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Supporting your Female Athlete | Youth Sports Psychology

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Helping Girls in Sports Feel Confident

Body image worries. Fears of excelling and fears of being chosen to lead. These issues undermine girls’ experiences in sports.

Girls and young women not only worry about how they look; they’re concerned that other girls will be angry with them for doing well and being chosen for leadership positions, says Breanne Smedley, a certified female athlete

Confidence Coach, former college volleyball player, youth sports coach and founder of The Elite Competitor. Girls and young women also mirror their mothers’ confidence issues, she says.

Many of the girls Smedley works with are eighth graders or high school freshmen. At this age, sports are beginning to be more competitive. The girls’ bodies are changing, and so are their friend groups.

These issues serve to increase their fears related to sports.

“All athletes, female and male face pregame nerves, thoughts of not being good enough and coming back from mistakes,” says Smedley. “But the ones who have the competitive advantage are those who can handle these challenges.”

Smedley works with both girls and their mothers to help the young athletes handle challenges.

“Girls’ perception of themselves is linked to their mothers’ perception of themselves,” she says. Through The Elite Competitor, Smedley works to cultivate confidence in mothers so they can “show up and be their best” for their daughters.

Smedley also works with mothers to help their daughters with body image. She encourages mothers to focus less on girls’ physical appearance and more on their positive qualities.

“Say, ‘You look strong, you seem like you’re feeling good.’ Or highlight the daughters’ spirit and innate and essential qualities that are not tied to looks,” Smedley advises. Often mothers say positive things about their daughters’ looks, but this draws too much attention to physical appearance, she says.

In addition to struggling with body image, girls worry about getting their friends mad by being successful, says Smedley. At times, young female athletes perform below their level to avoid negative feedback from friends.

And they’ll often reject positions of leadership because they don’t want to be seen as bossy.

These worries aren’t common for boys in sports, Smedley says.

She asks girls and young women to examine their goals. Most of the female athletes who work with her have set high goals for their sports.

Smedley tells the female athletes, “We know that it’s a reality we can’t change other people. Are we going to continue on our task or are we going to hold ourselves back because of this?” she says. “What is the big vision we have for ourselves? If we hold ourselves back, we can’t get there.”

She advises the female athletes to focus on controlling what they can control. She asks them to keep journals to be aware of how they’re feeling.

“All female athletes face at least one of these things at some point in their athletic career,” she says. “I’m passionate about being able to navigate this and ensuring they have people to talk to. Having mentors to help with these things is so vital.”

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