• Kate Allgood

Athletic competence and confidence

Athletic competence and confidence are two areas that each athlete needs in order to be successful and they play off of each other. The more competent (i.e skills) an athlete feels the more confident they will also feel, and then the more confident an athlete feels will lead to them further developing their skills. Due to the importance of this topic I wanted to share an article with you that illustrates the importance and role parents, coaches and sport psychologists play in helping young athletes develop these two characteristics. So if you are a parent, coach, watch or appreciate sports you should read the below article by John O’Sullivan @changing the game project.

Confidence and Competence

 By John O’Sullivan


Two crucial things that all athletes need are Competence (i.e. skill) and Confidence.  These two feed off of each other, as increased competence yields increased confidence, which in turn leads the athlete to seek further skill and train even more.  As a parent of a young athlete, you play a role in both.



Children who feel competent will naturally seek out additional challenges, and find ways to test themselves, confident that success will happen again because they have already succeeded.   They will approach learning with enthusiasm and pleasure, and not see it as a painful process.  If they are made aware, asked to be mindful of their successes, and not allowed to dwell on their failures then they will associate their activity with achievement, happiness and fun.  If you couple this learning with real goals, set timetables, and a plan of action, and get kids to buy into that plan by helping them see the value it has for their own lives, you will have a stable of competent, confident and eager learners.


One of the best ways adults can help children build competence is by using the Slanty Line theory of learning, developed by Dr. Muska Mosston.  The Slanty Line Theory is a concept that refutes the traditional method of straight-line concepts in learning.  Think about the old broomstick game of high-water low-water, where a stick starts low to the ground where all the kids can jump over it. As the stick is slowly raised, children begin to be eliminated from the competition until there is only one winner. You can see why this method is counter productive in the development of young children, since the ones that need the activity the most are eliminated first. If you take the stick and slant it so one end is lower than the other, children who want to run and jump and feel successful can do so at their own pace, at their own height on the stick.

When the players feel comfortable they will seek new challenges, and players can participate at their own level.  Slanty Line activities allow children of all levels to play together, which is the essence of youth sports. Given the right opportunities, children will naturally seek out challenges and take risks; they will not continue activities in which they are continually and easily eliminated or wait to take turns.  Each child is measured against his own previous best, not against other teammates.

Make sure your child’s coach is employing Slanty Line Activities in his or her practices.  Also, help your child set goals that track her progress against her previous scores (i.e she made 5 of 10 free throws last week, this week she made 6) instead of against teammates or opponents.  Help your kids see how the process is making them better, and they will continue to develop competence.


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Confidence is a state of mind, a feeling inside that you are ready to perform, no matter what you encounter.  It is a feeling of certainty, of control, and provides an athlete with a positive outlook regardless of the situation.  Bruce Brown of Proactive Coaching has a lot of great things to say about athletic confidence, but this quote is my favorite:

Confidence is not something you can fake, purchase or wish for – it has to be learned, earned and cultivated.

As your child develops Competence in a sport, so too does he increase in Confidence.  Let me say that another way – Confidence is a natural by product of skill.  From small children to the world’s greatest athletes, those whom are confident are that way because they have tried and failed many times, then tried again and got it right.  Come game time, they believe that the skills they have developed will carry them through.  This belief is always at the forefront of their thoughts, instead of the fear of failure that many non-confident athletes possess.  Whatever happens, self-doubt rarely enters their thoughts; if it does, their belief in themselves drowns it out.   As Brown concludes:

Confidence is not about whether you are a better athlete or if your team scores more points then your opponent; it is about who fearlessly puts it all on the line, being an athlete who has the courage to take risks, to fail, and who has the mental toughness to persevere.

True athletic confidence is all about the process and the preparation, and has little to do with the outcomes of games or events.  Confident athletes see wins and losses as inevitable parts of the process, and their self belief does not waiver based upon results.  Whether they win or lose, they examine the process that got them the result, and recognize areas for improvement, rather than find excuses for failure.  In the end, true confidence is consistent, controllable, and as a result, long lasting.

Your children need your help to become confident.  No, you cannot give it to them, but they need to know that you love them unconditionally, that you believe in them.  They also need you to ensure that they have coaches teachers and other adults in their life who believe in them, and who build their confidence instead of diminish it.

There is a great fear among parents that failure, no matter how small and inconsequential, is devastating for kids self esteem, but research demonstrates that this is not true.  Bad experiences are not devastating to your child’s self esteem; in fact, quite the opposite is true.  Self esteem comes from achievement, and not the other way around.  So let them fail, let them fail while daring greatly, and in the end they will find success, and all the great emotions and sense of accomplishment that comes along with it!