I want to share a story with you. The story of a dancer’s confidence and one simple competition day that changed my coaching career:

origin of confidence

It was a regional championship early in the season. In fact, it was our first event of the season. We had gone through the normal competition day rituals: hair and makeup, team breakfast, travel down to the event, check-in, warm-up, visualization, pep talks etc. It was about 5 minutes before our official warm-up time, and most of the team was huddled together ready to do our team chant, jumping up and down, getting pumped to take the floor.

I quickly realized that one of my dancers, I’ll call her Amy, was missing. I panicked and started looking all over for her. How could she have wondered off right now!?

Then I spotted her. Amy was lying down on her stomach in the corner of the room, her head in her hands, her face buried into the floor. At first, I thought maybe she was hurt or going to be sick, but when I walked over, I realized she was just calmly lying there taking deep breaths.

I wish I was a better coach in that moment…

I wish I could tell you I had this great epiphany of how to help her or what to say. But I just froze. I stood there and stared at her. I was unsure if I should make her get up and join the team or let her be. We were about to take the floor!!

Luckily for me, while I stood there unsure of myself, she got up, gave me a small smile, and walked over to join the team.

When I asked Amy about it later, she admitted that she was terrified she was going to make a mistake. She was nearly paralyzed with fear and doubt and I felt awful. I felt like a terrible coach because I didn’t recognize the problem or know how to help her.

So this poor girl had to literally lie down on the floor and try to deal with all of her negative emotions herself. Just lie there with her head in her arms and her face on the floor.

The good news is I did something right that day that helped her find her confidence in the moment, but mostly just by chance. (More on this story later).

After that day, I left the event with a commitment to never leave it to chance again. I would never let a dancer take the floor feeling completely terrified ever again. And I never wanted to stand there frozen in my own fear of making a mistake.

Plumeting confidence

I believe I’m not alone in this experience. One of the biggest challenges coaches face today is the low self-esteem and poor confidence levels in our dancers. While there are exceptions for sure, I’ve seen a significant drop in the confidence levels of the dancers around me. Where there used to be 2 or 3 dancers on a team who struggled to perform and train with confidence, now it’s more like 60-75% of the team.

The good news is, there is a cycle around confidence that you can use to your advantage to help improve the confidence in your dancers, just by doing what you always do… cleaning dance routines.

The Origin of Confidence

First, let’s take a look at the root of confidence. Where does confidence come from?

Science tells us there are 3 key sources of confidence:

Origin of Confidence #1: Sense of ACHEIVEMENT

The easiest way to instill confidence is to achieve what you previously believed you couldn’t do. 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. 

Origin of Confidence #2: Personality, specifically SELF-REGULATION

Personality certainly matters when it comes to sources of confidence. Some people just have higher dispositional confidence (general state of confidence about most things in life). Confidence comes easier and they have a higher level than other people on a pretty regular basis. 

One specific area of personality that influences confidence is a person’s self-regulation. This is a psychology term that means your ability to act in your own long-term best interest. Someone who is good at self-regulation is good at staying focused on long-term goals. They can push through setbacks, and put in the extra effort.  People high in self-regulation act in a way consistent with their deepest values.  They are able to consider those deeper values on a regular basis and keep them at the front of their mind when they are tempted to quit on a goal or give half the effort. 

When it comes to confidence, instilling self-regulation helps athletes learn to deal with setbacks and frustration. So while you can think of it as part of your personality, that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone or can’t be taught.  

Coaches and teachers are in a unique position to help people be better at self-regulation. When you can teach your dancers about self-regulation, then they are able to persist in their efforts and keep trying. For athletes, this can be done by teaching them to focus on goals, use proper goal setting techniques, and ensuring good physical and mental preparation for events.

Origin of Confidence #3: Team culture, also known as the SOCIAL CLIMATE

The climate that you establish as a coach can make or break an athlete’s confidence. As a coach, your leadership style creates the team culture. 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. The coach’s leadership style creates apositive team culture. That team culture creates opportunities for athletes to experience positive support from their peers and coaches which can generate confidence.

confidence journal

Remember Amy? Here’s what I learned…

Picture her lying down on the floor looking like she was asleep 5 minutes before we take the floor, and me standing there staring in confusion inwardly panicking.

If you’re ever unsure of what to do I have some basic advice as a coach…

When you’re not sure what to do, the best fall back is do nothing! So in that moment, I just let her take care of herself, but the social climate saved me.

Our team’s social climate could have turned that event one of two ways. Either her teammates look at her and think, “we’re about to compete, why the heck is she lying down of the floor!?” Worse yet, they could actually yell at her for not being a part of the group. They could have forced her up and made her join in their pre-competition “pump-up routine.” Of course, with her already sky-high heart rate and nerves, this would have been catastrophic for her, nearly ensuring continuous negative thoughts, tense muscles, and mistakes on the floor. 

Option 2, (and thankfully the actual story in this case) her teammates recognized that she was nervous and supported her. (I’m sure as her friends, they knew something I didn’t). They left her alone while she tried to calm down, and once she was up and joined in, they showered her with affirmations and support. They boosted her positive emotions and helped her take the floor with confidence. 

And to finish this story… she nailed our pom routine that day.

Confidence comes from 3 different places in our lives: our achievements, our own self-discipline, and our social support system.  

Confidence is cyclical too. Building confidence has the consequence of improving your performance. Which in turn, gives you a sense of achievement and joy, which then makes you more confident.  

Confidence is not just a desired outcome. It’s part of the cycle, more on that cycle in part 2…

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