Confidence and the Role of Coaches in Its Development

So it has been a while since my last post.  I have decided to move away from the list of "What Mentally Tough Baseball Players Do" for now in lieu of a subject I think may be the most important in all of sport psychology- Confidence.  Confidence is so important, in my opinion, that I am dedicating a second post to it.  Regular readers of the blog may remember a post I wrote in mid-July on the importance of confidence and how players can work to create confidence on a more consistent basis.  I also wrote about how confidence is ultimately the athlete's responsibility.  Well, although I do think confidence is up to the athlete and most coaches agree, sometimes we need a reminder that our opinion does not always matter!

What I mean is if the athletes are the ones who are performing and good/bad games can be separated by how confident the athletes feel, then what they think about confidence is what really matters.  I read two different studies for a class I am taking that made me think.  Both studies were about the development of confidence in athletes and addressed where confidence comes from.  One of the studies was about an assortment of lower level, amateur athletes of different ages.  A major theme was these athletes thought coaches were largely responsible for the development of confidence.  What a bunch of weak minded individuals, right?  The second study was about elite level athletes.  Do you know who they accredited with the development of confidence?  COACHES!  So, what is the moral of these studies then?  Regardless of what level you coach, your athletes are looking to you for confidence.  Ignoring this is to ignore an opportunity to get better.  Would you accept that from your players?

To help drive home just how universal this is, I call on Jake Peavy.  Peavy has over eleven years of service time and139 Major League victories.  He started the season with the Red Sox and went 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA with them.  Then, Peavy was traded to the Giants and reunited with his old manager Bruce Bochy.  Peavy then went 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA.  What does Jake say is the difference?  Well, the three-time All Star pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner says his manager has a lot to do with his turnaround.  Peavy made a quote I heard on the radio about how Bochy instills a belief in his players that is unlike anyone else he has played for.  A Major League manager making his players more confident?  Well if they do then the least us amateur coaches can do is to try to do the same.  So what can we do?  Here are a couple of starting points:

1. Focus on what players do well.  I know you want them to be as good as possible, and I am all for working on weaknesses as a player.  If he has struggled for years with pitches on the outer half of the plate, however, he probably is not going to start magically mashing them ten minutes before a game.  Once competition is upon you, why not celebrate the strengths of the player?  Help him understand his strengths so he can better utilize them rather than creating doubt in everything he cannot do.

2. Create an environment where mistakes are okay.  For me, this means physical mistakes.  I have never been around a player who has said, "Man, I am going to try to go 0-4 today with 3 errors!" or "I hope I bounce all of my breaking balls today!"  Physical mistakes are going to happen.  If you demand perfection in physical execution, you are setting up your team to be a bunch of tense robots.  Tension does not feel good or translate well.  Understand that mistakes are going to happen, and stress that players learn from theirs (both physical and mental).

3. Prepare your players.  Create as many game-like situations as possible so they are ready.  People say there is no substitute for experience.  Everyone, at one point or another, has encountered a situation that was no big deal because they had been there before.  Well, what if we can help to create that feeling of being experienced?  You can with purposeful practice.

This list is by no means exhaustive.  Coaches, do you have something you do to purposely help players be confident?  Players, do you have a story or coach who has helped you feel more confident as a player?  I would love to hear about them.  Tweet them to me @Coach_Ehrlich, or email me at ehrlichb1@gmail.com.  If I like it, I will absolutely give you credit.  Thanks again for reading, and challenge yourself to help someone else be just a little more confident in themselves this week.

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