Working with young athletes for over 20 years now, I have seen my fair share of how self-doubt can cripple even the best of athletes. Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with athletes, in all sports, that no matter how talented, no matter how successful they are, I have seen several go through the struggle of self-doubt in their moments of impact. I have watched self-doubt keep young athletes time and time again, from reaching their peak performance and even make them scared to step up and make certain plays or impact during competition.
I can remember one instance where I had been working to get a young athlete to be more aggressive offensively in the sport of basketball. All the tools were there, he was athletic, strong and confident in most areas of his game, however when it came to show that confidence on the offensive end of the floor, he just went away. He doubted himself on that end of the floor and instead of looking to score the ball and create for his teammates effectively, he was very passive, he didn’t feel comfortable being aggressive and with the self-doubt and his belief that it wasn’t his role to do so, he became ineffective offensively, which ultimately was not only penalizing himself, but his team as well.
He was frustrated, his parents and coaches were frustrated. Here was a young athlete with all the potential in the world to help his team and reach his peak performance capabilities yet the issue of self-doubt just kept creeping back up, holding him down.
The solution for a lot of coaches and parents, and even the athlete, is to just talk their way out of self-doubt. You often hear coaches from the sideline and in practice say things like, “play with confidence”, “believe in yourself”, and more. You may even parents and coaches asking questions to the athlete such as, “why don’t you play with more confidence?”, “What are you scared of?” and things like that. With good intentions of course, these statements and questions are often put out there, however there is nothing being accomplished by this and if anything, it is deepening the problem and making the athlete even question themselves more.
Believe me, the athlete knows it’s a problem, they are very aware of it, as this young athlete was. The more he heard people make statements about it, the more he thought about it and the more it strengthened his self-doubt. It added pressure to perform offensively, more than the pressure he already felt, and if he failed or made a mistake it would completely take him out of the game. Not only was he fighting his own self-doubt out there, but now he was fighting expectations to get over this self-doubt from coaches, parents and teammates.
As I sat with him to tackle this problem, we had to find a new way of thinking. He mentioned what it was that caused this self-doubt. Even though he was young he was recalling things in his young career of why he felt this way and reinforced it with examples dating years prior. The brain captures a lot of meaning and perceptions through adolescence and in this case most of what he had captured led to self-doubt on the offensive end of the basketball court.
In discovering the issue and how deep it ran; we needed a solution to make a change and make it quick. So, we built a better version of him that he would take on the court from this moment forward. We looked closely at what the negative attributes he was bring every time he stepped into competition and we quickly realized that those beliefs and that self-doubt were actually all in his head, that he did not form those thoughts, feelings and ideas, they were actually just how he perceived them and we made sure he now knew that he controls the beliefs he has in himself and those perceptions he once had, do not control him.
When I mentioned building a better version of himself, that is exactly what we did. As a matter of fact, we created an entirely different identity for him, in basketball, that he would now take onto the floor. We went through the process of understanding and eliminating the self-doubt and created a character, made of the traits from others he admired like professional athletes, super heroes, family members, animals and other things he looked up to or held in high regard, and that’s who was going to show up on the court from this point forward.
Sure enough, his game on the court change dramatically. This new character, or alter ego, we built was given a name and an identity that will always be true to just him. I showed him how to activate this character right before he steps on the court and that is who now shows up and competes. It led to him more then doubling his scoring average and assists and has given him the kind of confidence to continue to grow, improve and even try new things to put into his offensive game.
This is exactly why I do what I do and absolutely love it. It didn’t take years of discovery or massive amounts of therapy, it took a simple idea, implemented the right way and used to create a quick, meaningful response, which it did and still is paying dividends today. The process is fun, it is something young athletes already do, but when given the tools on how to create our athletic alter ego and how to properly activate it, great things usually happen shortly after!