During our most recent clinic at Female Footballers (a series of unique soccer clinics and seminars designed to empower young female soccer players), we focused on what a leader truly means. We chose to focus on confidence, communication and teamwork. We felt that these three aspects were some of the most important to promote what a true leader is and help players to find success on and off the field. We had the players rotate from station to station and engage in activities for each of these concepts. In our confidence station, the players were asked to write three strengths on or off the field and one focus area on the field that they want to improve on. After all the players finished, we had each player read one strength aloud to the group.
And what happened next, truly hit home with me. One little girl raised her hand and asked, “Do we have to read it aloud, because I don’t want to brag.” I quickly answered, “Saying a strength or something that you are good at, out loud to the group, is not bragging. It is good to know your strengths, believe your strengths and be able to say them without feeling scared that someone might think you are bragging.” I then went into a small role-play showing the difference between showing confidence and bragging.
Since our last clinic, I can’t get that moment out of my head. I think it is for a few reasons that it struck me so hard. First, I WAS that little girl. I can remember being about 6 or 7 and starting to feel like I was good at soccer. I would have my rec soccer games every Saturday. While most of the little girls would be into the game for the first 5-10 minutes or so and then start to do cartwheels, I was serious about it from the first whistle to the last. I would sprint past my opponents and score goals every game. When I came off the field, my family was proud of me, and I truly started to feel good about myself and feel like I found my thing, my passion. And then, something changed. I had a friend who wasn’t always supportive. She made comments about my talents that made me feel like she thought I was bragging about it. I don’t ever remember bragging, but maybe the way I would talk about my soccer abilities came out that way? Either way, her words made me feel so bad about myself, she made me feel like it wasn’t OK to be good at something or be proud of myself. And so I stopped. I stopped talking about my strengths, which in turn made me stop thinking about them and believing them. But then I began to always comment on my weaknesses. Because there was no longer any focus on what I was good at in my mind, I became self-conscious and confused as to what I really was good at. I felt like I couldn’t talk about what I was good at or I was looked at as a bragger. This is such a common practice for young girls.
As Holly Buchanan of Marketing for Women Online points out, “women are judged more harshly than men if they come across as bragging, despite the fact that men brag three times as much.” So I never really thought about my strengths in soccer and in general, from that point on. I still to this day struggle with it at times. And looking back, I truly think it hindered my soccer career. I can remember when I played D-1 College soccer at UC Berkeley, the girls in my program who went on to have amazing careers post college, exuded confidence. They didn’t shy away from it. They embodied it.
Which leads me to the second reason I was struck so hard at that moment. The ability to exude confidence is pertinent to making it to the higher levels in all sports. The key word is exude. Exuding confidence means you embody it. You show it through your play. You are proud of yourself. When someone compliments you about your abilities or efforts, learn to say thank you. Studies have shown that exuding confidence arouses positive emotions, facilitates concentration, affects goals, increases effort, affects game strategies , psychological momentum and performance.
But how do we get there? It starts with the voice in our heads. We must keep the thoughts and focus, positive. Pay attention to your efforts as opposed to your abilities. See challenge, mistakes and failures, as an opportunity to grow, not something that defines you. As your thoughts remain positive, you will begin to believe it, which makes your mental attitude stronger. That strength is what gets you to the next level. But if that talk inside of you turns negative, you will start to believe it. And that can break your confidence, leading to poor self-esteem and more of a fixed mindset.
Furthermore, the ability to exude confidence isn’t just about the player personally having it. But it is also the responsibility of one’s family, coaches and one’s teammates to help the player to exude it. Families, coaches and teammates, need to help to promote confidence in their child/teammates by facilitating positive talk before and after games. The focus in the car ride home needs to be about the strengths that were seen on the field, and the positive things that occurred during the game. Talk should be specifically directed towards effort and not always on abilities. Players are developing. So by praising effort we are promoting the player to have confidence and the drive to get to where they want to be. Many studies have been done to show that praise needs to be about effort.
For example, Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential says,“Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence—like a gift—by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
Therefore, confidence plays a pivotal role in creating a strong, positive, mental attitude, which helps players advance to the next level in their game and in life in general. Girls need to remember to exude confidence, believe it and be proud of themselves, without the fear of judgment or worry that they’ll be seen as a bragger. What do you think?