One day at my hitting school, during a class with nine-year-old boys, we were working on the technique of hitting the ball using a pitching machine. One boy, Jake, was struggling with this new skill. His dad finally decided to point out to me all the different things that he was doing wrong with his mechanics.
I replied with, “He’s doing alright. New things can take some time.” Jake’s father said, “No―he just won’t do what he’s told!”
I was a bit shocked by Jake’s father’s lack of patience and need for instant results. I felt like saying, “Why don’t you jump in there and let me speed the machine up to about 80 m.p.h. and I’ll tell you to ‘just hit it’ and see how you do.”
Instead, I directed my energy toward Jake to see if I could help him gain some confidence with something he was doing for the very first time. Everything takes time, as the saying goes. This is true for all of us, but especially for kids as they begin their journey in life, finding out who they are in terms of athletics, academics, relationships and the world in general. When we expect too much too soon from kids, it can lead to a loss of confidence. Kids will gain confidence in their own athletic skills by practicing correct technique over a period of time. This simple truth often gets derailed when the focus is on wanting things too soon—a.k.a., instant gratification.
This leads us to another problem in youth sports: expecting too little from kids. How can a young person’s confidence ever grow if we never allow them to experience failure? We learn from failure and success follows. It’s not the other way around. Yet, we often see parents interfering with the natural progression of skill and character development by complaining to coaches when their child doesn’t get their way―or when their kids are sent to the bench because of a bad attitude.
If these same parents would explain to their kids that the way to get positive results is by looking within themselves instead of expecting others to make things happen for them, kids will gain confidence in their own ability to accomplish goals. That’s what youth sports are all about! By being accountable for their own behavior, players will gain respect from coaches, which is the first step in accomplishing their goal of being on the field instead of on the bench.
Finally, teach them this lesson: if you really have the desire to play a certain position, practice the skills necessary for that position and earn it yourself. Even if it doesn’t happen on your timeline, through correct effort and attitude, you will have instilled within yourself a method for future success. Remember, a person’s effort is a renewable resource. Those who understand this are usually the ones getting opportunities in life. Parents’ constantly creating opportunities for their kids without requiring proper effort is not a sustainable path. It will eventually lead to a false sense of confidence.
When basic skills start developing through correct repetitions, more advanced techniques can be attempted. Through this process, confidence will grow like a seed being planted in the ground, and then nurtured over time. Boxing legend Muhammed Ali puts it this way: “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”
What this means for a young athlete is, it takes time for confidence to grow. As adults, let’s give kids the time for that to happen by patiently and confidently guiding them toward self-improvement. Let’s try to see things from their perspective and teach them life lessons from our perspective.
By taking this journey with our kids, gaining confidence will be the destination. Playing sports will be the vehicle to get there.