Creating Confidence Through Fitness & Sport

This is a guest post by Jess Silver

Jess Silver is a Medical Writer, Editor and Researcher with a diverse academic and professional background related to Communications and knowledge translation of medical conditions, and fitness promotion. She is also the Executive Director, and Founder of a Non-Profit Organization for fitness and sport promotion as an avenue for disability and injury management, called Flex for Access. She is proud to be working collaboratively with Pickup Sports.

Understanding the universal language of health literacy

Every one of us is different. Those differences are evident since childhood; from unique interests, to skills and ways that we retrain information. Because of this fact, some may believe that engaging in fitness and sport is not possible, important, or interesting for everyone. 

It is true, that engaging and further pursuing a sport may not be something for everyone but this has to do with one’s first exposure to a specific sport or fitness -based activity. The way that one is introduced to a game, and coached has a defining influence on their engagement with it. An aspect of fitness and sport that is true across age populations and socio-demographics, is that both fitness and sport create confidence. The type of confidence that is created by extension of an experience with fitness- based activity, and sport whether organized, or recreational, is transferrable to these areas: 1) one’s mental toughness, 2) to intrapersonal learning, 3) to interpersonal interactions, and 4) adapting to change. Let’s explore how the confidence is created and built upon as relevant to each area, creating an added advantage, regardless of age, and athletic level or ability.

Mental Toughness

Often it is understood that mental toughness is only a skill that is relevant and important for someone who is a high-performance athlete; one that trains 6-7 days a week, lifting heavy weights at a high volume, or who has dedicated years and countless hours to a competitive sport, whether team or solo. Though it is skill that gets trained and perfected through the intensity it is practiced, mental toughness is an aptitude that is necessary for a child, a parent, the businessmen and women of our society. How is it learned and achieved? The ability to understand that something is challenging can be testing of our patience, and at times be painful and require time and both internal and physical exertion and commitment and practice. It is nurtured through exposure to different places and experiences that are sensory and exploratory both for children and individuals as we get older like those in school where one would not succeed as they hoped or perhaps when one felt exposed to something hurtful and discouraging.

The pursuit of a sport or fitness-based activities is crucial to not only teaching anyone how mental toughness is defined but also how to maximize it, and how to turn to it when it is most needed. What does this mean? For a child, an example would be how to concentrate when they get upset because they lost a tennis serve, for example, or their friend accidentally hit them during dodgeball. For a youth athlete, being mental present and gaining the ability to breathe during a set of weightlifting is part of achieving mental toughness. Sport and fitness are like the rungs of a ladder which teach skills, develop strengths, leave room for evaluation, and create the potential for advantage both which is quantified and extended in every aspect of personal development and experience.

 Intrapersonal learning (self-development)

Another skill that is an extension of confidence is intrapersonal learning. This is known as the ability to recognize one’s differences in skill development and strategy and also learning that confidence and strength is uniquely one’s own product of both natural talent, and effort invested. Engaging in play or fitness-based activities,  which build motor control and ball control and other skills like passing, sharing the ball, agility and precision of execution of a drill, helps one develop intrapersonal skills like patience and dedication and both physical and emotional resilience; not only necessary on a soccer pitch, basketball court, or in a gym; but for working through challenges and developing universal success- driven habits. The habits reinforced stem from developing a sense of confidence in oneself and in bouncing back even after a loss in a sports match or competition. In a way, we are all athletes regardless of chosen sport or fitness drill prowess; because athletics design the capacity for trust, in ourselves and others, coaches, trainers, teammates and even opponents who one is trusted to perform in front of.

Interpersonal Skills (team building)

Some of the most important values and skills are learned about and developed when individuals work as a team or group to achieve a goal or result. Sport and fitness create the capacity for different people to meet, to understand how they learn and what each one can do to help another and to become confident in shared abilities and approaches to accomplishing a task. Building a sense of trust, the security to communicate both positive and negative emotions, asking for help when needed and not being afraid to ask questions, are all part of the process that every individual experience’s daily, and also when learning to get stronger, more accurate, precise and powerful athletically. Some ways to support interpersonal skill building with your kids or athletes is to encourage group based warm ups and even conversations pregame, to have different individuals spot one another during weight- based exercise, or alternate scorekeepers and goalies and to most importantly make communicating the central aspect of evaluating what was fun, effective, difficult, painful and to discuss why the specific activity can be helpful to others one would do.

For the adaptive athlete (one with physical and/ or intellectual limitations), sport and fitness especially can serve as a platform and avenue to develop and build interpersonal skills through interactions which can help to strengthen confidence on a physical and emotional level and create more possibilities for one’s own body awareness and allow for progress as an individual and as part of a larger team.

Adapting to change; what is different or scary, can make us stronger and better!

Why work hard and commit to hours of learning and expose ourselves and our children to the difficult, not always glorious winning moments felt during game time or preparing for competitive edge? Training primes everyone to be able to learn to adapt in order to execute stronger and better. Having a tough gym day or practice, or losing a friendly soccer match is important, because that tough moment creates space for adjustment. Adapting strategy, changing equipment and developing new tactics to help your child or athlete.

Don’t always turn to sports or fitness, solely to excel and exceed competitively, instead think of both as vehicles to defining and developing skillsets transferrable beyond the traditional stat sheet.

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