By Greg Bach
Like many young athletes these days, Heather Monahan navigated the early years of her journey through softball with shaky confidence.
“I can remember a game I was pitching when my father was my coach,” Monahan says. “I was waving him out to the field to tell him that I was sick, when I really wasn’t, because I was upside down in the count and the pressure and anxiety I was causing myself was massive.”
But fast forward to her high school years where, armed with a new outlook, her confidence soared and her performances flourished.
“It was the simplicity of a mindset shift,” she explains. “I could have three balls and no strikes on someone and I would be thinking, ‘I’ve got such an amazing opportunity right now to strike this batter out.’ I would just see that there was such potential for me to throw three strikes in a row that it was irrelevant if I had thrown three balls first – it didn’t really matter because I still had that next pitch to throw. It was just choosing to see it from an opportunity standpoint instead of as if I was destined to fail. I just chose to see it differently.”
Monahan is the best-selling author of the Confidence Creator, which features her personal stories blended with insights and tactics she has developed to help anyone create confidence in their life. She works with Fortune 500 companies and professional sports teams to develop confidence in the workplace and on the court; and is a frequent keynote speaker nationwide. She also offers a free e-book: 30 Days to a More Confident You.
“I hear from parents all the time that tell me they don’t know why their child is not confident,” she says. “For parents, it starts with them. They need to look in the mirror and see how they are managing their life and their challenges. Children are going to emulate us, so first and foremost parents need to work on their own confidence.”
We caught up with Monahan after recently returning from a speaking engagement at Harvard University. Use her tips and insights to help young athletes in your home or on your teams become more confident on the field, and in life.
SHARPIE ON THE SHOES
Young athletes can grab ownership of their confidence by writing positive messages to themselves that can appear anywhere.
Monahan’s son Dylan came up to her one day armed with a Sharpie, his basketball shoes, and a request for her to write the message YOU CAN DO ALL THINGS on his shoes.
“He explained to me that at the beginning of the game he’ll go in with a great attitude and be feeling good, but if he has a tough quarter he’s got to be able to go back to the bench before the second quarter starts and look down at his shoe and remember that he can do all things,” Monahan said. “So, in moments when he’s feeling less confident, he leaves himself reminders because we all know there are going to be moments where the confidence dips and you can be part of your own rescue.”
THE POWER OF PLAYLISTS
We see it all the time on television: professional and collegiate athletes wearing headphones and listening to music before games.
For many, it gets them focused, relaxed and ready to compete.
And having a go-to playlist can work for you, or your young athletes, too.
“I have a really powerful playlist,” Monahan says. “I have been doing it with the same songs for two years and what happens is I legitimately get in my zone. I have two years of experience behind me with that playlist that tells me I am going to kill it. I have so much tangible evidence that it’s almost impossible for me not to think I’m going to kill it. So it’s training and disciplining ourselves to create those habits that really drive you and propel you to success.”
IT’S AN EVERY DAY PROCESS
Building confidence requires sustained effort. Coaches and parents must make it a focal point with their young athletes on a consistent basis, not at random points in the season.
“You can’t go to the gym one day and decide you are going to be fit for life,” Monahan says. “It doesn’t work that way. So why would it be any different with confidence? In any moment you are either creating confidence or you are chipping away at it. And when you look at the simplicity of that it makes choices much easier. I’m either creating confidence right now or I’m chipping away at it. Which one do I want to do?”
Parents can kick the day off right by igniting conversations that force children to think in a positive manner, which leads to a more confident mindset.
“The first thing I do is I ask my son, ‘What are three things we are grateful for today?’” Monahan says. “And he’ll tell me, ‘I’m grateful I have practice today; I’m grateful that I’m sitting here with you right now; and I’m grateful for 3 o’clock when school gets out.’ It can be just that simple, but just that practice of being in the habit of it.”
CREATING A VISION
All young athletes will encounter nerves, and fear failing, at some point. It’s no different than facing a tough test that a child is dreading.
But through visualization, kids can become focused, energized and ready to grab success when parents or coaches help them paint those positive pictures in their minds.
“I’ll say to my son, ‘Let’s visualize you doing amazing on the test. Tell me what that looks like,’” Monahan says. “So he’ll start creating a vision of himself doing exceptionally well at it and describing it to me in detail, and he’s seeing it in his mind and the reality is what you can see and create in your mind you can bring to life. And once you believe that’s possible then it’s probable. So, I really work with him in just simple, conversational ways on creating that vision of what he wants.”
Natasha Hastings, winner of two Olympic gold medals and advocate for youth, on navigating nerves, being focused, and competing with confidence
Dr. Lyle Cain, renowned orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, on what parents and coaches need to know to help protect young athletes
World champion sprinter Murielle Ahouré, a UNICEF Champion for children’s rights, on the power of visualization for performing well under pressure
Molly Sullivan, sports broadcaster and former collegiate swimmer, shares what she learned on her journey through youth sports all the way to the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials