Guest Blog: Instilling Confidence in Young Soccer Players

Guest Blog: Instilling Confidence in Young Soccer Players

Guest Blog

Soccer is a game played with the feet, but the brain is what controls and influences how the athlete thinks and plays.

Most coaches, when teaching and working with young soccer players, simply present drills and exercises that focus on improving the technical side of the game.

Which is good, but…

Young athletes’ brains are fragile, and not addressing the child/adolescent’s confidence can result in a negative association with the sport.

Why is confidence important for young soccer players?

As a young soccer player is developing their skills, many factors that can come in and slow down growth, or even prevent it. One of them is a lack of self-confidence.

 Here’s why instilling confidence is particularly crucial for young soccer players:

  • Foundation for future success
  • Skill development
  • Building mental toughness
  • Fostering a love for the game
  • Edge over competition

1) Foundation for future success

Confidence cultivated during adolescence forms the foundation for future success, both in soccer and in life. 

By instilling confidence early on, coaches can help young players build a strong sense of self-belief that will help the athlete in multiple aspects of their life: both on and off the field.

2) Skill development 

Young players are still in the process of learning key skills, refining their technique, and mastering the game.

Confidence is essential for encouraging players to push their limits and experiment with new techniques, ultimately enhancing their soccer skills. Without confidence, young players may shy away from challenges and become less willing to experiment, hindering their development.

3) Building mental toughness

Soccer is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. 

Developing mental toughness by being confident in both themselves and their abilities is crucial for young players to navigate the ups and downs of competitive sports. 

Confidence also helps them develop resilience, perseverance, and a positive mindset—skills that are important on and off the pitch.

4) Fostering a love for the game

Being confident while playing soccer makes the whole experience more enjoyable for the player. It creates a positive association with the sport, leading the athlete to remain engaged and passionate about playing soccer.

5) Edge over competition

As mentioned, soccer is as much a mental game as a physical one.

If a young player can become confident while playing, it can give them an edge over the competition. The best players in the world all have confidence in their abilities, and they learn at a young age.

Young soccer player dribbling ball

5 Tips for Boosting Confidence in Young Soccer Players

1) Promote mental toughness and resilience

Mental toughness is something every athlete should be equipped with, and the earlier they have developed that trait, the better. 

There are two ways to build mental toughness for young soccer players:


Teaching mindfulness 

Mindfulness is making the athlete become aware of their thought patterns. I.e., What do they think when they win? What about when they lose, or make a mistake?

Essentially, we want athletes to become aware of their thoughts, and more importantly, to know and understand that they control the voice in their head. Simple exercises like thought awareness or meditation are great ways to introduce this concept.


Overcoming adversity

When it comes to adversity, youth coach Ben Bergeron revealed that the more adversity a person overcomes, the easier they can handle future hardships.

For athletes, the worst thing that can happen is humiliation and losing. However, if the athlete learns that there are far worse things to go through, then handling these tough moments in sports might not impact their confidence as intensely.

Of course, proper guidance and reward is necessary from coaches. A good way to do this is to set up a challenging drill and let the athletes thrive. How challenging, of course, depends on their age. Remember, they still need to have fun to fully develop their game!

2) Replace criticism with support 

Young soccer players will inevitably go through a frustrating game/training, which will eventually put their self-confidence at risk.

Sometimes, as coaches or scouts, we need to

  • Let them voice their frustrations
  • Support their emotions
  • Show them the issue is not as bad as they think (which is rarely the case)


Support them, give them words of encouragement, and show them that whatever they are feeling is normal and valid. Even if their performance is bad, young athletes aren’t equipped to handle criticism, especially when they’re feeling down. 

Instead, listen to them. Their thought pattern is a goldmine for understanding how they see themselves and their sport.

Here’s a fun exercise. Help them evaluate their performance by asking them open-ended questions, such as:

  • “What went right?”
  • “Where can you improve?”
  • “Why did that particular action/sequence make you feel like this?”
  • “What will you do to improve now that you are aware?”

Manage expectations 

Most anxieties and fears come from expectations. Expectations of themselves, expectations from teammates, and expectations from us, the coaches. At this age, they want to be the best of the team, and they want to feel validated.

And these thoughts are valid. However, young athletes can sometimes place too much pressure and weight on themselves. Weight that is not at all necessary. 

Teach them what you expect from them so they have a clear goal that’s achievable every time. Tell them what you want them to do, how they can help the team, and how to play better. 

The key? Be clear. 

For example, Timmy is scared to touch the ball to make a mistake. The solution? Tell him that he can make as many mistakes as he wants, but you want him to complete at least one pass. 

This is an exaggerated example, but the idea is to show Timmy that making a mistake is not the problem. Instead, Timmy should try not to focus on the negative (bad passing), and instead focus on the end goal (making one pass).

Also, don’t forget to manage their self-expectations, which is also something that plays with their confidence. Many parents report their kids performing well in training but shying away during a game. This is because they expect too much of themselves, and they think everybody (coaches included), expects the world from them.

A good way to mitigate this problem is to reward effort at all times. Effort is easy, and it is controllable. Performance? Not so much. Make them value what they can control!

4. Praise efforts

This goes hand in hand with the last point. When you manage young athletes expectations and they achieve what you expect of them, be there to praise them. Remember, young athletes seek validation.

Boosting confidence is accumulated through the a sense of accomplishment. And what better way than to tell them they have accomplished something well? Even if they don’t achieve the desired outcome, praise their efforts. I mentioned efforts being the value coaches should work with.

This is how young athletes still feel like winners. Confidence shouldn’t depend on external sources, but rather on internal sources (such as their effort and mindset).

5. Lead by Example

Finally, lead by example. This is an overlooked point when trying to instil confidence in young athletes.

Working with young athletes is hard, and sometimes stressful. They are in constant need of validation. Moreover, they always look up to the coach.

This is where your attitude, allure, and aura matter.

Display confidence in how you talk, how you coach, and how you handle challenges. Kids learn from you and your behavior. If you show signs of uncertainty and nervousness, they will sense this and it will further impact their confidence. 

How can we expect kids to be confident if their leader isn’t? Be mindful of how you present yourself. Your confidence and attitude are contagious. 

Conclusion

Working with young soccer athletes can be challenging. They are still learning and growing, and they need extra care and attention.

By promoting mental toughness, supporting them, managing their outer and inner expectations, praising them when things go right, and leading by example, you ensure they are on the right path to better self-esteem.

Remember, at this age, we are not just coaching, but we are teaching and inspiring as well.

About the Author

Ray is a football/soccer player and content creator helping players and coaches excel in football through insights into the game. In other words, he’s the person you reach out to when having difficulties performing, managing a group of players, or getting their mentality in check. He helps them by providing truthful information about all aspects of the game. 

As a footballer who has been training for 15 years and playing in Europe, currently a player in Croatia, and has experience in coaching and refereeing, he’s determined to build the biggest soccer community in the world.

You can check out more details by visiting Ray’s Lifestyle Field.

Danielle Stringer

Danielle is a dynamic content marketer with a unique blend of creativity and analytical expertise. She is driven by her passion for helping companies scale through lead generation, always finding distinctive ways to connect with her audience. Drawing from her extensive background in B2B SaaS, she is thrilled to apply her skills and knowledge in her current role at SkillShark Software Inc.