Dr. Wendy Borlabi
Director of Performance & Mental Health for the Chicago Bulls
Founder of Borlabi Consulting
Worked for the United States Olympic Committee


Watch our “Steps for Building Confidence in Your Female Athletes” webinar with Dr. Wendy Borlabi now.


The following is an excerpt from our recent “Steps for Building Confidence in Your Female Athletes” webinar.

First, I want to lay some groundwork. I want us to understand why we need to build confidence in our female athletes. What it will do for them currently, as well as for their future. In doing some research, I learned that by the age of fourteen, the number of girls who have stopped playing sports doubled compared to boys’ sports. A couple reasons why they stopped playing: 1) they feel sports is not something they were welcomed into and 2) puberty hit and they felt they didn’t belong as their bodies began to change. So, we need to understand why this is important, so we have that base. We want to figure out what is happening to them and then build them up.

In terms of menstrual cycles or puberty, they are being made fun of because of things that come with this change. As coaches, we need to cultivate an environment in which girls want to play so we need to understand that they are trying to navigate this change and help them understand this isn’t an inconvenience. I challenge coaches to think back to when you were their age and remember how challenging that period in your life was. We can help them have a better understanding when we relate to them. For male coaches, remember that these young girls are just as confused by what is going on with their bodies and emotions as you are.

We have some assumptions and barriers that affect girls and playing sports:

  • Title IX is hurting male sports. I hope we get to a point where we just say Title IX helps sports, overall.
  • Women’s sports would be more popular if they dressed in more provocative clothing.
  • Cost can be a barrier. Playing sports can be expensive in terms of equipment, clothing, travel, etc.
  • Decreased quality of experience. The bulk of money is going to boys’ teams, and this can affect the experience for girls.
  • Lack of access. if you must travel to find a center or a place to play, this could affect their playing sports.
  • Social stigma. Today, it’s still seen as not “in” for girls to be athletes.

Sports have a positive impact on us as women. Sports build confidence and leadership. The things we learn through sports help us grow, to be leaders, to communicate and be on a team. So we want to encourage girls to be in sports because it does help outside of sports as well.

So now let’s focus on the topic at hand: confidence. How do we build confidence in our girls? There are a lot of different techniques that have been out there that I’ve learned, but I wanted to hit on these four. When I say confidence, I don’t mean the belief that they can do anything. Confidence comes and goes. We just want the flow to be less dramatic up and downs. Confidence is the feeling that you felt you could, so you took the shot. I want our young girls to think they can accomplish anything, and moving forward, we want them to try, regardless of if they fall. The fact that you attempt it builds confidence.

  • Listen. We teach each other how to treat one another. Ask your athletes what they need and then listen to what they tell you. The more you ask and listen, the more they’re going to learn. With your help, they will learn how to express themselves.
  • Give specific feedback. When you help someone learn, you need to break it up into pieces. We don’t want to break down the whole attempt because then they won’t try to do it again. But if we are specific in our feedback, they can try to fix that portion of the task.
  • Start and end practice with something easy. Every team has a drill they love, so start practice with that drill and it will help to build confidence.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition. The more your athletes do a drill, the more confident they will be with that task or drill. Encourage them to spend five minutes before or after practice on one task they need to work on. Encourage them to have their “flair” on this task so they can build confidence in their skills.

The last thing I want to talk about in building confidence is goal setting. I just want to talk about this a little bit, because I want you to go to the Coaches Armoury to learn more.

Goal setting is something very clear and concrete; something the athlete dictates and then they own it, so it becomes part of their process. You don’t have to monitor this, but you can check in and see if they hit their goal for the week. The goal should be completing a task correctly, like lay-ups 3x/week. Keep it simple so it builds confidence, and then you can make the goal a little bit harder and say you want them to have correct form e.g., complete five right-handed lay-ups on the right side.

 Watch our “Steps for Building Confidence in Your Female Athletes” webinar now.