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Super Bowl champion on teaching young athletes to embrace I CAN

Super Bowl champion on teaching young athletes to embrace I CAN


By Greg Bach

During Ryan Harris’ 10-year NFL career – punctuated with a Super Bowl title with the Denver Broncos in 2016 – he faced some of the game’s most ferocious pass rushers.

And there was no time for wavering confidence or self-doubt when he took the field.

“I’ve been Von Miller’s teammate, and I’ve gone against him when I played for the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans,” says Harris, an offensive tackle who played collegiately at Notre Dame. “And when it’s third and nine if you don’t believe you can block Von Miller you’re going to have a bad play.”

That belief in one’s ability is something he encourages today’s youth sports coaches to dial up and emphasize with their young athletes. After all, confidence is fleeting with kids, and can often evaporate within seconds of a bad play or mistake.

“My encouragement to all coaches of young players is to teach your players to use the words ‘I can,’” he says.

When young players latch onto that mindset – and shove the previous poor play to the fringes of their memory – they are better positioned to execute at a high level.

And feel good about their contribution to the team.

But it all starts with the coach.

“You’ve got to be positive,” Harris says of coaches. “Especially with young players, work with them on what they can do and build that confidence. As adults we forget that high school is tough and that junior high is tough. Sports can be a reprieve. For me it was the only place where I had value. So anytime a coach said something positive to me it was like hitting triple 7s. It brought so much self-worth.”

Think about those words for a moment.

If a successful NFL player – one with a Super Bowl ring – can recall with such clarity those positive words of encouragement he received from his coaches growing up, consider how influential your words can be with your team.

And what a difference maker you can be in a young person’s life.

“I was on a variety of teams and the coaches who coached with negativity rarely produced the best talent,” Harris says. “Coaches must remember that their job, especially with young players, is to develop them by building their confidence, encouraging them to take risks and helping them look at what they can do versus trying to ridicule mistakes and embarrass young players.”


Harris is a frequent speaker to a variety of groups, and his message resonates. As the author of the recently released Mindset for Mastery: An NFL Champion’s Guide to Reaching Your Greatness, he knows how valuable a confident mindset is for performing at optimal levels.

“You choose your mindset every day,” Harris says.

He discovered the power of a positive mindset – I Am, I Can, I Will – during his days at Notre Dame. He was losing one-on-one battles with an upperclassman during practice and he adjusted his mental approach.

And soon discovered a lot of success.

“I just had to tell myself ‘I am a college football player; I am here at Notre Dame; I can learn to play football; I can win this next drill; and I will focus on this one drill,’” he explained. “I thought about it, I worked my footwork before practice, I focused on it and I went out and I did it. And I used it again when I got to the NFL.”

It’s a mindset that helped carve out a successful NFL career, and an equally successful post-NFL career since retiring a couple seasons ago.

And it can work with young athletes, too.

“The best coaches always encouraged me,” Harris says. “They built my confidence and taught me technique, and told me to rely on that technique. And I think that’s what great coaches do – it’s all about building confidence, encouraging risk taking and giving the kids the techniques to succeed.”

Ryan Harris Coaching Football Confidence Mindset Encouragement

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