Friday, October 5, 2012

How to Build Confidence in Your Volleyball Athletes

Confidence is king.  That's right, KING.  I've never heard anyone say confidence is queen.  That got me thinking about confidence in female athletes and in particular, how we can get better at building self-confidence in girl's and women's volleyball.

Being in a gym on a daily basis I am amazed how often successful, skilled, hard-working, well-educated, healthy, young women in the sport of volleyball lack self-confidence.  We coaches need to get better at building confidence in our players.  It's not that we don't try, but sometimes the methods most familiar and comfortable to us are woefully inadequate to the task.

How many times have we heard coaches implore their players to play with confidence?  It's well-intentioned but completely ineffective advice.  Telling someone to be confident is like advising the hungry to feel full.  Building confidence is also not a matter of being a cheerleader or puffing up players with constant praise and pats on the back.  Intelligent young woman are too smart for that.  Besides, the best available research on the subject indicates it's counterproductive.[1]  

So how do we begin moving our players toward a more confident state of mind?  It takes a consistent, creative, daily effort that begins with including in our practices successful moments for the players and by delivering effective feedback.

Put Athletes in Successful Situations

We all know that practice is about training our weaknesses, and that can be very stressful, but sometimes we just have to put our athletes in successful situations and let them do what they do best.  Success builds confidence.

For example, allow your blockers to block some balls.  Blocker don't always get a lot of positive reinforcement.  Sure, we know that blockers can do their job effectively without actually blocking the ball but there's nothing like the feeling of actually blocking a ball to build a little confidence and provide some motivation as well.  This can be done in a coverage drill, a blocking drill or both.  Be creative and let your blockers block some balls.

There are hundreds of other examples  It's up to you.

Teaching is Not Always Correcting

Let your positive feedback substantially outweigh your corrective feedback.  Too many female players cringe when they hear a coach say their name because they assume we're going to correct something they did "wrong."  If a player's first reaction when you say her name is quickly to explain herself or, worse yet, apologize then you need to build her confidence by recognizing all the correct things she does; and be specific with the behavior being complimented.  There's volumes of research on percentages and ratios for giving positive and corrective feedback.  The takeaway?  We need to develop young women who aren't surprised when we stop the action to give credit rather than correction.

Playing with confidence is something that is instilled over time by successful, creative coaching, not something players will do if we "remind" them.  Let's stop telling and start teaching.    


[1]  See Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House 2006); see also Po Bronson, How Not To Talk To Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise, New York Magazine, Feb. 19, 2007 available online at