No matter how important it is for players to believe in themselves when they play, a coach’s belief in his or her players can go a long way. In his first year as a head coach at the professional level in 2013, Caleb Porter enjoyed an introduction to the pro ranks that most managers dream of, yet typically never see. He led the Portland Timbers on a remarkable turnaround. The team that finished with the third worst record in all of Major League Soccer in 2012, jumped to the top of the Western Conference in his first year at the helm, and earned an appearance in the Conference Finals. Despite his initial success, Porter hasn’t enjoyed much of the same in the start of 2014, as the Timbers sit winless after three games – the most recent of which was a difficult 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids. While recognizing that the most recent game and this stretch have been “tough to swallow,” Porter firmly clarified his belief in his players: “I believe in them, they believe in themselves and we’ll figure it out…We’re going to get back to work, we’re not going to dwell too long, and will move on quickly. This is one where you want to have a pretty short-term memory.”
Coaches can help players keep their confidence high and develop the resiliency to cope with adversity in order to compete at high levels. First, in the locker room during halftime or immediately following a game, it is important to provide players with specific, clear feedback and instructions on how they can play more effectively the next time they step back out onto the field. Rather than spending a lot of time discussing a player’s mistakes and what went wrong, focus instead on what he or she can do differently to be more successful. This can help keep players’ confidence high and help them learn how to bounce back from setbacks. In addition, like Porter, place an emphasis on the effectiveness of “short-term memory” – the ability to learn from mistakes and then let them go and move on. To help players improve this skill, create a training environment in which mistakes are acceptable; send the message that mistakes are part of the learning process by encouraging players to take risks, be creative, and be prepared to get back up after they make mistakes. This kind of training environment could make it easier for players to recover from mistakes and keep their confidence high during competition. Also, before games or during halftime, remind players of all of the hard work and training that they’ve put in, as well as their past successes as a team. This, too, can boost confidence and help players be more resilient when faced with obstacles. Finally, tell your players that you believe in them and what they can accomplish as a team. Showing your players that you believe in them can go a long way in helping them believe in themselves, and develop the resiliency to battle through adversity.