It may come as a shock for some of you who know me, but I have not always been a confident person. I went through the dreaded “preteen girl phase,” where I struggled to embrace my crooked teeth, oversized pink glasses and a haircut that was identical to my mother’s. When we got to the age where cheerleading was everything at our school, I was one of the few of my friends who opted to play what I called “real sports.”
In other words, I never felt that I fit in with that “pretty girl” crowd. And at the age of 12, fitting in is HUGE.
That sentiment persisted through high school and continued into my college years when I joined a sorority. Outward appearance and the latest styles (somehow, on a college budget) were important it seemed, to most everyone but me. I felt like I was constantly being forced to play “dress up.” Many of the friends I made were and are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside, but I can’t deny that the experience made me waste a lot of time and energy trying to be someone I was not.
Currently, I have two amazing opportunities to use sports and the lessons learned in these sports to leave a positive influence on children. As director of Soccer Shots Harrisburg/York, I teach mostly preschoolers. I wanted to reflect on the importance of instilling confidence in our kids because it’s the character trait we focused on at many of my sites in the past week. Rewarding a child’s every accomplishment is massively important at this age in order to increase a child’s confidence. With a curriculum that focuses on fun over competition, Soccer Shots instructors and parents are never without an opportunity to praise and reward the children whose little minds they are shaping.
I’ve read that at preschool age, it takes six positive reinforcements to erase every ONE negative statement. This is just how important it is for us as parents and coaches to encourage our kids constantly in these early years.
However, it can’t stop there. In my role as director of Capital Area Girls on the Run, I also work with girls who are primarily in grades 3 through 5. At that age, they still possess that innocence that allows them to laugh at me when I’m silly or celebrate an achievement without any self-doubt. However, in just a few years time, that could change if they are not given the tools they need to overcome a lack of confidence. Without self-esteem, or the ability to say, “I love who I am and I’m okay with the decisions I make,” the media messages, peer pressure and bullying young girls face have an enlarged negative impact. When a girl cannot accept herself, she is then more inclined to do anything to gain acceptance from her peers. That could mean engaging in risky behavior, substance abuse or development of an eating disorder. All a result, in huge part, of lacking the confidence to say, “That’s not who I am and I’m okay with choosing NOT to do that.”
When I seriously took up running after grad school is when that confidence in myself, not just in my abilities, truly hit me. On a run, my mind is typically blank, save a few thoughts that pop in every few minutes. I can’t say the exact moment or location I realized it, but I remember thinking, “THIS is who I am and I love it! It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks.” Since that point, I can honestly say that I’ve had the confidence to try to live my life to impress no one but myself.
So why am I divulging all of this?
As parents and instructors, I believe it is our responsibility to create and encourage confidence-induced realizations like this for our kids each and every day.
Celebrating the scoring of a goal into an empty net from two feet away may seem trivial. Just keep in mind that the confidence it will give your child will erase any self-doubt that may come along with trying again, eliminate the fear of tackling a bigger goal and/or encourage them to celebrate their talents and achievements. All of which, evident now or not, have far-reaching implications for many years to come.