Self-confidence more useful than self esteem

  • By James McCusker, Herald columnist
  • Friday, March 25, 2011 12:01am
  • Business

We are now deep into March Madness, the annual college basketball exhibition of athletic talent, teamwork, all-out competition, and, most of all, heart, called the NCAA Tournament.

The tournament is harsh and unforgiving. This year there are 68 teams competing and 67 of them will come away disappointed. At the end, only one team is left standing.

Coaches preparing their teams for games know who their real enemy is — and it isn’t the opposing team. It’s the lack of self-confidence. In every game self-confidence plays a bigger role than almost any other factor.

One of the recurrent worries for coaches of top-ranked teams is that if they start slow, their opponents will gain the self-confidence they need to win. A team that ignores the odds and believes it can win often does. It happens often enough in the NCAA tournament that the winning underdog teams have a name: bracket-busters.

The same thing is true in many other aspects of life — self-confidence is frequently the key to success.

Automotive pioneer Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” That is what self-confidence is all about, the belief that you can do what needs to be done, that you can succeed.

Where does that belief come from? We know how important it is to success, in education, in business, and in life. How can you teach self-confidence?

You can watch the good basketball coaches in the NCAA Tournament teach self-confidence on the fly — while the game is under way. If a team’s self-confidence has been rocked by turnovers or an opponent’s scoring run, the coach will often call a time-out, talk with his players to calm them down and call a set play, a collection of moves, passes, and positioning that the team has practiced so many times the members can execute it in their sleep. Often it will restore their confidence. Skill mastery and the routines of success are the heart of self-confidence training.

If you don’t care to watch the NCAA Tournament you can see the same thing going on in “Hoosiers”, one of the all-time great sports movies about underdog success.

Nobody understands how to teach self-confidence better than the U.S. military, which, along with the physicality involved in both, explains some of the long-standing affinity between athletics and military service.

One thing that both athletic coaches and military trainers understand is that self-confidence is not the same thing as self-esteem.

Self-confidence is built on achievement; self-esteem is built on opinion.

A recent study by Prof. Eric Bettinger and researcher Rachel Baker at the Stanford University School of Education examined data from a program called Inside Track and found that college students’ grades and graduation rates improved when they received coaching and mentoring based on mastering student skills, both academic and behavior-related.

A related study, also from Stanford University, was based on evaluating the results of a one-hour self-confidence-building exercise designed by psychologists. And while the idea doesn’t sound very promising, the program turned out to have immediate and lasting positive effects.

Military training is not for everyone, surely, but the armed services are very good at building confidence in their sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines. The combined effect of skills mastery and teamwork builds self-confidence very effectively in most recruits. And there is a very practical reason for this as a training goal. We don’t want to send someone into combat who is plagued by self-doubt. It wouldn’t be good for them, in terms of their own survival, or for the mission.

A growing number of people who are critical to the mission of the U.S. economy have the same need for self-confidence, yet it seems to be in short supply. This can, and does, lead to a sense of isolation, loneliness, self-absorption, and the disappearance of shared values and goals.

The result for the economy is a net loss of productivity, and it affects a noticeable and growing portion of our population.

For years our public schools have grappled with the problem of teaching kids with low or non-existent self esteem. They have devoted expensive resources to the issue, and classroom teachers have poured their hearts out in their efforts to build their kids’ self-esteem so they could learn. The results, though, have been disappointing.

By tackling the self-esteem problem, rather than self-confidence, the schools gave themselves a difficult, if not impossible, task of trying to substitute for missing or distracted parental and family love, respect, and guidance.

It is time to change the direction of this effort and concentrate on building self-confidence through the mastery of skills — simple ones at first to form a solid foundation. Marine Corps boot camp still begins with learning such things as listening and standing up straight — and builds on that. There is a reason for this. It works.

James McCusker is a Bothell economist, educator and consultant. He also writes a monthly column for the Snohomish County Business Journal.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

Simreet Dhaliwal speaks after winning during the 2024 Snohomish County Emerging Leaders Awards Presentation on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Simreet Dhaliwal wins The Herald’s 2024 Emerging Leaders Award

Dhaliwal, an economic development and tourism specialist, was one of 12 finalists for the award celebrating young leaders in Snohomish County.

Lynnwood
New Jersey company acquires Lynnwood Land Rover dealership

Land Rover Seattle, now Land Rover Lynnwood, has been purchased by Holman, a 100-year-old company.

Szabella Psaztor is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Szabella Pasztor: Change begins at a grassroots level

As development director at Farmer Frog, Pasztor supports social justice, equity and community empowerment.

Owner and founder of Moe's Coffee in Arlington Kaitlyn Davis poses for a photo at the Everett Herald on March 22, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Kaitlyn Davis: Bringing economic vitality to Arlington

More than just coffee, Davis has created community gathering spaces where all can feel welcome.

Simreet Dhaliwal is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Simreet Dhaliwal: A deep-seated commitment to justice

The Snohomish County tourism and economic specialist is determined to steer change and make a meaningful impact.

Emerging Leader John Michael Graves. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
John Michael Graves: Champion for diversity and inclusion

Graves leads training sessions on Israel, Jewish history and the Holocaust and identifying antisemitic hate crimes.

Gracelynn Shibayama, the events coordinator at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Gracelynn Shibayama: Connecting people through the arts and culture

The Edmonds Center for the Arts coordinator strives to create a more connected and empathetic community.

Eric Jimenez, a supervisor at Cocoon House, is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Eric Jimenez: Team player and advocate for youth

As an advocate for the Latino community, sharing and preserving its traditions is central to Jimenez’ identity.

Nathanael Engen, founder of Black Forest Mushrooms, an Everett gourmet mushroom growing operation is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Nathanael Engen: Growing and sharing gourmet mushrooms

More than just providing nutritious food, the owner of Black Forest Mushrooms aims to uplift and educate the community.

Molbak's Garden + Home in Woodinville, Washington closed on Jan. 28 2024. (Photo courtesy of Molbak's)
Molbak’s, former Woodinville garden store, hopes for a comeback

Molbak’s wants to create a “hub” for retailers and community groups at its former Woodinville store. But first it must raise $2.5 million.

DJ Lockwood, a Unit Director at the Arlington Boys & Girls Club, is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
DJ Lockwood: Helping the community care for its kids

As director of the Arlington Boys & Girls Club, Lockwood has extended the club’s programs to more locations and more kids.

Alex Tadio, the admissions director at WSU Everett, is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Alex Tadio: A passion for education and equality

As admissions director at WSU Everett, he hopes to give more local students the chance to attend college.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.