Real confidence vs fake “self-esteem” – How to build confidence in athletes


How can you help build confidence in a baseball player?

“Participation trophies produce stronger, more confident kids.”

At least, that’s what pop psychology told us a few years ago, when everyone was rushing to offer participation trophies for EVERYTHING in an effort to help kids boost their self esteem. To make them feel better about themselves.

But does it work?

I would like to submit that the answer is NO.

Maybe you’ve had an experience like this one.

Recently, my 8 year old daughter participated in a school chess tournament.

It was a long day, with several hard-fought matches. In the end, she fell out of trophy contention in the final moments of the final match of the day.

My daughter took the loss hard. As she sat through the awards ceremony, she was on the verge of tears the whole time. As a father, it was very difficult to watch her struggle with the devastation.

So, good thing there was still a participation ribbon… right?


She threw that thing in the trash first chance she got!

She knew she hadn’t earned an award, and she wasn’t interested in pretending. Rather, she came home determined to work hard, get better, and bring home a REAL trophy the next time… one she actually EARNED.

And in that moment, when I saw the determination in her eyes to keep working to get better, I was so proud of her.

I have no doubt that soon she’ll experience the glow and feeling of triumph that comes from working through a problem and actually finding victory on the other side.

How to building confidence in young athletes and baseball players

Real confidence is hard won. There are no short cuts.

It’s about facing a challenge and overcoming it.

That’s why the key to helping kids develop REAL confidence is this:

Present them with situations that are challenging without being crushing.

And then give them the tools and encouragement they need to overcome those challenges and experience success.

How to develop confidence in youth athletes and baseball players

This is exactly why baseball is such an incredible opportunity to build the kind of confidence in kids that leads to more life success.

The kind of confidence I’m talking has a fancy name… it’s called “self efficacy”… and according to one clinical psychologist, here’s why it matters…

“Unlike self-esteem, self-efficacy isn’t about a sense of self-worth; it’s about believing you are capable of producing a desired result – that you can achieve your goals.”

For instance, people high in self-efficacy take better care of themselves, see tasks as something to be mastered, and they feel more empowered.

They’re not controlled by circumstances.

They see setbacks as challenges to be overcome and can cope with hardship better than those with low self-efficacy.

They learn from failure and channel it into success, like Thomas Jefferson, Walt Disney and J.K Rowling.

People higher in self-efficacy also have a greater sense of motivation and persistence.

Self-efficacy affects how we feel, think and act, and low self-efficacy has been linked to helplessness, anxiety and depression.

Fortunately, whether your current level is average, ample or absent, much like physical attributes, self-efficacy can be enhanced.” (Source)

So how can your baseball player build this kind of confidence and belief in their own ability to overcome obstacles?

According to world famous psychologist Albert Bandura, there are 4 ways to increase self-efficacy.

1. Performance Accomplishments (i.e. Past successes)

“Self-efficacy is developed, in part, through success – and even small achievements can pack a powerful punch.

Previous successes raise mastery expectations, while repeated failures lower them.

Here’s a practical strategy… Pick one small change you’d like to make and go for it. Then pick another small change. Then another. Reflect on each success before moving on to your next small goal. Like any other change, enhancing self-efficacy is best achieved one step at a time. ”

2. Seeing others like yourself succeed – “If they can do it, then I can do it too!”

This is one of the reasons why a team environment can be so powerful when compared to an individual setting. You see your teammates working hard and accomplishing their goals, it makes you feel like it’s possible for you to do the same.

(This is also why in my infield and hitting programs, I make sure to tell players how average I was in high school. I was the scrawny son of a 5’10” engineer.

Sure, I was a good baseball player, on a good team, but not good enough for any serious scholarship offers.

I never would have earned a full ride to college or made it to the Major Leagues if somebody hadn’t intervened in a major way. When I learned infield defense from a former Major Leaguer as a Junior in high school literally put me on a different life path. But here’s the point… it’s the knowledge that I was no different from so many talented kids around the country that I want to get across. If I could see such massive improvement in my own defensive skills, to the point where it opened doors for my future…

…and kids see and understand that an Average Joe like me could do that…

…my hope is that helps players develop that fighting spirit “If he can do it, then so can I!”

3. Verbal encouragement – This is one of the many reasons why a great coach can make such a difference in someone’s life.

Consider a time when someone said something positive and encouraging that helped you achieve a goal. Getting verbal encouragement from others helps people overcome self-doubt and instead focus on giving their best effort to the task at hand.

A good coach can help players by…

  • Drawing attention to successes, no matter how small.
  • Helping players put “failure” into perspective… it’s not the end of the road, just a speed bump.
  • Outlining practical strategies for improvement that lend itself to incremental victories… many small successes that eventually accumulate over time to become big change.
  • Providing knowledgeable instruction. In a sport like baseball, teaching fundamentals is a critical for players to achieve those small victories.

“Whether you think that you can or you can't, you're usually right.” - Henry Ford

4. Learning to deal with negative emotions

We all experience moments of stress, doubt about our abilities, and failure. The problem is…

…until we learn otherwise, our emotions tend to call the shots.

You’ve probably seen this happen in your own kids… If something feels scary or stressful, kids will often make the leap to “It’s impossible.”

In reality, we all have to learn to face our fears and work through challenges. The obstacles that seem so daunting have the potential to be our greatest victories (This is topic is a big deal, so I’ll go more into it in a future email).

Phew. Today was a long one! Here’s the quote that people usually use to summarize the truth about this topic.

“Whether you think that you can or you can’t, you’re usually right.” – Henry Ford

Stay healthy,


PS. Don’t let cancelled games and “social distancing” keep you from becoming a better baseball player. Check out my online program for infielders and show up to your next games with a whole new set of defensive skills

About Author

Avatar für Doug Bernier

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 5 organizations (CO Rockies, NY Yankees, PIT Pirates, MN Twins, & TX Rangers) over the past 16 years. He has Major League time at every infield position, and has played every position on the field professionally except for catcher. (You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier) Where is he now? After 16 years of playing professionally, Doug retired and took a position as a Major League scout with the Colorado Rockies for 2 years. Currently Doug is the Data and Game Planning Coordinator with the Colorado Rockies


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