How to Teach Our Daughters to Tap Into Their Confidence & Find Hidden Strengths


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Whether the only sports a mom played was in gym class or she was a star collegiate athlete, she knows that one bad play or mistake can quickly zap confidence. And if an athlete isn’t able to shake off those feelings of disappointment to focus on the rest of the game, that can affect how she plays as well as her enjoyment of the sport.

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As a parent, it’s a job requirement to help build up a daughter’s confidence by supporting her and acknowledging her abilities no matter what happened in practice or competition. Remind her that her performance on or off a field, pool, or gym mat doesn’t determine her worth. Reinforce the positive qualities she possesses, how hard she’s working, and what a good person she is. This can help her move past disappointments and refocus on the pleasures she derives from athletics.

Here, coaches and moms dish up their tips to help tap into any daughter’s talents:

Speak words of encouragement.

“So much of a child’s confidence lies in the words you tell them,” says personal trainer, and camp counselor to teen girls, S.J. McShane. “The words you speak about your child, as well as the words they tell themselves, play a massive role in building their confidence both in athletics as well as their personal life.”

Practice speaking words of encouragement daily to help your child discover her hidden abilities and talents because you’ll have built her a solid foundation of support and belief where it might otherwise be lacking, says McShane. Try something like, “You looked like you were getting faster as you sprinted down the field after the ball today!” or “It was nice of you to talk to your pitcher to try to cheer her up during the game.”

“Your words are the building blocks of your child’s life and you are building their confidence and strength one brick at a time,” says McShane.

Let her know you think she’ll succeed.

“‘How my mom sees me’ is so important,” says sport and exercise psychologist Deborah L. Feltz, Ph.D., Department of Kinesiology, Michigan State University.  “That is, how a girl views her mother’s confidence in her—does she think her mom has confidence in her being able to succeed—is important, especially when a girl is developing new skills, such as entering sports.” It’s called relation-inferred self-efficacy (RISE) in scientific literature, says Feltz. “Moms need to convey to their daughters that they can be successful in an athletic activity,” says Feltz.

Keep in mind, though, that success can be defined in many ways.  “It doesn’t have to mean she’ll be an Olympic champion” says Feltz. “Remind your daughter that making a team, being a team contributor, and improving her skills are all a part of being successful. Helping define her success and then supporting her in it will let her know that her mom has confidence in her strivings.”

Remind her that strength isn’t just physical.

“True strength comes from the inside,” says former professional boxer and personal trainer Cristy “Code Red” Nickel. “It comes from knowing and loving yourself the way you really are,” She suggests moms encourage their daughter to celebrate their differences—whether that’s skills and abilities on and off sports fields. “I smile wherever I go…so people will never forget me,” says Nickel. “I don't want to blend in and neither do you. Blending in is boring. Every single person reading this has something special and unique that no one else has. That's a good thing.  Learn to love that and embrace it.”

Praise effort, not talent or looks.

“Focus on what your daughter does, not what she looks like or her natural abilities,” suggests Kellie Miller, former Division 1 field hockey player at Princeton University, and now a field hockey coach and mother of six children, including four girls. “Girls are always getting a message that what they look like is really important. I try to focus on what a girl does: How hard did she work? How well did she listen?  What is she doing to be a good teammate and player? I praise and reward things that require virtue and effort.”  Miller suggests encouraging your daughter to practice more, even on her own time, in order to feel more comfortable and confident in her sport. “All girls need to understand that mastery of anything takes a lot of individual practice,” says Miller.

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