I’m so excited and extremely hopeful, I think I’m going to burst! My 6th grade girls basketball team is readying themselves for their Big Dance this weekend in Wausau, WI – the Wisconsin State Invitational Tournament. We are putting final touches on our offensive plays, making their motion offense seamless, their defense unstoppable, and packing up our sneakers, shiny uniforms and…well…hopefully, our Confidence…
That’s where as a coach I’ve seen my players struggle the most over the years: their Confidence level.
Late this season, at one of our weekend tourneys, one of my post players, Special K, was beaten twice down the court against a local team. Her shot was deflected on offense and a guard dribbled past her for two points on defense. The next trip up the court, she drove hard to the hoop, only to stumble and fall on her left knee, and as she was sweeping the ball away from her defender, another stepped up behind her and ripped the ball away from above her head while she was still down. That was her breaking point.
Tears flowed down her red face as she hustled back on defense and our coaches called a time out.
We tried to console her and infuse her with confidence, but when she sat down and looked up at me with tear filled eyes, she made the most peculiar statement.
“I’m ten steps farther away from everyone else,” she announced defeatedly.
“I don’t understand,” I said confused, trying to remember – was she too far from the hoop? Was she in the wrong position defensively?
“What do you mean, Special K?”
“I’m ten steps farther away from perfection than everyone else.”
My heart sank, and my skin went cold. “No, Special K. That’s not true at all. You are nothing less than great. And don’t you think anything different,” I said, upset at the thought of what could have molded this thinking of hers.
As I look back on that time-out, honestly, we were both right. Special K wasn’t perfect that day. But who is? Special K was not where she wanted to be as an athlete, but who is?
Even though Special K isn’t perfect, she has so many wonderful qualities to be proud of:
She’s passionate about the game, strives for excellence, and never gives up.
She pushes herself to be the best. And though she may not be the top forward in the league (yet), she’s constantly improving.
She’s beginning to utilize her post moves more regularly.
She has one of the best shots from the corner of the free throw line I’ve ever seen. Her smooth touch makes it looks effortless.
We can be confident that almost every time Special K shoots, we’re guaranteed a bucket.
So why was she so hard on herself? Why did her confidence level drop when she had so much to be proud of? Simply put – an improper processing of personal criticism.
Special K’s confidence is directly tied to criticism she gets from me and from herself. How I share criticism and how she internalizes it both need to be mastered, because both external and internal criticism affects her self-perception and ultimately impacts her confidence level.
It is my job as a coach to seriously examine and judge the performance of my players, and expressly point out their faults or shortcomings. If I do this properly and systematically with my athletes (with timing, tone of voice, and correct usage of words), it helps restore them to a good condition and gives them the tools to improve beyond their present state. It’s constructive criticism. But, if I share criticism inappropriately, I can do great damage. It’s a skill that needs developing (future article).
Ultimately, how we receive criticism is, by far, something to be mastered first. We can’t always control how others interact with us, but we can control what we know to be true about ourselves. When we process personal criticism inappropriately – constructive criticism or even positive feedback – it can be extremely damaging to our confidence level: we break down, our self-perception becomes flawed, our performance plummets, and we never reach our goals.
Special K’s breakdown occurred because she didn’t understand the truth behind the situation she found herself in. She exaggerated the blunders in the game, projected it onto the rest of her abilities, discounted all her accomplishments to date, and didn’t give herself any grace.
But honestly, I’m just as guilty. I can relate with my players to a “T”.
I don’t always handle criticism well, and over the years, I’ve needlessly let it hamper my Confidence level. Like Special K, I want to be the best too: at coaching, teaching, speaking, writing, my job. So I ask others to share areas I need improvement, but boy, when the words hit my ears, and I hear, “Lisa, you need to watch your actions and your tone of voice. Lisa, you need to slow down. Lisa, you need to keep your pride in check. Lisa, you are taking on too much. Lisa, you’re Bible lesson wasn’t very effective. Lisa, you are confused. Lisa, this is what you are doing well, BUT…Lisa, Lisa, Lisa,” my heart stops, my stomach drops, and my confidence is crushed.
With each word, with each correction, it feels like another reminder that I’m just not good enough; I’m just not there yet. And yes, that is a hard pill to swallow.
What’s worse, I let the dreaded “avalanche” happen. I let what are minor suggestions snowball into a personal attack on everything I have done. A personal attack that isn’t from others but from my own self. Before I know it, there is an all out mental battle between the truth of a situation and the lies my mind magically conjures up. It’s the only magic I’ve ever been good at! Before I know it, my reality becomes blurred and my mind is echoing, “I’m the worst person in the world. I can’t do anything. My athletes would be better off without me”, and even I want to throw in the towel and call it quits.
But here’s the Truth I need reminding of every day:
CONFIDENCE ˈkän-fə-dən(t)s, -ˌden(t)s
Is knowing myself fully well
Is about realizing my strengths and accepting and improving on my weaknesses
Is being certain about the truth and knowing who and what I can rely on
For me, I’m confident in myself, our coaching crew, and our athletes. I know what we are all capable of today. I know it’s not about whose the best, it’s about whose done their homework. We’ve practiced to improve, we’ve studied the game, we’ve put our time in on and off the court, we’ve worked so hard until there’s just no more time and no more energy left in the day to squeeze one more shot off or add one more “if” play. I’m confident that we can pack up our Confidence, bring it on the court, and let the chips fall where they may.
Although I cannot be 100% confident of what the outcome of our games will be, I do know this full well, the one outcome I am 100% confident in is this – that when I walk off my earthly court and onto my Heavenly one, because of Christ and my faith in him, I can come boldly and confidently into God’s presence (Ephesians 3:12). Christ is the one person and one court I can always place all of my confidence in.
Because of this, I can sleep well tonight, and look forward to the wonderful moments our team will experience this weekend.
I pray that God will give me the skills to effectively make my girls aware of how wonderful they truly are, so that when my athletes come home, they will be able to say they had the best time of their lives, and unpack even more Confidence than they started with this season.