Using self-evaluations to boost confidence

One of the most important attributes that contributes to success in athletics is confidence. Some might argue that it is as important as physical competence in reaching the higher levels of any sport. One of the ways that athletes obtain confidence is to draw on their memories of past successes. Unfortunately, many athletes have a tendency to focus on the negative aspects of their performance, or what they did wrong, following competition. Particularly following a poor performance or a loss, athletes may become extremely negative, even to the point of catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is when thoughts become extreme and unrealistically negative, often excluding any positive aspects of the situation. This makes it much less likely that they will register the positive experiences and therefore be able to draw upon them in the future, thus affecting their confidence levels.

So, how do athletes deal with a loss without losing confidence? One strategy to maintain confidence is to use a self-evaluation after training and competitions. Following these performances, athletes can ask themselves 3 questions:

    1. What did I do well today?
    2. What do I want to do better next time?
    3. How will I improve?

This technique can help athletes maintain a balanced view of their performance, registering both the positive and the negative. It also helps them maintain a future focus and set short-term goals for the next competition. Answering these three questions could help athletes rebound from a poor performance and increase their confidence for future competitions.

“I want to” achieve

See if you can spot the difference between Mike’s and Conor’s statements:

Mike: I have to score today.
Conor: I want to score today.

Did you spot the difference? The difference is that Mike has a “have to” mindset and Conor has a “want to” mindset. Though this may seem like a minor change, this could reflect a major difference in the sources of each player’s motivation. If you have a “have to” mindset, you should figure out why you think you have to do one thing or another. What is your motivation for having that mindset? Do you have to score a goal because that’s how you measure your success? Changing your mindset from “have to” to “want to” can have a positive impact on your performance and motivation.

So, why is Conor’s “want to” mindset more effective? When Conor says, “I want to score today,” he is not limiting himself to measuring his overall success in a game only by the outcome of scoring a goal. Instead, he may be intrinsically motivated to play well, which could lead to him scoring a goal. However, if he does not score a goal, this doesn’t mean that he can’t be successful. With a “want to” mindset, Conor leaves open the possibility of measuring his success through the process of his performance, rather than the outcome of scoring. For example, he could measure his success through how well he passed and how well he communicated with his team. The ability to see success in these processes comes from the flexibility of a “want to” mindset. The same flexibility in measuring success is hard to achieve with a “have to” mindset.

Because Conor is process and intrinsically oriented, the outcome does not effect his performance evaluation and motivation. He is likely to be much more satisfied with his performance and stay motivated for the next game.

When you change to “I want to” motivation, you can stay positive and confident towards obtaining your goals no matter the outcome.

With time comes change

This past week, Philadelphia Union fans received exciting news; the Union signed Sebastian Le Toux and Jeff Parke. Le Toux, a fan favorite, scored 25 goals and recorded 20 assists during his previous two seasons with the Union. He most recently played for the Vancouver Whitecaps and the New York Red Bulls. Parke, a veteran to the MLS, has spent the past three years as a member of the Seattle Sounders. Prior to playing for Seattle, Parke played five seasons in New York.

Le Toux, being a Union fan favorite, is already expected to be welcomed back graciously and, according to manager John Hackworth, play as a forward. After the loss of another fan favorite, Danny Califf, the Union team lacked options and flexibility in certain field positions. Therefore, Parke has been brought in as a catalyst for the team to begin to build depth on defense. With his addition, the Union should be able to try new things with their formation, which will hopefully bring the team success.

It’s important to recognize that success isn’t measured simply by how many games a team has won; with the addition of Le Toux and Parke, success could also mean creating a team that is able to communicate and work together on and off the field.

When it comes to the age of the players, the Union is one of the youngest squads in the MLS. The addition of these two experienced players and the knowledge they bring with them could greatly contribute to the growth of both the physical and mental skills of the team. One advantage of bringing on veteran players is that they have the potential to serve as role models for their younger teammates. Having played on various teams with many different teammates, Le Toux and Parke most likely encountered an assortment of communication styles. They may be able to bring the experience this provided them to the communication skills to the team, such as providing advice and feedback. Feedback should encompass communication between players as well as between coaches and players. In a recent interview on the topic of feedback, Parke discusses the importance of direct and specific communication between player and coach. If a player knows why a coach is making a certain decision, it is easier to understand. The feedback may not only help improve the individual skill of players on the team, but also it could influence their overall confidence level. With the experience of Le Toux and Parke, they may be able to enhance the team’s communication, which could improve their overall performance throughout the upcoming season.

Philadelphia Union coaches, players, and fans should be excited about the signing of Le Toux and Parke. The addition of these two players, along with the current roster, enhances the team’s potential for the 2013 season.

Releasing emotions

Emotions are “powerful forms of live, potent energy, and they have the greatest impact upon the harmony of the whole self” states Christopher Andersonn in his book, Will You Still Love Me If I Don’t Win? If you keep this emotional energy bottled up, or if you release it in an unproductive way, it could potentially have a negative affect on you.

Often children involved in sports experience a lot of emotional stress, due to the pressure to win and/or meet expectations and they are not sure how to deal with it properly. So, instead of dealing with it they just ignore it. This stress could cause them to loose interest in their sport. Fear, shame, humiliation, rejection, control, and emotional abuse in regard to their sport build up inside them until they are at a point of exploding. Generally, because parents are important role models for their children, the way parents deal with their emotions is the way the child will deal with his/her emotions.

Parents should learn to release their emotions in a healthy way and actively help their children do the same. A very helpful technique for release is visualization. Andersonn believes that visualization is the most important form of release. Visualization is the act of imagining situations so that you are able to plan your ideal reaction. An instance in which one can use visualization is to practice emotional release. Using visualization allows you to imagine instances where you have not released, or at least not properly released, your emotions and practice the proper release in your mind. The first step is to relax and imagine the event that is causing the emotional stress. Play it back in your mind like a movie, only change the scene so that you are releasing all the emotions you feel. Playing these situations in your mind like a movie allows you to practice your ideal responses; over time, these visualized responses could become actual responses. If you use visualization as a tool to practice the proper release of emotions, it can be an incredible asset that helps you become a stellar role model for you child and teach your child how to release stressful emotions and cope appropriately. The ability to release emotions and cope with stress can be valuable to a player’s ability to perform at his/her best.

Andersonn, C. & Andersonn, B. (2000). Will You Still Love Me If I Don’t Win? Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Company.

What’s really going on with the adolescent brain?

Why is it that parents and coaches often can’t understand the decisions adolescents make? It could be because the growth and development of the brain is not complete until well into adulthood. During adolescence, the areas of the brain that govern decision-making, impulse control, and planning are not fully developed. This is one explanation as to why adolescents do things that parents and coaches simply can’t understand; they do not use the same cognitive processes that adults use because they do not have the same brains. Further, adolescent brains are fine-tuning their synapses and connections between brain tissues. This is crucial, as this process, known as synaptic pruning, is dependent upon the environment; connections used most often are strengthened while those hardly used are weakened.

One major implication of this information is that adolescence is an opportunity to shape the development of the brain. It is a time for learning, social development, and creativity. Parents and coaches must provide an environment in which adolescents can thrive and grow. They must foster an atmosphere that encourages creativity and curiosity and reinforces productive behaviors to help those behaviors stick. Rather than punishing or trying to change adolescent behaviors, talk things through. Help young people develop their skills for decision-making, planning, and inhibiting inappropriate behaviors, to name a few. For example, coaches should support players taking smart risks during training that help players challenge themselves and develop, and they should give productive instruction to players if the risks don’t pay off.

Overall, the most important message is to be understanding and accepting and to know that the young men and women parents and coaches interact with on a regular basis are still growing and maturing in a very important way. So, when these young men and women do or say things that boggle adult minds, remember that they’re wired differently. Give it time.

Pressure is a privilege

“Pressure is a privilege”Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King is one of the greatest contributors not only to women’s tennis, but also other women’s sports. She won many Grand Slam titles and, after retiring, went on to be a pioneer for women’s sports. It is reported that when asked how it felt to be competing in her first US Open, Billie Jean King stated, “pressure is a privilege.”

A challenging task for many athletes is dealing with pressure situations. Some athletes get butterflies in their stomachs or their muscles get tight; other athletes might lose confidence or even have trouble sleeping. These unpleasant experiences often lead athletes to dread pressure situations. In fact, the anxiety of dealing with pressure can be one of the reasons young athletes may quit a team or leave a sport altogether.

King’s quote is an example of cognitive reframing. Cognitive reframing is a technique to reframe, or change, an athlete’s perspective or view of the world. The quote serves to reframe the view that pressure is bad and to be avoided, and instead frames it as a positive and desirable situation – a privilege.

In other words, rather than fearing that you will be the one asked to take the last shot, embrace it. Realize that you are being given that privilege because you have worked hard and demonstrated your skill. As a result, your coach and team have trust in you and view you as a leader. Let it boost your confidence rather than detract from it. Changing how you view pressure can be one way to help you stay confident and perform to the best of your ability.