Four Reasons Athletes Lose Confidence
Hi, everybody. I’m coach Rebecca Smith, the founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching, and today I’m going to share the top four reasons athletes lose confidence. Typically, the athletes I talk to are used to getting metals, they’re used to being on the podium, winning games, and being the best kid on their team. They are, by all accounts, talented. Now, I don’t love the word talented, but I’m not going to go into that today.
What I am going to say is these are the kids who have a lot of physical potential. They’re great! At 10 years old, whatever sport they’re playing, they are aggressive, they work really hard and they get new skills, they follow directions, and they’re the most coachable kid.
A Shift Happens
Then, something happens around that adolescent age range where they aren’t the same athlete anymore. Something happens that causes them to lose confidence. I’m going to give you the top four reasons why this would happen to an athlete, and then I’m going to tell you what you can do about it.
1. Realizing Your Mortality
I used to call this the Adam and Eve moment, where you’re fearless, living in bliss, and suddenly, you’re in this place and everything has changed. When I played, play soccer and I was like a little attack dog. I wasn’t big, but I was so aggressive. I loved having the ball and really getting in there. Then this thing happened where all of a sudden, I’d pass the ball. For gymnasts, maybe all of a sudden you were going for these big skills, and then felt like you needed a spot. You don’t know if you can do it. It’s like your aggressiveness leaves. You are at a point where you get in touch with your mortality, and you realize everything has changed. You think, I could die, I could get run over by these big kids, I could fall off this beam, I could fall on this ice. That physical fear can start to override confidence.
The way I look at it:
Fear and confidence are opposites. When fear is up, confidence is down, and vice versa.
If you have fear rising in you, you’ll notice your confidence is dipping. Maybe you saw somebody get hurt, or maybe you get hurt yourself. When I was playing soccer, I played in this dad vs. daughter soccer game. I played like I was playing against 12-year-olds and I rush attacked this giant dad and ended up in tears with ice on my knee. That’s when I thought, “I don’t like playing against big people. I like when I can just knock them over.”
So maybe something happens where you actually get hurt or you’re doing a skill and you feel totally invincible, and then you fall, or you watch a friend fall, or maybe a coach who’s trying to motivate you says, “If you keep doing it like that, you’re going to break your neck,” and it plants in your head. That can lead to negative imagery, meaning that you see things in your head. You see that crash, you see that potential fall, or you see that time when your friend peeled off the bar and then that leads to these ruminations and these thoughts like, What if this happens? Or just worried thoughts.
I call it the “what-ifs” and the “oh nos”. They just start spinning around in there. Then, even though your body can do all these great things, you all of a sudden have this big dose of self-doubt. Parents are thinking, “Where is our aggressive kid? Who is this? What do you mean you’re afraid? You’re great. You’re fine.” But it doesn’t feel fine because they’ve come in touch with their mortality.
At 10, 11, 12, their social lives are changing. Their brains are changing and there are some major threats, and again, fear and confidence are opposites. You start to have all these new fears you never had before: fear of missing out, fear of being left behind, fear of not making the team, fear of being left out, or fear of disappointing people and then being excluded or shunned. All of a sudden you have this moment of, “Oh, there are other people in this world and they might not like me. They might be better than me, and I don’t know if I can trust them.” You go from this seven or eight-year-old with the “I love everybody. Let’s have fun” attitude, to, “Wait a second. You might get on the team, and I might not,” or, “Wait, you’re my best friend, but you’re my biggest competition.”
Those social threats can make you start to feel like there is pressure and cause you to lose confidence. You might think, “I have to be great because if I’m not great, I’ll be abandoned. People won’t like me.” Those social threats affect the brain and they affect your behavior. If your brain notices a threat to your safety, it’s going to make you hesitate. It’s going to make you back off.
Often times, when an athlete has had a really good run – level four state champion, cruising through those lower levels, nailing it, killing it, doing a great job – then all of a sudden the coach says, “Hey, that kid you got on your team, she should be amazing. She’s going to be so good. She should be winning this year.” The athlete now thinks, “Oh my gosh, I really hope I don’t let them down.” They have this really high bar set, which makes them feel the need to be perfect, causing them to lose confidence. I’ve seen athletes come off a really great season, and that’s when the big performance anxiety comes up.
I’ve seen this with a lot of different sports – you’re coming off of a great season, and instead of getting back to having fun and competing, your mindset goes to, “Don’t screw it up. Don’t screw it up. Don’t screw it up.” Then you have more of those what-ifs and oh nos. Then, your goals, which used to be just I to have a good time, start to change. But then you medal, you podium, and the next season you go in thinking, “I am going to try to do that well in this new level,” and become overwhelmed. Those of you getting ahead of yourself too much and getting out of the fun can really start to feel overwhelmed. The performance anxiety I see comes after a really solid season.
For the young athlete, negativity typically comes from within, but can also come from outside – from coaches, from parents, from teammate drama. There’s this tendency to start focusing on problems and lose sight of successes. Athletes will have this fear of, “Maybe I’m not good enough after all because these people are better than me. These expectations are so high, I don’t think I can reach them. What if I fall?” It just creates this downward spiral of negativity that can make an athlete feel an imposter, wondering why they’re even on the team.
I’ve seen athletes lose confidence as late as their senior year. They’ve already been committed to a college and they second-guess themselves. “Should I even be going to this college? I am not good enough for this. Why did they give me a scholarship? This doesn’t make any sense.” That negativity starts to take over and they start to shine their spotlight on all the reasons why not rather than all the reasons why. This is in contrast to when they first start and they’re like, “Woo, this is great. I love this coach. This team is so fun!” Then they start to feel like they’re going to let people down.
There’s Good News!
So those are the main reasons athletes lose confidence. Here’s the good news! That athlete that you were, or that your kid was, they’re still there. They’re still inside. It’s just that it’s been kind of mucked up. You’re this shiny little crystal ball and you just got all mucked on and now you look like a ball of mud, but there’s still this beautiful crystal inside. You just have to get the mud off the top. Knowing that is the first step.
That confident you and everything it took for you to feel that way and play that way and perform that way is still very much inside of you plus life experience and more training, so there is a possibility that you can be even better than that kid that you used to be, but we have to unearth it. We have to break through the fears and get in touch with who you really are.
So I am going to do a challenge. It’s free and it’s open to the public, meaning anyone who is an athlete in the preteen or teenage age. We are going to do a week of free training on how to build confidence. We are going to be hacking into all of that stuff- dealing with the negativity, dealing with expectations, basically figuring out how you got to be who you were when you were on your winning streak and how you get it back.
Now, this is not just for people who feel like, “Oh, I’m in a slump. I’m not confident.” This is for anybody who wants to turbocharge their confidence. If you want more info, you can join our free Facebook group – Sport Confidence Accelerator. We are going to do a little tidbit every single day for seven days to help you unblock and get you back to who you really are and get you in touch with that person inside of you that is not run by fear. I want athletes to tap into the confidence that exists within them.
If you’re interested in this challenge, you can click here to sign up. And… invite your friends! I would love to have your whole team. We have room for everybody! Invite your team, invite your friends, anybody who plays sports and is between the ages of nine and 18 play with us. It will be fun! If you have questions, please contact me at [email protected]