By Greg Bach
The pursuit of confidence can be mighty tricky – and often elusive – for young athletes.
And competing without this all-important asset can sabotage performances and deny kids opportunities to reach their full potential.
“Confidence takes work,” says Christen Shefchunas, author of the new book 30 DAYS TO CONFIDENT: A 30 Day Confidence Challenge for Female Athletes. “It doesn’t just fall into your lap one day.”
A former Division One head swimming coach and current professional confidence coach – Shefchunas works with athletes ranging from Olympians and world champions to collegians and high schoolers – she has witnessed too many athletes derailed by their struggles with confidence.
And unable to perform at their best because of it.
“My challenge for people through this book is to get to the root of the problem so we can actually fix it instead of putting little Band-Aids on it,” she says.
READING, REFLECTING, PROGRESSING
Her book features a variety of powerful short stories and lessons: females read one a day for 30 days. And challenging questions await at the end of each day’s material along with room in the book to compose responses (or readers can utilize a separate journal for their writing).
“I like to call that space truth paper,” Shefchunas says. “And only 100 percent truth is written on it. I believe confidence always revolves around truths, so there is no faking it and no sugar coating. So the goal is to spend 15 to 20 minutes a day for 30 days. I plant the seed with the lesson, and they water it with doing the challenging questions.”
Among the subjects the book explores are comparison, perfectionism, body image, and fears, all issues that impact young female athletes these days on their athletic journeys.
One of the important messages stressed in the book is that all athletes at all levels face fears – no matter the sport.
“Everyone experiences fear,” she says. “But everyone also thinks that they’re the only one experiencing fear and then we start to wonder what’s wrong with me? Am I weak? What’s wrong with me that I’m afraid? It’s 100 percent normal – even the women that are the best in the world struggle with fear and doubts, too.”
So it’s all about helping athletes accept those fears and doubts when they appear, and handle them so they don’t interfere with their ability to perform at their best.
“I don’t think it’s getting to a point of fearless,” Shefchunas says. “It’s learning how to handle those fears and doubts when they come and then moving on. It’s our responsibility to create a life where that confidence can thrive.”
COACHING CORNER: THE VALUE OF VALIDATING
One of the many valuable ways coaches can change the trajectory of young athletes’ lives is empowering them to build and solidify their confidence that will hold up during athletic activities.
And in daily life, too.
“I’m such a big believer that we are in dangerous territory when we think we can get our confidence from someone else,” Shefchunas says. “I’m such a big believer that the only person who can build your confidence is you. So as a coach it’s teaching kids ‘hey, you need to build your own confidence; your confidence is your responsibility, it’s not mine. I will validate you; I will let you know when you do things well, but it is your job to give yourself credit and build your confidence,’ which obviously goes well beyond sport.”
So during practices, it’s paramount that coaches aren’t just focusing on correcting mistakes, but recognizing when athletes are performing skills correctly, too.
And letting them hear about it.
Because those nuggets of praise kids will grab, tuck away, and utilize as they begin building their confidence.
“A lot of times we’re only focused in on what we’re doing wrong in practice and we’re not giving ourselves credit for what we’re doing right,” she says. “So for coaches it’s really making sure that your kids are learning how to validate themselves; and making sure that you are teaching your kids to give themselves credit; and paying attention to the good stuff they’re doing. There’s no doubt that you need to address the wrong stuff so you can help them get better, but not to the detriment of never paying attention to anything good that is done in practice.”
HAZZARDS OF SOCIAL MEDIA
The social media landscape – overflowing with images and messages – is incredibly treacherous territory for young athletes to navigate.
And they’re always just a click away from seeing or reading something that pierces their confidence or puts a chink in their self-esteem.
“It’s a comparison trap,” Shefchunas says. “I talk about that in my book because I think that it’s so important. An athlete will say ‘yes, I did good, but she did better; yeah, I was pretty fast but did you see how fast she went?’ We rarely give ourselves credit, and we’re always feeling that something is wrong with us even though with social media 90 percent of it is fake and we’re comparing ourselves to an unrealistic standard.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Most young athletes will never stand on an Olympic podium with a medal draped around their neck, but they can have enjoyable sports experiences and lead productive lives when they are armed with confidence.
And that is the mission that Shefchunas is so passionate about.
“Yes, I want them to succeed in sports, but it goes so far beyond that,” she says. “Having confidence touches every part of their future – it’s just so much bigger than sport.”
30 DAYS TO CONFIDENT provides a great opportunity for teams to use. If you are interested in a bulk order and setting up a unique experience with Coach Christen and your team, contact Publishing@cgsportsmanagement.com.
You can follow Christen Shefchunas on Instagram and Twitter.
Orlando Pride midfielder Chelsee Washington, founder of 90/10 Performance Co., on helping young players manage mindsets and build confidence from within to perform at their best
Erica Suter, former soccer standout at Johns Hopkins University and author of THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE, on helping female athletes enhance confidence, reduce injuries, and boost performance
Former NFL safety Dr. Myron Rolle, author of The 2% Way, shares the mindset that he uses every day to keep moving forward and how young athletes can benefit from it on their journeys, too
Dr. Julie Stamm, a leading neuroscientist and author of THE BRAIN ON YOUTH SPORTS, shares important research and insights on repetitive head trauma and the long-term impact on young athletes’ brain