By Tony Earp
Director of Super Kick Soccer Skills Program
Confidence and self-esteem are important for every player to have in order to be successful on and off the soccer field. As coaches and parents, one of our goals is help develop both of these in players over the course of their childhood to help them be prepared for the real world when they are off on their own to face the challenges ahead. Confidence and self-esteem help people deal with adversity by being able to make thoughtful decisions in difficult situations that are aligned with their core values. It helps people stay the course in pursuit of their goals while others tell them it cannot be done or they are doomed to fail. Confidence and self-esteem prevent people from quitting too early. The importance of these traits in a person cannot be stressed enough. With that said, we need to be very careful in how we try to develop confidence and self-esteem in kids as they grow up. Too often, we are too focused on making kids feel confident and have self-esteem through artificial means versus developing the skills that are the foundation that confidence and self-esteem are built upon.
Success does not develop confidence or self-esteem. Confidence and self-esteem develops sustain, life- long success. It is not the other way around. Too often, we try to manufacture situations that kids will have success in order to build their confidence and self-esteem. Although in the short term, yes, a child will feel good about what just happened, but will that confidence last? Is it the type of confidence that will remain the next time the child fails? Or is it more like a big shiny bubble that is great for a moment but will not last? Unfortunately, artificial success creates a confidence “bubble” that will always pop leaving nothing of substance behind.
To build confidence and self-esteem in kids, you are not really focusing on building those things. To build that in a child, the focus needs to be on developing the skills required, and abilities needed, to actually be confidence and self-assured about what they are able to do. To build confidence and self-esteem, a person needs the skills and ability to be successful in whatever they choose to do. Building confidence and self-esteem without any real substance behind it, is like building a house with no foundation. Under the slightest amount of pressure, it will crumble.
For example, a doctor who is confident is normally confident for good reason (at least we hope so). Over a career of developing knowledge and skills to provide the best care possible for patients, the doctor is confident in the ability to diagnose a problem and treat it accordingly. Although the doctor may be wrong at times, it does not hurt the doctor’s confidence or cause doubt in the doctor’s ability to do a great job. But what if the doctor lacked any substantive knowledge or advanced skills, what if deep down the doctor really knew that those abilities were not there? How quickly would the doctor’s confidence and self-esteem fade at the moment that the doctor is challenged or faced with adversity to any degree? How quickly would the doctor shy away from “difficult cases” or give up when a diagnosis could not be found quick.
In relation to soccer, confident players are ones who have the necessary skills to play the game. They are not necessarily the players who are having success. Yes, they may claim to be confident and may even show the body language and demeanor of a confident player, but what happens the first time they are really challenged by the game or another player? What happens the first time they fail? Does the confidence remain or does it quickly fade? Does the player assume he is no longer a good player? Or is the player confident in what he is able to do and recognizes a temporary setback and an opportunity to grow and develop.
Kids are confident and have a high self-esteem when they know they are good at something. When they know they have the skills to be successful, and they can make a positive impact on what is going on around them, they are confident and will shine. When challenged, they do not break. They rely on what they know how to do and what they can do to meet the challenge and overcome it, but even when they fail, it is never from a lack of effort or persistence. More importantly, they do not take it as an attack on their self-worth or confidence, but as an opportunity to learn, grow, and become better. Even in failure, self-esteem and confidence can grow, but only in those who are really confident and have a self-esteem solidified on the substance and value of their abilities.
Too often we are too concerned with the final result, a score, a grade, a certificate, etc… and not concerned enough with what the child actually is capable of doing or what the child actually knows. Think about back when you were in school, and you got an A on a test or a paper. Getting the A is a great thing, and in no way am I saying that trying to achieve high scores is a bad thing. My question is what did you really have to do to get that A, or what did you learn? Getting the A is not what built your confidence or self-esteem. It is what you are now capable of doing or what you now know that was significant. It is what real self-esteem and confidence grows from. If the A was not really earned, nothing was learned, or the child was setup to do well (easy questions, “spoon fed” the answers), then the A really has very little value. Yes, the child may be “proud” of the grade, but then what? What is the child left with besides a memory of a moment that they felt good about something they “accomplished?”
On the soccer field it is the same, we are too concerned on whether a child wins and loses and the effect it will have on their self-esteem or confidence, rather than really looking to see what the child is or is not capable of doing. What is the child learning or not learning how to do? Winning is a great thing, and every player should compete to win, but winning does not build confidence. Ability does. Players can be on a team that wins all the time, but if deep down they know they do not have the skills to play the game, then they are not confident or have a high self-esteem when it comes to soccer. Yes, they feel good and smile after a win. Of course they do, since winning feels good. But the truth is, they are not building confidence to play the game. Why? They have nothing to really be confident about.
Confidence and self-esteem come from one simple question: What can you do? The more skills and ability a person has, the more they are capable of doing, the more confidence they will have in what they do. Past success, does not help a person in regards to what they are capable of at this moment. When the answer to the ability question is “not much,” how would we expect someone to be confident in that scenario. This is why our mission and goal as coaches and teachers is NOT to help kids have success. It is absolutely and most importantly always to help kids DEVELOP SKILLS and ABILITIES to be able to answer that question…. What can you do?
Also, when that becomes the focus, it provides the kid a straightforward answer to what needs to be worked on. Simply, whatever they cannot do right now is what they should be working on to be able to do in the near future. Confident players know their strengths and their weaknesses. They are not ashamed or embarrassed by their weaknesses, but instead use those areas of their game to guide their training and drive to improve. Unconfident players, ignore their weaknesses and try to pretend they do not exist. When those weaknesses are exploited, a player’s’ confidence in his level of play immediately plummets.
Instead of trying to build confidence and self-esteem through artificially, adult manipulated, worthless “victories” or prizes, confidence needs to be developed by making players confident in the skills they possess. In order for them to be confident in those skills, the focus for coaches, teachers, and parents should be to instill those skills, not confidence. Without the skills, there is really nothing for a child to be confident about. Again, yes, having success, winning, getting a good grade, makes anyone feel good, as it should. All I am saying is that it is critical to pay attention to the context in which those things are being accomplished. Are they being done in a way that it is earned by the children through the development of skills and knowledge, or is it being given to the children with little substance or value supporting that success? It is the simple difference between building confidence and building nothing in child.