There is a growing issue with youth soccer in America - FEAR of failure.
As we work to grow our club we have made great strides in our first few years. We have developed players pretty quickly, and our teams have become competitive. There is still work to do but we are getting better fast. We have confidence that we will be successful in developing players.
The most important trait that we can instill in our children is confidence! This is very different than arrogance. I like to call it inner confidence because it can be quiet. It does not need to boast or brag, however, it does need to set the tone for the child that they have faith in themselves to be successful.
If we are to talk about this in soccer terms – a player gets nervous every time they get the ball and wants to get rid of it as soon as it comes. Can they make a good soccer decision? A player hides in the wide areas of the field when the game wants them to come inside. Are they taking what the game gives them? If they are not relaxed can they have a good touch? There is space in front of them and they still quickly pass the ball to someone being covered. I could go on and on.
Part of the problem with lacking confidence is that players are afraid to make mistakes. The mistakes are what we learn from. The learning process has two sides; side one is the learning side and the second side is the performance side. The learning side requires you to take risks without the fear of failure. We learn from our constant evaluation of the choices we make. If we hold back in what choices we are willing to take we will never fully understand our capacity for growth. During the performance side, we want to minimize mistakes, but we don’t want to minimize taking risks. We still want to make what we believe is the correct decision and use our skills to execute on that decision as often as possible.
Parents and coaches can foster confidence! They can push their children/players to believe in themselves and the skills they have developed. They can support them in the game and the learning process and talk to them about why taking chances are so important to their growth. If a player has no confidence on the field, they will never play to their full potential. When we put too much pressure on these young kids it has a negative effect. If they are afraid of making a mistake because they don’t want to disappoint the parent or coach, they will continue to play in the shadows and not truly love the game.
There are two additional things that players notice that we can use to build confidence. The first is body language. As a coach, I try to never have my arms crossed. I also try to talk to my players from eye level. If it is younger players, I kneel down when I talk to them or sit with them. I try and keep my body language open with a smile on my face. My hope in doing these things is to help the player to be more comfortable. The second thing is talking confidence and trust into our children and players. “Landon, I have confidence in you that you will try hard today at practice. I don’t need to watch you because I trust that you will work hard.” If I have confidence in them this will translate into them having confidence in themselves. If we watch their every training and communicate to them everything that they can do better, we are making the game ours rather than theirs. They will begin to feel we don’t trust them to try hard, to become their own player. If this happens then they are playing the game for us rather than themselves and they will be afraid of making mistakes because they don’t want to disappoint us. At the end of the day, this is their game, their mistakes, their risks and their growth. We want to foster that growth and help them to learn. Confidence to take chances and learn if those chances are key to them becoming a better soccer player and person!
I titled this blog post “inner confidence” because being humble is important. We want the players to be so confident that they don’t think there is a chance they can fail while at the same time being willing to fix the mistake if it happens. If a child pushes beyond inner confidence and into cockiness they never think the mistake is their own. Or if the team makes a mistake they are not willing to help. This has a negative effect on the team.
My wish for our young players is to have an inner confidence that they can do anything they put their mind to. Whether it is soccer or becoming an astronaut or the next president. Inner confidence mixed with determination, hard work, grit, and self-evaluation can take a child to heights unimaginable!