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For the Coaches: How to Help Your Players Build Confidence

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By Taylor Staden, M.Sc.

Founder & Lead Consultant, Upper Mentality.

For some, the hockey season has barely started. For others, you may already be right in the swing of things and are 10-plus games in. But no matter where you find yourself right now, it remains integral as a coach to work on developing your players' confidence.

I’ve been fortunate enough to consult with hockey players across the AHL, NCAA, OHL and other levels to help them develop their confidence. From my experiences, building confidence is not always an easy task.

But what does confidence even mean? Confidence is multifaceted and is far from a catch-all term. Ultimately, confidence refers to the level of self-belief that one has in themselves to complete a task successfully. This level of self-belief can vary depending on different factors, such as the environment they are completing it in. 

So how can you, as a coach, work on developing players' levels of confidence? Below are three practical ways that you can do just this:


  1. Help Them Understand Their Recipe to Success

You hear it all the time: Trust the process! or Have a process focus!

But what does that mean?

Having a process-focus is simply about helping your athletes focus on their recipe to success. Like any recipe, you know there are ingredients that you need to use in order to get your end result.

Let's take the ingredients of a cake, for example: Eggs, flour, sugar, chocolate. You name it. These are all ingredients that we use, and mix together, to get our desired end result – a cake!

Notice how we don't just keep thinking and focusing on cake when we're baking. We instead focus on the step-by-step process, and different ingredients, used in baking the cake. So why should it be any different when it comes to our performance?

If you want to help your players develop their self-confidence, it’s going to be important for you to encourage them to focus on their recipe to success. Don’t just celebrate them when they score goals (outcomes), but also be sure to focus most of your praise on when they do things like being hard on the forecheck, keeping their feet moving, being a good teammate, etc. (their process). 

This recipe will also look different from player to player, as all players have different ingredients that help them play well. So, make sure that each player understands their recipe for their role/position and reward them for following it.

You can sit your team down and have the players all write down their role, as well as 3-5 things that they need to do well (their ingredients) to be successful in that role. Encourage your athletes to make their ingredients process-focused, not outcome-focused.


  1. Optimally Challenge Your Players in Practice

Odds are that you have come across a player who is lights out in practice but can’t seem to pull it together during games. Let’s pretend that the player's name is Josh. 

As we’ve already covered, confidence can vary depending on the environment in which the players are completing a task. So for Josh, perhaps the reason why he can’t translate his skills into games is because he is not practicing in game-like situations or with game-like pressure. We want to ensure that we are practicing the way that we play.

Nothing truly replaces game-like pressure, but there are things you can do to increase the intensity of your practices. You can structure smaller-area games to work on specific situations in which certain players may be struggling (i.e., stickhandling in traffic and board battles). You also can try flooding your practice with crowd noise played over a loud speaker. 

But when we think of optimal challenges for players, it’s important to consider a ratio that is challenging enough that they don’t succeed every single time, but also not so hard that they’re going to be consistently failing. 

Dr. Simon Marshall, author of The Brave Athlete, suggested a 7/10 success-to-fail ratio. Designing drills like that will provide them with enough success that it can help build their confidence, but also have them make enough mistakes to stay motivated to keep trying. As it begins to get easier for the athletes, confidence may follow and you can adjust the difficulty accordingly. 

At the end of the day, if your athletes are never making mistakes or making few mistakes in practice, they are not being challenged enough. They are not going to improve, and the odds are that they likely will end up getting worse.


  1. Shift the Narrative on Making Mistakes

Society has conditioned many of us to believe that mistakes are bad. Don't get me wrong, mistakes can be very frustrating to deal with in the moment. However, mistakes are one of our single greatest learning tools. 

Think about it, when you first took a slapshot for the first time, how did it look? Or when you first tried to do a toe-drag? They likely did not look all that great!

But as you practiced, reflected, and adjusted, they got better. So, mistakes really are just feedback on our performance. Feedback can help us grow if we understand how to use it. Otherwise, it can simply tear us down. 

So, it’s important for your players to understand that messing up is part of being great, and it’s important for you as their coach to also reflect this in your coaching since  it’s one thing to tell players that making mistakes is acceptable, but it’s another to actually put it into practice. 

You can put this into practice by praising things like effort and compete level after a mistake or by telling them that you noticed they’re really challenging themselves. Putting emphasis on these aspects will help your athletes remain more process-focused, which should help provide more sustainable confidence and motivation.


A Note from the Author: Are You Interested in Working on Your Mental Game?

I presently am taking on additional 1-on-1 and team clients for the 2022-23 season and would be happy to connect on a call to see how I could potentially help.

If this interests you, then please click here to book a no-obligation 15 minute call with me.


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