"Dr. Alison Arnold and Headgames have been working with my elite athletes for over 15 years and has based her teachings on the truths that she shares in her workbooks and Webcamp. She and her lessons have been like an assistant coach encouraging us daily to maximize our unique abilities and to shine bright in our sport. Her work will help you become all that you were created to be. Many thanks for assisting so many gymnasts to find their dreams and go after them."
Mary Lee Tracy
Coach of 1996 Gold Medal Winning USA Gymnastics Team

Cheer Articles

13 Tips for Teaching Confidence
Nov 01, 2014
By Alison Arnold, Ph.D. and Sara Robinson, M.A.

Picture two cheerleaders at the start of a routine. By looking at them, you can tell that one is confident and the other is not. The confident cheerleader just looks ready; she is focused, has strong positive body language, and shows the judges she is about to attack the routine before the music even begins. The other cheerleader by comparison looks uncomfortable; she is glancing all around, fidgeting, and appears to be back on her heels as if trying to get away from the situation. Which athlete has a better chance of hitting an amazing routine? The answer is easy: the confident one.  

Confidence is the positive beliefs that we have about ourselves. In cheerleading, this may be having the belief that we can execute skills, perform the way we want, and learn new stunts. As a coach, helping your athletes learn how to build confidence is one of the greatest skills you can teach them. Cheerleaders who are confident are more likely to experience lowered levels of anxiety, move on more quickly from mistakes, have more perseverance in the face of challenges, and view pressure situations as facilitative (helpful) versus debilitative (hurtful). In other words, confidence acts as a shield against the impact of some of the tough situations that cheerleading and life present. Confidence, or belief in yourself, allows you to look at situations as challenges that can be overcome rather than impossibilities. 

While many think that either you have confidence or you don’t, this is not true. Confidence can be learned, and as coaches, you can teach it. What follows are a variety of ideas to use with your cheerleaders to help build confidence.  These can be implemented with the whole team, or with an athlete individually.
  1. Reinforce performance accomplishments: Performing well is one of the most powerful things that impact confidence. Confidence can drop substantially when athletes are not performing the way that they want to, or the way that they have in the past. To increase confidence, help athletes remember past successes in practice and competition. For example, if a stunt continues to fall, the athletes may feel as if they can’t do it. Remind the group that they hit the stunt recently and this is just an off moment. If you have a video of them hitting, let them watch it.<  
  2. Create performance accomplishments: When experiencing a lack of confidence, one way to get it back is to experience success, and this doesn’t just mean doing well at a competition. Help your athletes see the positive progress they are making during all of their training. For athletes learning new skills or adding to their stunts or tumbling, there may be many moments of frustration until they master the skill. Help highlight what they are doing well, and create drills that let them have success on the path to getting the skill.  
  3. Highlight List: This is a list of moments that an individual is proud of. Highlights can be big (Earned a bid to Worlds!) or small (Improved my height on my toe touch). The idea is to have athletes create the list and then review it in moments where they need a confidence boost such as the morning of a competition or before beginning a new skill. Teams can create highlight lists as well and review them together for a great way to bond.  
  4. Affirmations: Affirmations are powerful, short and simple, present-tense “I” statements that help build confidence, remind the cheerleader of why she is great, and can help create strong positive beliefs. Affirmations can be things you want to be, not just what you already are. Examples: “I am powerful,” “I have great facials,” “I am an all-star performer.” Just like the highlight list, once you help athletes create affirmations, they can be used to help build confidence by repeating them over and over. Affirmations are great to use when confidence is low, but can also be used proactively to help start the day or the practice in a confident way.  
  5. Body language: Confident athletes have a certain look. By taking on the posture and attitude of a confident person, such as walking tall, head up, fierce face, and shoulders back, this helps confidence move from the outside (body language) to the inside (the way the athlete feels). Help your athletes learn to look confident to observers, even if they are nervous on the inside. Cheerleaders can “fake it ‘til they make it”- if they don’t feel confident, fake it until they feel the confidence become real. Ask your team to practice their routine showing confidence no matter what happens during those 2 ½ minutes. 
  6. Imagery: Imagery is creating or recreating an experience in your mind, using all of your senses. Essentially, athletes pick moments they are proud of and that give them confidence (A flawless pyramid), and do imagery of that moment when they want a boost in confidence.  By reliving accomplishments, confidence can climb. Consider having your team do imagery together of the routine they want to perform at competition. 
  7. Communicate to build confidence: As coaches, what you say can have a big impact on confidence. Try your best to help your athletes notice their highlights by acknowledging not only the wins, hits, or scores, but also their effort, their improvement in technique, and their ability to handle tough situations. Give positive feedback whenever possible and encourage your athletes to see the positives in their own performance.
  8. Encourage teammates to build confidence in one another: When an athlete is having trouble believing in himself, seeing a teammate have success may cause additional frustration. Instead, help boost confidence for both athletes. Success doesn’t necessarily mean winning in this case, but rather executing a skill, or learning a tough stunt. Encourage the more advanced athlete to support and help the one who needs it;  the athlete who is struggling can see “If he can do it, then I can do it” and the other realizes “Wow, others look up to me.” 
  9. Focus on the solutions you want, not the problems you see: Build confidence by telling your coaches and athletes what you WANT to see rather than harping on the same problems over and over again.  Telling an athlete, “much better, now how about tighter legs?” is much more confidence-building then “your legs are STILL bent!” Positive reinforcement helps to create positive habits. 
  10. Create a positive culture in the gym: Everything affects confidence. If athletes show up unorganized, running late, and without everything they need, this impacts confidence in themselves and negatively impacts the confidence others have for them. Your overall gym organization, including communication about expectations for attire, plans for training, and your level of preparedness set an example and model what you expect for your teams. Reflect on your club’s culture and make adjustments if needed.
  11. Remember gratitude and appreciation: Similar to highlights, it is important to notice the little things that we are thankful for. Being able to come into the gym and cheer is something to be appreciative of- not everyone has that opportunity. By reminding your squads to be thankful at each practice, and appreciating them by praising small successes, you help to build confidence in meaningful ways. 
  12. Confidence can be built outside of cheer: Your cheerleaders may live and breathe cheer, but they are not just cheerleaders. They are students, children, siblings, friends, artists, musicians, and more. By acknowledging these strengths and special gifts beyond cheerleading, you help to create an overall sense of confidence; ultimately you help to positively impact self-esteem.
  13. Model confidence: As people, we learn by observing. One final way to help teach confidence is to show it in what you do. Remember to apply these skills for yourself, and share them with your coaches so that you can be positive roles models for confidence for your athletes. 
Given that confidence is so important to athletes on and off the floor, it is imperative to understand how it can be built. Use the above ideas to help your athletes learn how to take control over confidence so that they have a strong shield against whatever comes their way in cheer or in life. 
Dr. Alison Arnold (Doc Ali) has been the mental toughness coach to USA Gymnastics Since 1997.  Sara Robinson, M.A. is a consultant with Headgames Mental Toughness Training. Their new work book FEAR-Tame the Beast and information about their Online Mental Toughness Training Program for cheerleaders is available at www.headgames.ws
Have a cheerleader who could use Mental Toughness Training? Visit www.headgameswebcamp.com/2weeks for a free two-week trial.