When we slow down the decision making process, a majority of my clients will say that they wonder, “What should I do?” instead of making an assertive choice. This is problematic for two essential reasons.
- This momentary question brings along a multitude of feelings, including confusion, anxiety, fear, etc. As a result, athletes will experience muscle tension and hesitation, which often results in poor execution.
- The question itself represents an internal fear or doubt – as if there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ thing to do and the athlete desperately wants to choose the ‘right’ decision.
Now, this is a microscopic analysis of what is actually happening. Nonetheless, most coaches and parents know that in the run of play – of any sport – there can’t be even the slightest bit of hesitation when making decisions.
Interestingly, many of my clients will also report that they actually know what the best decision is; however the speed, pressure, and stress of competition overwhelm the process. As a sport psychology consultant I help athletes get to the root of the fear or doubt in order to free them from hesitation.
What you can do about it:
With deeper strategic questioning I have learned that consistently it comes down to self-trust. Many young athletes lose trust in their capabilities over time. Whether it is because the sport became more competitive, peers caught up in talent, or they are just in a slump. In this next section I will focus on strategies to help strengthen self-trust.
1. Provide evidence to yourself.
Prove that you are capable by remembering all of the things you’ve done well. You can do this by thinking about 1-3 proud moments after practices and games and recording those moments on a piece of paper - called the WELL. Then, when you need it the most, recall all those moments for a quick boost of confidence and pride.
2. Forgive, but don’t forget.
In order to regain self-trust, I have to credit a client of mine who said it best, “Forgive, but don’t forget.” What he is pointing out is that you must learn to forgive yourself by accepting mistakes and poor decisions, but you must also use those mistakes as fuel to learn and progress. Many athletes understand this concept, but they are not yet adept at forgiving. It’s as if one mistake becomes a representation of who they are as an athlete. Furthermore, the associative feelings of regret or guilt make it difficult to have a progressive mindset – leaving athletes stuck or in a rut.
3. Own who you are.
As a professional sport psychology consultant, I see this as a developmental conflict of identity. What are your traits as an athlete? What do you bring to the sport? To the team? In the years between 7-11 years old athletes will look to compare their capabilities with those around them and determine if they are ‘good’ (or ‘bad’). As they age though, they must learn that self-assessment can’t be so black and white - that we all bring something unique to the sport – or at least we bring it in our unique way.
For example, one player may be confident, technical, and creative while his peer is confident, technical, and aggressive. By maintaining a strong sense of self, athletes will be freed from thinking that each and every decision is a reflection of their capabilities. Subsequently, decisions will be made at a quicker pace and with more confidence.
In conclusion, a critical element of quick and effective decision-making is self-trust. Young athletes are naturally learning who they are as both performers and as people, which is why it is important that coaches and organizations value personal development equally – if not more – than performance development. In doing so, you will find that your players are more confident in their ability to perform and more assertive in the decisions they make.