Players, coaches and parents know that confidence is important to feel in order to have success as a team and as an individual player. The biggest question stems from where does it come from? Parents and coaches automatically assume that their players will just be confident by merely bringing it up in a post game meeting or in a car ride home. Confidence doesn't come from a conversation. Confidence doesn't come from two conversations. For most players, confidence happens over time.
In my mind, there are two different types of players - the player who is innately confident, and the player who learns to be confident. You know these players who are innately confident - they are the ones who ever since they picked up a ball or a bat just knew they could do it. I played with one of these players, Megan Gibson, current assistant softball coach at Penn State University. Megan is my one of my oldest friends and long-time teammate from Texas A&M and well before the college days. Megan was a two way player who hit, pitched, and played first base when she was not pitching. For as long as I can remember, Megan was just plain confident no matter what - at practice, in games, socially, etc. I looked up to her because I recognized that this was something that was not naturally inside of me. Megan had the type of mentality that she knew she could beat you, even if statistically the other player was supposed to "win" when she was pitching or hitting. Just by merely stepping out onto the field, she had a confidence that was unlike any other, and the rest of our teammates fed off of it. She was just confident because that's just who she was on the inside for as long as I could remember. From my experience, those who just are innately confident are not the norm, they are the outliers. As coaches, you wish every player could be like Megan, and just step on the field to compete and think they could beat anyone. It's a quality you can't teach and that few athletes are born with. These are the players who just have "it."
The majority of players have to learn to be confident, just like players have to learn to throw a ball. It's a process and it gets stronger the more it's practiced. I, personally, learned to be more confident through hard work and practice. My confident feeling was created through repetition before it came game time to ease my mind that I was prepared. I knew the more I practiced, the more comfortable I would be for a game and the likelihood would go up that I would have success at the plate or in the circle. I gained confidence with every practice knowing I was putting in the time outside of the game. In practice I prepared, in games I trusted.
The times I didn't practice as much, I didn't feel as comfortable with my playing abilities, which caused me to be less confident and have less results come game time. I was the type of player, especially in college, that would come to practice early or stay late when the majority of my teammates were already gone. The hard workers are the players who are putting in extra time outside of the scheduled practice times. They are doing things on their own when no one is telling them to, trying to gain confidence in their personal craft so they can have success when it really matters. Preparation breeds confidence.
Instead of telling a player she needs more confidence, try asking her if she feels confident, and have her answer using her own words. Ask her what she can do in order to feel more confident. Confidence is a feeling. It's an attitude. Confidence is shown by behaviors on the field in every move that you make from the way that you take the field to the way that you go up to bat. Confident behaviors are calm. They are smooth. When you are confident the game slows down. Even just by ACTING confident with your body language on the field, the game starts to slow down in your mind. It is when the game slows down in your own mind that you are going to be able to flourish with confidence and results.
Let me ask you these questions...
What do you look like in between pitches at your position? Do you look like you're nervous? Or do you look like you're calm, cool and collected? ....as if anything can come your way and you've got it. If you don't look this way, what are you going to do to change it? Video your player if her opinion of what she is doing is different than the coach's or parents opinion.
When you're up to bat are you constantly fidgety and always looking down to your third base coach? ....or are your thoughts collected and you're involved in your own routine, and then you merely glance down at your coach to see if he/she is going to give you any signals?
If you're a pitcher, do you make eye contact with other players on the field with you? That eye contact signals confidence that you have in yourself and confidence you have in your teammates. In the circle are you constantly looking at your coach for reassurance, or do you keep your gaze maintained on what is going on with your catcher and the batter in front of you. Confident players aren't afraid to make eye contact with the opposing hitter. They aren't afraid to make eye contact with their own teammates when things start to unravel a bit out on the field. The eye contact is needed most at this time so that your teammates feel like they are behind you and that you in the circle are still confident- everyone is working together
Confident actions start when you're getting out of your car to walk to the field - how you're carrying your bat bag, the way you speak to your coaches. Confident actions are bred OUTSIDE of the softball field. How do you walk down the hall when you are at school? Is it confidently? Or is it fearfully?
Ways to show/gain confidence:
- Consistent eye contact when someone (peer, coach or parent) is talking to you or you're talking to them
- Making your own decisions without looking to your friends to see what they are going to do
- Becoming better friends with someone on your team/at your school who doesn't normally run in your circle of friends
- Keeping your eyes up when you're walking into the ballpark, down the hall at school, running onto the softball field
- Hands stay still without pulling at your jersey or messing with your hair whenever you're in the dugout, on deck or out in the field - think about what your hands are doing, they say a lot about your confidence
- Meet new people
- Speak up in a team meeting
- Take on more responsibility around your house / on your team
- Speak clearly, don't mumble
How are you practicing your confidence? More importantly, are you practicing confidence? This is a daily characteristic to think about. Will you feel more confident by preparing more? Do you gain confidence by changing your body language? What works for you? Shine on the field and play beautifully, the way you were born to play.
Private Pitching Instructor / Softball Clinician
ESPN & Longhorn Network Softball Analyst
Questions? Email me!!