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Advice to Parents:

Sparking Confidence In Young Players

August 2, 2018

It happens all the time: a parent brings their kid in for a workout and spends the first five minutes giving me a list of everything their son/daughter is doing wrong while their kid stands silently and listens. 


“He never attacks the hoop. “

“She can’t handle pressure.”

“He’s afraid to shoot.”

“She can’t finish.”

“He always goes to his right.”

And then it always ends the same way:


“…oh, and he/she has no confidence.” 


Ah the irony.


Now, I understand the challenge of balancing the role of tough coach/critic with supportive parent.  I get it.  And as your kid improves, so do your expectations….and that leads to frustrations when his game falls short of current expectations (especially if it’s the same mistake over and over).  But young kids often lack that broader perspective. All they see is what is happening then and there: a parent listing all their flaws.  No matter how tough your kid is, having a parent do that is humiliating…and confidence-destroying. 

Here are some ideas for instilling confidence in your young player…without sacrificing your role as a coach:

Help Them Own Their Game

First, don’t be the parent in the scene above.  Instead, have a conversation with your son that starts by asking him what he thinks he needs work on.  You can suggest things, but make sure it feels like his list.  Now have your son approach his coach about working to improve the items on his list.  Not only do we avoid the soul-crushing scenario above, but research shows that effort and persistence are far greater in individuals who have set their own goals than for those who have expectations set by others.   


Imagine the confidence boost that occurs when your daughter attacks left and scores for the first time in a game…after setting her own goal of improving her left hand and then working hard to realize it.


Money in the Bank

I learned a lot about confidence boosting during my time as an athletic director at a summer camp in the north woods.  The director taught us to build self-esteem in our kids using what he called the 'Money in the Bank' method.  Think of your child’s confidence as a bank account.  Things you do and say will either be a withdrawal or a deposit to his/her current level of confidence and self-esteem.  The scene above is most certainly an overdraw.  Often times its not that withdrawals are happening too frequently but rather parents simply forget to make necessary and frequent deposits. This is especially true when their child is one of the top players and expectations are continuously increasing. 


Too often I hear parents go right to what their son did wrong or needs to correct and overlook everything they are doing right.  Simple and frequent deposits will go a long way: “Your shot is looking great” “Very impressive defensive intensity tonight” “I can tell your ball handling is improving” etc. The more confidence deposits they obtain the faster it grows…just like compound interest!

Just Play!

One of my favorite things as a kid was playing 1 on 1 or HORSE against my dad.  We didn’t stop the games to correct my shot form or work on changing speeds on my crossover.  If I didn’t do it right, I lost.  I couldn’t tell you if he was taking it easy on me at times, but I do know this:  it was the most fun I had playing basketball and I learned to love tough competition without the stress of my mistakes being constantly identified and called out.  And boy did winning feel good. 


If you routinely rebound for your son or daughter, why not finish with a shooting game and put a trip to Culvers on the line. 


When you challenge them, you can even joke “I’m not going to help you during the game, you are now my opponent.”  Make it competitive and watch how quickly they take ownership over getting better and playing hard…and watch how much they enjoy it (especially when they finally beat you).

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