are about to do. Then there are those teams that walk out with that sense of, “please don’t mess up, please don’t mess up.” Why is one team so much more confident than another? Is it just the teams who have a high record of success? Sure, a past win can definitely instill confidence, but how to develop self-confidence for the team who hasn’t experienced it yet?
Confidence is the belief that you can successfully perform a desired behavior. Confidence is the belief that you can nail your tumbling pass, or turn section, or finish the routine mistake free. There are two different types, self-confidence can be both dispositional and situational. Dispositional confidence is more like a personality trait. It’s something relatively stable within a person, her general degree of certainty about her ability to succeed. She is a confident person. But there is also situational confidence, or when a person is confident at a particular moment about her ability to succeed.
Dispositional vs. Situational Confidence
These two usually go together, but they don’t have to. One dancer may be confident most of the time and have high dispositional self-confidence, but when it comes to a certain new hip-hop trick, she is nervous and struggles to try it or perform under pressure. She may have low situational self-confidence.
A team may have high confidence overall, but low situational confidence when it comes to a specific situation. A certain event, for example. Do you have that one competitive event that you attend every year and no matter what it gives you intense butterflies as soon as you enter the building? The look, the crowd, the smell even. It all comes at you and even a usually confident person may become overwhelmed and lack situational confidence.
The point is, there are different kinds of confidence and as a coach, you may have to help athletes with one or the other. It’s important to think about the athlete’s struggles. Is it with a specific situation or skill or is it more general?
How to Develop Self Confidence: Understand the Source
If you are a high school or college coach, then your athletes have already had plenty of experiences competing and training that have shaped their confidence. It can be hard to turn things around if it’s already been years of negative mental skills training. But it’s possible! It won’t happen overnight. It’s a slow process, a little bit every day. Just like learning a new difficult skill. It takes daily practice and consistency, but you will see and feel a difference.
Where does confidence come from?
Are some people just born more confident? Yes and no. Research tells us that personality is about 50% inherited (I’m simplifying the science, but that’s the gist). That means confidence is somewhat determined by genetics and some athletes will just have more than others. However, that also means 50% is shaped by your environment.
That’s where you come in as a coach. You are a big part of your athletes’ environment. The people around them, the situations they experience, their social world. That’s where you can make a difference. So yes, some people are born with a more confident personality. But that doesn’t mean those individuals can’t experience times of low confidence, and it doesn’t mean those who are naturally less confident can’t learn to grow their self-confidence.
Confidence comes from three places in our life
Of course, the easiest way to instill confidence is to achieve what you believe you can’t. Then it becomes much easier to do again. So the first time you hit a new skill or the first time you break into the top 5 at a competition, it becomes much easier to believe you can do it again. Mastering a new skill gives you confidence that you can do that skill again, but it also gives you confidence that you can learn any new skill. It demonstrates that you can push through and keep trying and it will happen.
This is a psychology term that means your ability to act in your own long-term best interest. Someone high in self-regulation acts in a way consistent with his deepest values. Children with high self-regulation are better at controlling their emotions and dealing with frustrations. So when it comes to confidence, instilling self-regulation helps athletes learn to deal with setbacks and frustration. Then they are able to persist in their efforts and keep trying. For athletes, this can be done by focusing on goals, proper goal setting techniques, and ensuring good physical and mental preparation for events.
The climate that you establish as a coach can make or break an athlete’s confidence. If you create a positive motivational climate where there is a lot of support from teammates and coaches, encouragement, positive leadership styles, and trust, an athlete’s efforts and mistakes are supported so that they can continue to try and fail and improve as they learn.
Grab your coffee, and let’s get to it:
How to Develop Self Confidence: 7 Strategies
The science behind confidence explaining the different kinds and where it comes from is all fine and good, but honestly, it’s about how to actually implement these ideas that matter! I know how hard it can be to deal with a team that doesn’t believe in themselves. Or a dancer who has a mental block about one specific skill. Confidence fluctuates. You can go from a highly confident team to a new group with different challenges who need more help developing situational confidence. You can have an athlete who has high dispositional confidence, then experiences one big mistake at a significant event and suddenly her self-confidence has tanked! So here are some ideas and suggestions that you can do for your team:
1. Ensure Performance Accomplishments
Allow your athletes to experience success within the context of being optimally challenged. Achieving success only helps build confidence if it is done in a situation that is challenging but achievable. This is where proper goal setting comes in. You want all of your team goals to be optimally challenging. Difficult and inspiring… but achievable. This doesn’t just mean your be-all-end-all performance goal, but the little training goals along the way. The more small stepping stone goals you set along the way, the more opportunities you give your athletes to experience success.
For example, set a goal for a team plank during warm-up. How long can the whole team do it together with good form without falling out? Set a high but achievable goal. Then when you get there in a few weeks, celebrate the success, and set a new training goal. These small instances of success go a long way towards building confidence in your athletes.
Confidence in Action: 3 is Key
Another great tool for experiencing performance accomplishments is a cleaning drill I call “3 is Key”. (Note: I’ve done this for so many years I don’t actually remember where it came from. I have a feeling it was a UDA instructor in the early 2000s, so if you know, please tell me so I can credit them. It’s one of my favorite drills!)
Choose a section
Choose a section of your routine that you want to clean (I recommend 2-4 8 counts depending on complexity). Then instruct the team that they have the challenge to hit this section 3 times in a row without mistakes. If they can hit it once without mistakes, that could be luck. If they hit it twice in a row without mistakes that could be a coincidence. But 3 times in a row without mistakes is talent! (And you can count on it in the future… CONFIDENCE!)
Hit it 3 times in a row
They perform those few 8 counts, and I usually say, “No, Susie fix your T on count 7, Julie you were late on 1. Try again”… and keep going. Sometimes there isn’t any feedback if it was close and they know what they did. Just say, “No, close, but no. You can do this, try again!” If you have a positive climate, the team should start encouraging each other too and your leaders especially should be modeling persistence and positive emotions. Once they nail it to your standards of perfection (which depends on the skill and timing in the season) I say, “That’s 1!” Allow for a small moment of celebration, then they go again. If they get it, “That’s 2!”. If they don’t, go back to 1. They have to hit 3 in a row.
Why it’s great
I’ve had times where this takes 10 minutes and times where it takes 45 minutes. I’ve also had times where it gets frustrating and they never quite get there. So I applaud the effort, tell them to review on their own, and say we will try again the next practice…until we get it. There are lots of great things happening all within this one drill. Leadership, team cohesion, persistence, pushing through a challenge, and the biggest one: Confidence. Even better, film it the first time and the last time and let them see what the last 20 minutes really did. Then the more talented dancers who were probably doing it right the whole time can see how valuable it was to reach cohesion as a team. Not to mention, you now have a killer section of the routine!
2) Act confidently. Think confidently.
There is amazing research that tells us by just standing in a confident pose for 2 minutes, you can actually change how you feel and improve your confidence. I mean it, just standing in the ‘superman pose’ for 2 minutes and thinking confident thoughts you can actually significantly improve your state of mind. (Check out this Ted Talk all about it). Anybody else watch Scandal? Olivia Pope is the QUEEN of this!
It’s Brain Science!
The neurological connection from your brain to your muscles is obviously very strong, but it goes both ways. It’s not just that your brain tells your muscles what to do. Your muscles can actually tell your brain what to think too! (This is why progressive relaxation techniques work… more on that another time).
This is what I mean about taking the floor at competition too. Train your athletes to walk out confidently, thinking confident thoughts. They can’t fake it. They have to actually have a confidence mantra and know how to look when they take the floor. Their body language can actually influence their performance, not to mention the judge’s perceptions!
3) Use imagery
Visualization is a common tool in our world as dancers and cheerleaders. Many teams visualize the routine before taking the warm-up floor, or after long practices. Visualizing success can help an athlete see themselves as successful and improve their confidence. Honestly, there is so much more to visualization… that’s a whole other post coming later.
4) Goal mapping
Again, proper goal setting techniques are essential for instilling confidence. Every practice should have a goal. Check in at the end, did you achieve that goal? Talk about next time, what’s our goal for next time? Why didn’t we get there today, what needs to change, was our goal to easy today so we achieved it in 30 minutes… Optimal goals are difficult but attainable, both short-term daily goals and the long-term big picture goals.
When it comes to situational confidence (think of that one event where walking in the building makes your stomach turn) mental preparation for that specific event is key. Just talking to your athletes about what to expect can be very beneficial. Make sure they know exactly what to expect: what time you arrive, what you will eat, what time warm-up starts, when you will start your pre-competition rituals, how much time in between prelims and finals… anything you can think of the prepare them for exactly how that event will go can help them feel more confident when they get there.
6) Social climate
I’m a little like a broken record now, but a positive, encouraging social climate and supportive leadership style are essential for building confidence.
7) Training and physical conditioning
There is no replacement for physical work. If you know you are stronger, if you know you can outlast the other team’s cardio abilities, if you know you’ve done the work…it improves confidence. Ultimately, and an increased sense of ability increases confidence. So keep training and celebrate success and improvement along the way!
Develop Self Confidence for More than a Stronger Performance
Confidence is not just about ensuring a better performance. When an athlete has confidence she has more positive emotions, better concentration, sets higher and more challenging individual goals, increases her effort, and she is able to compete to win rather than compete not to lose (a subtle but powerfully different mental state).
What do you do to improve confidence in your athletes?
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I've done the work for you! Here are 15 fun ideas to implement with your team right away! There are ideas for 'get to know you' games, team building games to improve communication skills, and a few for when you need to take a break and just have some fun. I hope you enjoy!