Never Let Someone Steal YOUR Confidence

March 24, 2014, 5:57 p.m. (ET)

Over the weekend, I got an email from a coach/friend from another country with the subject line “Needing Advice.” In short, his daughter’s team won every game/set she got to play in, and lost every one she did not. Yet the coach played her less as the tournament continued. At tourney’s end, the player spoke with the coach, who said she was as good as the other players who played more. Her response was two-fold with the first part being - “Well your actions speak louder than your words...” Food for thought for every coach who says such lines – like the commercial on why Pinocchio would be a poor motivational speaker, it is too bad coaches' noses do not grow when speaking to their players. 

The second part of the response is what I want to address here, for she said, Well I had little confidence in myself before the weekend, you've made sure I have none left.”

Like a movie flashback, I found myself pulling over the car after a lifetime family friend and great volleyball player, Kristen Richards Hildebrand, said, “I’m so stupid…”  I wrote this “letter” to her, but until now did not say who the athlete was. Kristin babysat my kids Cody and McKenzie when they were little. Like any extended volleyball family friend, she has been a part of their lives since they were born. Knowing that this pic will make them cringe, you can see Kristin’s spirit in this pic with them (for the record, Mac is now 5’10” with no braces or glasses, and Cody is 6’5” and has a “fan club") Since then, Kristin lost her mom – the beyond wonderful Lori Richards – to a valiant fight with cancer. Kristin also married a great person who happens to be as good a volleyball player, Tyler Hildebrand, and has gone on to play professionally in many nations. She also started for and captained the U.S. Women’s National team for a time. So some of my response to ANY player doubting themselves is found in my letter to Kristin. 

I told my friend I would write his daughter via my blog, as I see this problem of coaches stealing the love of this game from their players too often. I addressed it from the coach’s side with this article – Primum non nocere. This one is for any player who is doubting themselves. As Marcus Garvey wisely said With confidence, you have won before you have started.

First off, every player needs to focus on what they can control – by choosing a team sport, you lose control of many things – your uniform, your position, your playing time and much more. The key things you CAN still control include your 1. Attitude, 2. Effort, 3. Communication, 4. Conditioning, 5. Serve, 6. Learning, 7. Concentration/Focus, 8. Confidence. I covered these keys and a couple more in depth in this blog to my son as he headed to Princeton.

Every problem you encounter, including this one, has three parts. It has a past, a present and a future. Can you control the past? No, so a third of your problem is gone. Can you control the future? If you think yes, truly control it, then let’s go into the stock market, make money for USA Volleyball to grow and start pro leagues here in the USA. The fact is, you can’t control the future, so another third of your problem is gone. What you have to focus on is simply right here, right now. The present. Today. This hour. So with that focus in mind, here are a dozen confidence keeping tips for any player. 

  1. Become – Don’t Compare – Too much time is spent comparing yourself to others. There will only be one champion or six starters. What needs to happen is that you work to become the best you can be. If you compare yourself there is always someone taller, smarter, faster, etc. than you. And remember, NEVER let someone tell you, you can’t – just because they can’t.
  2. Body Language Matters – When you are on the court, if you hang your head or let your body show frustration, disappointment or any un-confident action, your opponents see it. Not just one person “guarding” you like in other sports – every other foe is looking through the net to see your actions, as is their team bench. Stay outwardly strong. Amy Cuddy has this important stuff to say about body language.
  3. Evict the Excuse Family – Every time you give yourself an excuse, you are weakening yourself and failing to control your physical and mental skills. Whatever happened, happened, and no excuses are needed. Just move on to the next point and always strive to perform your best.
  4. Work to be Better, not Perfect – Expecting perfection is both very selfish and totally unrealistic. The process is what matters and errors are part of learning.  Work on getting better each and every day of practice or competition, and your average will go up. You will still play half the time below your average. So just stay the course when that happens. During this process, don’t worry about what the coach thinks. It's hard to do, but important. Work to be better. Better is the enemy of good.
  5. Refrain from Paralysis by Analysis – You can’t play well if you are constantly analyzing every action. Save that for practice, and when you go play, PLAY.
  6. Ask Yourself - What’s the Worst that can Occur?  This is a game. There is far more to life than sport and far worse things in life than missing a serve or losing a game. Enjoy the chance to compete and move on, win or lose.
  7. Act as If and It Will Be, Reality for You and Me – Henry Ford put it this way – “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.” Act confident and you will be more confident.
  8. Be Relentlessly Positive – Every failure is just a stepping stone to success. Today’s circumstances do not determine your success unless you stop believing in yourself. No matter what others say, stay your course and that is you.
  9. GRIT and Growth Mindset Matters – To see setbacks as part of the learning process develops a core part of confidence, and that is resilience. Listen to this grit research from National Public Radio and to this interview by Carol Dweck on the value of a growth mindset as these are building blocks of true confidence.
  10. Use the Power of Music – There are so many songs that simply remind you how lucky you are to be practicing a sport you enjoy or even love.  When the match is over, listen to those words if the words of a coach are not empowering or building your confidence. You get to pick the music you want to listen to, not the coach.
  11. It’s Not about Winning or Losing, It’s about What is Important – In sports, half the teams playing, lose. Every match, set, game, point, there is a winner and a loser. Accept that fact and focus on what is important – how you conduct yourself and focus on what is important to you.
  12. Be Honest with Yourself – There are probably other things you can do to be more confident beyond these ideas, however it all starts with being honest with yourself. As Vince Poscente said, “Be honest with yourself, and you will find the motivation to do what you advise others to do.”

If you have some other tips for stopping anyone from taking your confidence, we would love to have them shared in the comment section.  Citius, Altius, Fortius and best wishes on and off the court.