I often talk with my team about the importance of self evaluation, but for the most part I focus it on the dynamics of their play. Evaluate your pass, your shift your game or your practice and dissect it to continue to improve. The importance of self evaluation in our interactions as coaches, friends, spouses, work or classmates and yes, teammates is often overlooked and yet is far more important than our technical prowess. Recently an interaction with a close friend reminded me of the importance of being a good teammate and how it can determine a team's effectiveness.
My friend and I are both coaches and still see ourselves as athletes as well, and as such, athletics is usually at the center of our discussions. My friend called me recently to convey that he was upset with a performance he recently had. He had been asked to play in a tournament with a team that is new to him and was excited at the opportunity. Early in the game he made an errant pass that was picked off, a common occurrence in the game, and one where the perpetrator is always aware they screwed up. My friend was very aware that he did not make a good play and was down on himself to begin with, but unfortunately a linemate was there to also jump on him about the play. This is not a unique situation, it occurs in sporting environments all over the world constantly. As a coach I struggle with not correcting the player when they make obvious mistakes, I know they are aware of them and the best course of action is to tell them to shake it off and work hard to make up for it. Occasionally I take the wrong approach and that is where that self evaluation comes in and you try to be better next time, and you make sure you are real positive with that kid in the next interaction or sometimes when warranted you apologize.
Back to the story as that was not the end. My friend shared with me that he allowed that comment to erode his confidence, the remainder of the game he gripped his stick and played very safe hockey. He felt had he been his normal confident self he would have contributed far more. This I have to admit shocked me. My friend is a very accomplished athlete having played at the professional level, a level 4 coach (as high as it gets) and a professional educator. On top of that he is an adult and a heck of a hockey player. For him to tell me that a single negative interaction with a teammate eroded his confidence was very impactful to me as I realized how devastating it must be to the youth that we coach. Now, my friend has the tools to identify where he went wrong and how he could correct it and did so for the next game. Youth do not always have those skills so this is where the education portion of the article comes in.
First and foremost an athlete needs to come to terms with the fact that confidence is the most important tool an athlete can have. Ken Hitchcock recently reflected in an interview that he works hard at creating a cohesive, positive team atmosphere far more than he worries about x's and o's. He feels his best performing teams were those where all of the guy's shared a special bond and a common goal. We all know how well we play when we believe we can play well, and most of us are aware of how poorly we can play when we don't feel good about our game. For those of us with shaky confidence the first couple shifts are critical. One bad or good play can set the tone for the rest of our game.
So we all agree that confidence is important, now who gives us our confidence? Is it genetic or does it come in the mail? I think we all agree it is based on our interactions to date, our success' and failures and how we dealt with them. Over many years we develop a base for our confidence that withstands small attacks and rebuilds quickly. As adults we tend to surround ourselves with people that are honest and up front with us, but in a positive manner. Unless we coach or parent we don't give confidence much thought, we have it in some situations and don't in others so we usually avoid those situations that we are not confident in. But we also at times are thrust into situations where their are individuals or circumstances that could affect our confidence.
The single most important aspect of confidence to be aware of is that you are the one in control of it. Nobody can erode your confidence unless you allow them to do it. That was the mechanism that my friend utilized to quickly get by his lapse. He understood that he allowed that comment to get to him, he allowed someone else's talk have more weight than his own self talk. When he reflected on it, he realized that individual's response spoke to their issues, and how they need to be better with their self reflections to realize their not doing their team any good. I frequently tell my players that they need to be positive with each other, as people perform better when they feel better about their contributions. If you want your line to perform well fight to ensure your group is working hard at supporting each other. Players with no self confidence will not perform well and that will not do your line or your team any good. Protect your environment, speak up when someone is being unduly negative with a teammate, but be careful not to attack them in the process.
Understanding the importance of confidence, sport psychologists tell us to reflect on our accomplishments and use lots of positive self talk to make your confidence more resilient to the attacks it will unfortunately inevitably take. So I ask you, ARE YOU A GOOD TEAMMATE?