How to Gain More Confidence

A few common statements I hear from parents: My child doesn’t seem to have any confidence on the court, they do okay in practice but not in games, how can my child gain confidence?

I’ve never had an athlete admit they don’t have confidence on the court to shoot, drive, or whatever. I have had many athletes admit they don’t want to make a mistake and get pulled from the game. Not wanting to make a mistake is simply another way of saying they don’t have confidence. The common trend I’ve noticed is that it isn’t the starters or kids that already play a lot that have a “confidence” problem or worried about making a mistake. It’s the kids that don’t get much playing time already and when they do get in the game they get stressed, tight, freeze up, and eventually DO make that dreaded mistake that puts them back on the bench. So how does a player increase their confidence? Can it be done or is it just the way some kids’ personalities are?

I’ve trained athletes with confidence to begin with and those with very little to none. It doesn’t matter what level of confidence an athlete begins with but rather how much they can gain over time. The “secret” to increased confidence is really no secret at all but it doesn’t happen over night. It takes time, sacrifice, discipline, commitment, and other such words that most young athletes don’t like all that much.

An athlete’s confidence grows as their skill level increases. Keep in mind that when we refer to confidence we are talking about how an athlete thinks about their abilities to perform on the court. If an athlete doesn’t think they have the ability or skills needed then they think they can’t perform in such a way that will keep them off the bench. An athlete will be hesitant to shoot, drive, dribble, etc. if they think they don’t have the skills to do so without making a mistake. They will be hesitant, tentative, slow, passive, and every other thing that the coach doesn’t want to see on the court because it doesn’t help the team.

As you read this article, please keep in mind my definition of a “skill”: A skill is not the same as an ability. I have the ability to hit a nail with a hammer but most of the time I will miss, drive it crooked, or flat out bend it in ways it wasn’t meant to be bent. But a carpenter with training has the skill to hit the nail on the head every time, drive with fewer hits and perfectly straight. A carpenter doesn’t even think about it. They just drive away. I’m swinging away worried about making a mistake. And guess what? I do and either try again worried about another mistake or sit on the bench and pay someone to do it for me. The carpenter makes a mistake and quickly removes the nail and drives another one in its place and doesn’t skip a beat. He has the skills and confidence to know he will make few mistakes but keeps going anyway while I hang up the hammer. When I use the word “skill” I’m talking about an ability that has been taught correctly, fundamentally sound and consistent through extremely high levels of repetitions. For example, there are plenty of young athletes that have the ability to shoot and make a few but not in a fundamentally sound form that results in a higher level of consistency. They have the ability to shoot and make a few but not the skill to be more consistent and have higher percentages. Remember, even a blind squirrel will find a nut every now and then. Also keep in mind that college coaches like athletes that are fundamentally sound and have good form. Coaches know they won’t have to work with the player as much correcting things before playing them. Coaches also can tell, and like, when a player has been using a trainer.

In athletics, a lack of skill is the root of lack of confidence. So therefore, in order to increase confidence the athlete must increase their skill level. There is absolutely no other way to increase confidence, period.  There’s only one way to increase skills and its not easy; hard work over a long time. The good thing is the harder and more often you train the quicker you will see results. The athlete has to put in so much time and repetitions to make the skill as much a habit as walking or running. Too many times I’ve seen athletes learn a new skill during training but not use in games. Still a confidence issue and more repetitions are needed to make it a non-thinkable habit. Just because a new skill is learned in practice or training doesn’t mean it will immediately be used in a game. Players don’t like to be uncomfortable in games. So they will stick to the skills they are comfortable with even if it means not playing much (again, back to worrying about making a mistake) or contributing much to the team during the game. As a trainer, my job is to create a habit with the new skill. To get the player so comfortable with the skill they won’t even have to think about them. They will just perform them in the game. The keys are to make sure the skills are learned soundly, correctly, and consistently; to perform so many correct repetitions that the athlete not only knows what situations to use them, but actually does so in games.

Keep in mind as well that an athlete can improve skills (i.e. shooting, handles, etc.) but may still lack confidence in their ability to perform them quickly, aggressively, and under control and balance. This becomes a lack of confidence in their quickness, agility, balance, hops, strength, etc. and why many kids don’t use their improved skills in game situations. Kids, and parents, must take a holistic approach to training and not only develop ball skills but physical skills as well.

Confidence problems can be ball skills and/or physical problems. Find a skills instructor/trainer you like and work together to fix the problems. The skills instructor becomes a confidence instructor and your child should become a more confident athlete and young person on and off the court. Remember: Train More. Play More. Hope to see you on the court!