I recently read an article written by a “mental coach” who advised youth sport coaches to steer clear of telling players “You’ve got to believe in yourself!” I don’t usually have much problem with the various coaching/mental toughness strategies that others write about, but in this case I did, as it is my experience that instilling belief in your players is one of the toughest – and most important – duties you will ever have as a coach.
Belief & the Placebo Effect
In medicine the placebo effect is based entirely on belief, and occurs when patients actually improve upon their condition not because of a legitimate medicine, but instead due solely to their belief in the physician, the medical process, and the treatment being prescribed. In fact, some studies have shown that patients given a placebo, or sugar pill, have even better progress when compared to other patients receiving a true treatment. There are literally thousands of studies illustrating the power of the placebo effect, particularly how our belief system propels our bodies to get better. Talk about mind over matter!
Sport psychology studies have also shown that confidence, also loosely defined as self-efficacy, is an instrumental variable that impacts athletic success. Again, our confidence levels are determined by our self-belief. Coaches play a big part in helping increase belief, which in turn leads to greater confidence and, you guessed it, better athletic performances.
Belief conquers fear
When we examine the power of belief from an even wider lens, another positive benefit can be observed. Specifically, athletes who believe in themselves are far less at-risk for experiencing anxiety stemming from fear. This is especially important as “choking,” or the inability to replicate already established athletic benchmarks in game situations, is driven exclusively by fear. More simply, athletes who don’t believe in their abilities almost always allow their fear to get in the way, leading to anxious responses including rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, tightened muscles, and even negative self-talk. These symptoms can keep an otherwise talented athlete from reaching his full athletic potential, and belief is at the heart of the problem.
Developing belief beyond sports
Every kid you will ever coach will eventually see his sports career end, but the efforts you dedicate to helping each youngster develop belief will pay countless dividends well beyond the playing field. Just think about some of the kids you have coached in the past that started out with little confidence and belief, but through sports soon developed the necessary confidence not only to play better sports, but to excel in countless activities in life.
Millions of kids each year learn to “come out of their shell” because of the efforts coaches make to help kids conquer fear, anxiety, pressure, stress, and failure. With each small victory, belief in the child blossoms, and even greater risks are taken in the future. Again, all of this occurs because of a coach who cares enough to help develop belief.
Make it a point each and every day to connect with the kids you coach – be emphatic with your praise and reinforcement, and communicate stories of other people who have overcome great odds and adversity because of their belief. Almost anything can be accomplished when we believe in ourselves, and coaches have the power to help kids learn this invaluable life mindset.
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