The Secret Step to Building a Confident Player and Team

Every coach wants to get the most out of his or her players in an effort to give his or her team the best opportunity for success on the field of play.  And every coach knows that consistent performance is absolutely necessary for a player and team to win, particularly in the close games against the best competition.  These points are a given.

So here are a couple of questions for you, “What makes the most successful teams successful?  What is their secret ingredient for consistent performance and execution?”  Here are two more critical questions for you…”Do you ever get frustrated when your player(s) or team fails to execute during a game? And what is the root cause of the breakdown in execution?”

The answers to these questions are all inter-related in a crystal clear cause and effect relationship and will be covered in detail in this article so read on.

To get the most out of your players and to build a confident, competent and happy group of players requires that you as coach become an excellent communicator.  Your players look to you for direction as to how to play the game mechanically as well as how to play the game mentally; which includes the why of the game; why the game works the way it does and why you want them to do the things you ask them to do.  As a coach when you combine the elements of how and why into your teachings you begin to build a solid foundation of competence and confidence.

The question that I posed earlier as to “what makes the most successful teams successful?” is certainly a combination of factors: talent, coaching, team chemistry, luck and more.  However at the root of any team’s success is confidence and the ability to play with 100% effort and 100% focus all of the time.  I firmly believe that champions are made, not born and I have personally experienced that on my teams in the most amazing ways!  But, again, in order to get your players to perform their best game in and game out you, as coach, must instill within each of your players the mental “trigger” of belief and confidence.

It is widely believed in sports psychology circles that confidence is the essential foundation for any athlete to possess in order to perform to his or her optimal level.  Without a solid base of confidence a player’s performance is likely to be inconsistent; a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.  This is particularly true with youth athletes where high levels of expectations can make a young athlete’s confidence fleeting and fragile.  As a coach it is your responsibility to understand the dynamics between the physical and mental/emotional aspects of the game and how they affect each of your players specifically in the following areas:

  • How they deal with perceived failure
  • Their individual level of expectation for performance
  • Their overall enjoyment of the game
  • Team morale and relationships between players and coaches
  • Each player’s mental preparation for each game or at bat
  • How you as a coach react to their mistakes and “failures”
  • How your players’ parents react to their child’s performance
To me, as a coach, the most important elements of building confident and competent athletes are:

  1. The expectation level you set for the team and each player for their performance and, 
  1. Your response to the mistakes and failures of your players during the game.
On my teams I have developed a coaching philosophy that has done wonders to keep my players confident and happy, as well as minimize the individual and collective downtime experienced after a “mistake” or “failure.”  On my teams we never stress the importance of any single mistake or failure.   We don’t even really focus on the score.  It’s what I call Effort Over Outcome coaching.  You see if you as a coach or parent micro-manage every mistake your child makes during a game you are going to live in a world of constant frustration.  And, believe me; your frustration makes the game a whole lot less fun for you and your child.  

The last thing your child needs to hear from the stands or right after the game is their parent’s critique of their performance; it’s just totally counter productive because your child will shut down to it, or worse, it will act to affect their game negatively.  Children have an innate desire to please their parents, particularly daughters and their fathers, so be very careful as parent and coach to monitor excessive intrusion by parents, especially during the game.
So, more to the point, what specifically is my Effort Over Outcome coaching philosophy?  Well I cover that and 21 Mental Performance Killers in my book, HowShe Thinks is How She Plays, but I’ll share the foundation of the philosophy here and why it is so vital in producing the confident and competent athletes you so desire.

We live in a society obsessed with results and outcome and judgment over such.  Nowhere is that more empirically present than in the sports of baseball and softball where statistics and one-on-one battles are interwoven into the fabric of an otherwise team game.  Early in my coaching career I can admit to being a coach that put far more emphasis on outcome.  I wanted to win and that is how I kept score.  I would critique every mistake and would become visibly frustrated often.  As you can imagine my players quickly picked up on my energy and began to play tight after a mistake (either in the field or a less than stellar at bat), and it only led to the dreaded snowball effect when one error would lead to four or five and one strikeout would lead to a half dozen.  

The sad thing was I had some pretty talented teams that never won consistently.  Why?  I believe it was because I, as a coach, and we, as a team, were far too focused on outcome.  We rarely came back once we were behind and we lost countless games in which we led.  The worst effect of this style of coaching was a lot of tears from my players.

Fortunately I had an epiphany and discovered a different coaching path that has made all the difference in the world to my players and my teams!  About two years ago we started letting go of mistakes and scores and outcomes in general.  I know that may sound crazy in a game that is built around stats and scores, but keep reading!  Instead we focused on each girl’s and the team’s effort.  We only had three goals: give 100% physical effort on each play, give 100% mental focus on each play, and most importantly have fun playing the game.  We told the girls that if you do these three things during each game the results (outcome) would take care of themselves.

Think of it like cause and effect.  If the cause is effort and focus and fun the effect will likely be a good one.  And even the close losses are easier bounce back from because we gave our all and had fun.  The end result was far fewer physical and mental errors, higher quality at bats, much quicker bounce back from mistakes (so no snowball effect) and…many more wins; now imagine that.  And the really cool thing is that my players began to play with soaring confidence because they weren’t afraid of being scolded for every mistake and we truly started playing in the moment instead of fearing a future failure or lamenting a past failure.  And their mental focus enabled them to become more competent players.  

Finally, all the tears I used to get during and after the games turned in to smiles. So you too can build a team of confident and competent athletes ready to win and have a whole lot of fun doing it!  

Thanks for reading!  --John Michael Kelly

Check out my latest book, Loving the Game, here!


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Learn more about the 21 mental performance killers that may be holding your athlete back.