Confidence means being prepared to play the best you are capable of playing. I often have parents ask me questions like, “How can I get Tina to drive more aggressively to the basket?” or “Stephen’s a good shooter, how can I get him to take more shots?” What these parents are really asking me is “How can my young player build their confidence?”
Let’s start with a simple premise that I have stated before, Skill building is confidence building. The more skill a player has the more confident they will be in displaying those skills during a game. Conversely, a less skilled player is unlikely to try something in a game that will potentially result in a negative outcome (like a turnover or missed shot). Improving a player’s skill level is not some magic tip to build confidence that I have come up with here and no one else has ever considered. That said, there is no way around it. If a player wants to be more confident, they must become more skilled. That happens every day in practice, in training, and in games. By giving relentless effort in drills and practice sessions the player becomes more confident in their ability to perform similar actions during games. When those actions turn out well during games, the player becomes more confident. Keep in mind, not everything a player tries will work perfectly, mistakes are unavoidable. In fact, we know that mistakes are a critical part of learning new skills and incorporating them into a player’s game. Without mistakes, they’ll never get outside their comfort zone and their level of improvement will stagnate. But despite the occasional mistake, more often they’ll succeed because they’ve put in the work and their increased ratio of successes to failures will build their confidence.
So we’ve taken care of the obvious and best way to build confidence. Now what are some other more subtle actions a young basketball player can take to build confidence?
Of course this is easier said than done. Players that are afraid to fail often try to avoid situations that they fear. A player lacking confidence in their free throw shooting may not drive hard to the basket so they can avoid going to the line. A player lacking confidence in their ballhandling may not cut hard to get the ball in the backcourt against a press. Unfortunately, players don’t grow and improve through avoidance. They grow and improve by trying things out on the court. Young players should focus on thinking positive thoughts in practice, and before during, and after games. Players who are mindful of this inner voice can learn to control their fear and keep it from creeping into their conscious thoughts and inhibiting their performance.
One thing I teach all my players is to start out any practice or training session with form shooting right in front of the basket. By seeing the ball go in the vast majority of the time, the player begins to develop the confident mindset that all great shooters possess. Contrast that with the typical player who finishes tying his or her shoes and then launches a few wild three pointers. Those shots almost never go in. Which player is building confidence? It may not always be possible to form shoot prior to a youth basketball game with only 5 minutes for the entire team to warm up, but the team’s warm-up should be designed to allow the players to see success (layups and short jump shots that go in the basket, rather than long distance heaves that almost never go in).
A young player may set a goal to be a starter on their team or win a league championship, but those goals themselves are not actionable. What exactly are they going to do to accomplish those goals? Here is a better goal. Every day this summer I’m going to make 25 right handed layups and 25 left handed layups after executing a crossover dribble. Here’s another. Before I leave practice each day I am going to make 10 free throws. Both of these goals focus on the process of getting better and thereby build confidence. A young player should write down their goals to cement them in their mind.
A player imagining a shot being made or seeing themselves drive through a defense and score can be very effective in improving confidence and ability to perform a task. Read this study from Australian Psychologist Alan Richardson who showed that visualization improved players’ free throws almost as much as players that physically practiced shooting.
Many self-help experts recommend this tip to people in all walks of life. Here’s how it works for basketball players. After every practice, training session, or game the player writes down two or three things they did well. Be as specific as possible. For example, “During a rebounding drill, I boxed out our team’s best rebounder twice in a row.” These daily writings will build confidence and also serve as a storehouse for positive outcomes that can help boost the player’s confidence when it may be wavering. Just by going back to read the confidence journal the player will be able to remind themselves of all the great things they have been able to accomplish out on the court.
A confident player is one that has done what it takes to prepare themselves for success out on the court. Help your young player’s confidence by incorporating a few of these tips into their daily basketball routine.
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