Coaches can very positively affect whether or not their players will develop a feeling of self-confidence.

To enhance the development of confidence, coaches should:

  • organise competitive activities in practices that present attainable challenges;
  • set realistic goals that are based on players’ performance (their own actions) and not on the result of the game. The goals should focus on the players’ personal efforts to achieve the goals;
  • be clear on criteria used to determine if the goals set have been achieved. The coach must then analyse performance in an objective and constructive way, based upon the criteria;
  • avoid reaching general conclusions based on isolated experiences that have impressed them (for example, they should not come to the conclusion that the team has played poorly just because the game was lost in the last play);
  • avoid judging the players’ performance when emotions are running high (for example, at the end of a game in which both teams ended up with very close scores).

How the performance of the team and the players is evaluated is a crucial element in the development and strengthening of self-confidence.
A general evaluation that is ambiguous and arbitrary, or based on criteria that is not known or is unclear, is likely to negatively affect self-confidence. It can also help to develop self-confidence if you question players:

Ask them why they think that something went wrong. As they identify what went wrong, it can help them to identify what was in their control and what options were (or might be in the future) open to them.

Equally, it can help them to realise what was outside of their control and so could not be changed, although what they did in response to it was in their control.

It is, for example, very common in a tennis match to see a player congratulate their opponent by quickly clapping their racket.

This can be a very effective way for the player to acknowledge that the result of that point was out of their control (i.e. their opponent made a very good shot) and that it should not impact how they approach the next point.

The importance of Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

Self-concept refers to the opinion that a person has of themselves; self-esteem shows the extent to which that person likes that opinion.

In both cases, it is a global evaluation that is not specifically related to any activity in particular, but it will be most closely linked to those aspects that each person considers more significant.

With young people, both self-concept and self-esteem are very unstable values that can fluctuate easily. Self- concept and self-esteem change depending on their experience of success or failure in certain aspects that for them are very important, for example, basketball.

Some players will have a self-concept and self-esteem that do not depend upon their success in sports. In these cases, the situation should be maintained, strengthening the players’ self-confidence and preventing them from associating their success in sports with their worth as a person.

For other players, particularly from the age of 13, basketball plays a major role in their self-concept and self-esteem.

This is especially the case with players that have been identified as “outstanding” or play in more important teams.

In cases like these, it is possible that other sources of gratification, outside of basketball, may disappear, and the young player may be unable to put basketball into perspective and control success or failure correctly.

These players become especially vulnerable when associating their self-concept and self-esteem with their success or failure in sports. This success or failure can be related to the team (whether the team wins or loses) and also to their individual role within the team (e.g. even where the team has won, they may not have played much and therefore consider themselves a failure).

Coaches must avoid comments that will be detrimental to self-concept and self-esteem. Comments that often can be detrimental are generalisations - for example:

  • “You are dumb” - when instead the player may only have made a “dumb” decision;
  • “You are hopeless at basketball.”

Coaches are often prone to making sweeping generalisations when they are emotional (e.g. immediately after a close game) and it is often better to not to give feedback at that time.

Under these conditions, basketball can turn out to be a very stressful activity that may harm the performance, health and development of these young people.

The Lasting Influence of Coaches

The relationship between coaches and young players may have a decisive influence on the players’ self-concept and self-esteem. Thus, the coach’s behaviour in relation to players is crucial.

For example, a coach will have a negative influence on players if they:

  • insult them (“Are you an idiot?”)
  • underrate them (“Are you making a fool of yourself as usual?”)
  • make fun of them in front of their teammates (“Kid, the basket isn’t across the street!”)
  • scold them without an explanation or without giving them the opportunity to rectify their mistake in the future (“You never get it right! You make nothing but mistakes!”)
  • use expressions that compare their worth as athletes to their worth as people (“You can’t do anything right! You’re a mess!”).

It is particularly important to remember that young players may not understand the use of sarcasm and even if the coach is joking or does not mean what they say, the player may take it negatively. Where something is taken negatively, it has a lasting effect on the player’s self-concept or self-esteem.

Coaches can equally positively influence the self-concept and self-esteem of players by:

  • setting realistic goals for players;
  • defining with clarity and precision the goals that the players must achieve;
  • helping players to achieve such goals and reinforcing them for their good actions;
  • differentiating actions that relate to players’ athletic performance by referring to them specifically;
  • correcting players constructively, pointing out what they do wrong and focusing on what they can do to correct it and giving the opportunity to correct it.

In setting goals, a player should be encouraged to have a “vision” or a “dream” that may be viewed as unrealistic (e.g. to represent their country). The coach’s task is to then help the player identify all the “steps” along the way and to set goals that reflect those steps. As the player achieves each goal it will increase their self-concept and self-esteem, even if they ultimately do not reach their dream.