#17: How to Avoid Common Confidence Killers in Female Athletes

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I recently surveyed our Elite Competitor Society moms/coaches, asking: “What kills your daughter’s confidence the most when it comes to her sport/performance?”

Turns out, there are a few things that moms of female athletes agree on that cut their athlete daughter’s confidence the most. 

So, let’s face them head on! Below you’ll learn the top three situations that diminish our female athlete’s confidence the most and strategies on how to avoid them.

Note: All three of these confidence cutters deserve their own separate training! We are touching on them at a higher level right now to provide some quick-wins and strategies to start addressing them. 

Confidence Killer #1: Unrealistic Expectations

Let’s start with the one that I tend to see most often: athletes putting unrealistic expectations on themselves to play or perform a certain way. 

This usually stems from a level of perfectionism or perfectionistic tendencies that pop up and rob athletes of their confidence when they inevitably don’t measure up to where they think they should be. 

This is pretty common. High achieving athletes want to do well. They want to constantly be improving. They want to hit new levels of performance. 

This is all GREAT and necessary. However, there’s a fine line between healthy striving and the unrealistic expectations that come with perfectionism. 

There’s a BIG difference between perfectionism and healthy striving. Healthy striving is focused on the PROCESS of improving, whereas perfectionism is only concerned with the OUTCOME. 

Why is this important? If athletes are only focused on the outcome or expectation (especially an outcome that might be unrealistic or rigid like the number of points scored in a game), they will always tie their self-worth to that outcome and judge themselves as failures if they can’t meet it. 

If they are focused on the process to get them to where they want to be, there is freedom. They are in control, can adjust, and are always responding to feedback to get better! 

How do we help athletes make this shift from perfectionism to healthy striving?! Three steps…

1. Identify and discard strict or meaningless expectations

List out expectations and get rid of the ones that don’t matter!

2. Replace expectations with a process-oriented goal

Come up with the process needed to achieve the goal (ie. Instead of points scored, getting available for every set, making hustle plays, etc). Make this the focus, rather than the outcome.

3. Remove judgement from performance

We want to CRITIQUE, not CRITICIZE performance. Athletes need to stick to the facts when evaluating how they performed, rather than judgements. 

“I had a horrible game” is a judgement.
“I missed 3 serves” is a fact. 

Facts we can build on and work to improve. Judgements are emotional reactions and kill confidence. 

Remember, critique, not criticize. 

Confidence Killer #2: Inability to Come Back From Mistakes

This is HUGE! Mistakes are a part of every athlete’s career. They are how we learn and are necessary, especially in the early phases of learning. 

However, they have the potential to be enormous confidence killers in athletes. Especially if they are happening during competition when they all eyes are on them. 

The first way to prevent mistakes from cutting an athlete’s confidence is to shift their mindset about failure. 

Seeing failure as good and necessary, rather than defeating and terrible, is a key foundational concept that athletes need to embrace. 

If and when they do, they can see mistakes as feedback rather than something that defines their self-worth. They can take what they learn, improve, and become better. 

The second important way athletes can avoid spiraling from mistakes is to have a failure recovery system. 

All athletes in our programs learn a “mistake ritual” that consists of deep belly breath, reset word, and gesture that they use when they need to come back from a mistake. 

Having a failure recovery system is a game-changer. It gives athletes confidence to take risks, try new things, and play all-out knowing that they have a safety net in the form of a strategy to bring them back in case they need it. 

Confidence Killer #3: Toxic Coaches and/or Teammates

This one is multi-faceted. I’ll address what I see most in terms of “toxic” coaches and teammates. 

Note: If players are suffering emotional, verbal, or physical abuse from coaches, adult intervention is needed immediately. If a player is not emotionally or physically safe, it is up to parents to remove them from the situation. 

What I am going to address here is toxic coaching in terms of negativity that often brings players down and cuts their confidence. 

Coaches that create an environment where players don’t feel valued, like they can do anything right, or not making progress because of lack of feedback can be difficult. 

When coaches focus on the negative, the mistakes, or don’t communicate effectively, players can be left feeling frustrated, scared, and confused. 

The first you can do is encourage your player to advocate for herself and speak with her coach. I know this can be scary, but it is essential in helping our athletes grow and communicate their needs. 

Have her set up a meeting with the coach at an appropriate time where she can express her concerns (whether that be about playing time, ways to improve, or clarification of roles). Then, be sure that she is open to the feedback that the coach might offer. 

Another strategy is a mindset shift. Although coaches play an enormous role in an athlete’s development, if athletes are reliant on coaches (or anyone for that matter) to determine their confidence, they will always be on a roller coaster. 

Players need to have systems to support their own confidence and development. This includes goals of who they want to be, affirmations and actions to support, and a way to evaluate themselves on their progress (rather than waiting for a coach to do that for them). 

As for toxic, negative teammates, players need to understand that energy trying to change other people is wasted energy. 

Focus on the teammate they want to be, show up every day to demonstrate that, stick with other teammates who do the same, and genuinely get to know teammates to start to help in this area. 

There you have it! The three most common confidence killers in female athletes and some strategies to get you going on how to address them. 

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