Building Self-esteem Through Sport

by Caroline H.

Being born into a world of crazy athletic sporty parents, it was known that they would help me build self-esteem and confidence. My mother was the head coach at Saint Mary’s University for women’s basketball and that was my whole world. I looked up to all of her players as role models and told myself that I wanted to be one of them some day. The environment you are surrounded by plays a huge role in self-confidence. My mom would remind me each day I was around her team how much effort and time these girls put in.

Self-esteem is the feeling of self-worth that determines how valuable and competent we feel (Healthy Alberta). Through sport, we may enhance our self-esteem by having a positive image of our bodies and the physical skills that we develop. Many parents enroll their children in sports to build their child’s character and self-esteem. The interactions kids have with teammates, coaches, and parents shape how kids feel about themselves.

We feel positive self worth through the recognition that we receive from family and friends and social relationships that we develop through involvement in sport and recreation. However, kids may be vulnerable to low self-esteem in sport and activity if they perceive their body to be inadequate or unfit. One of my favorite basketball movies Coach Carter has one of the best quotes. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”(Coach Carter, 2005).

Critical times for boosting self-esteem occur at a child’s young age. Coaches, parents and even older players, like I looked up to are all very important role models for young kids. Children’s experiences in sports can affect their self-esteem. I know this from real life experiences playing basketball since I was three years old. As the years went on, I kept moving up into different leagues, but you could see that some kids around you weren’t very happy with basketball. Some kids weren’t as good as others and the sessions made them not come back or not really try anymore. I reminded myself most days of what my parents told me to ‘never give up’ and I can overcome anything if I really try. From my experience, I had some great coaches along my journey to work my way to the university level. I didn’t really have a coach that I could say anything bad about. I had the same coach for a summer league three summers in a row, and he really helped boost my self-confidence. He put in extra time in the gym with me and gave me good feedback. I believe coaches do have a key role in providing feedback, which will improve self-esteem. “In developing self esteem, coaches who engage positive reinforcement, frequent encouragement and corrective feedback can improve on a youths self esteem” (Smith, Smoll & Curtiss, 1979).

A positive self-esteem is key to psychological well-being. Children who have a positive self-esteem are better able to cope with wins and losses in sport and life. In the book by Mina Samuels “Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives”, it offers a collection of stories of girls whose lives have been transformed by engagement of sports. Samuels, herself, wrote: “Over the years that followed my “discovery” of running, my self-confidence grew, and feeding off the accomplishments I achieved in sports – setting new personal bests, winning a local race, surviving the setbacks of injuries and marathons gone wrong – I discovered a capacity within myself that I never knew I had. I saw that I could push myself and take risks, not just in sports, but elsewhere too.”

The last thing I will add based off of personal experience is doing my internship at the YMCA this summer. I ended up working a few weeks of camps and could just see the difference in the child’s mindset from the beginning of the week to end. I also interviewed my boss, Ruth Claybourn, who is the Director of Healthy Children, Youth, and Families and asked her about the benefits for children attending camp for a week or longer. The first thing she said was increased self-esteem followed by meeting new friends, trying new things, learn new skills, gain confidence, and enhance socialization skills.

Self-esteem is the one of the most important qualities we can instill in youth. Without it they will most likely fail at anything they pursue.Finally, communities should work together to meet the needs that young people themselves identify. They should focus on the strengths and assets of young people rather than the “problem” behaviors they may demonstrate. Parents, professionals, community representatives,coaches , and funding agencies should work with young people to develop life options and ensure their healthy transition to productive self esteem into adulthood.


Coach Carter, 2005.

Personal experience from athletic parents

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3 Responses to Building Self-esteem Through Sport

  1. Chuck Healy says:

    Very well articulated Caroline!
    And super insightful.

  2. amurchi1 says:

    I really enjoyed your blog entry Caroline! I too understand the importance of self-esteem in sports. For years I was involved in highly competitive synchronized swimming. A sport like synchro is very aesthetic and visual; therefore many athletes involved in the sport strive to be pleasing to the eyes. Sports like figure skating, gymnastics, aerobics… all of which are judged and athletes tend to be petit. Many people belonging to the governing bodies of each of the sports listed above argue that the athletes are only small because they are training so hard. While that may be the case there are still many instances of coaches expecting so much from their athletes: Julie Sauvé long term national coach of Synchro Canada was fired for expecting low body mass index and placing girls who gained weight on the B team, Montreal Synchro coach Karine Doré has also been banded from coaching international teams for her odd requests from athletes. Many of my examples have been from synchronized swimming however; it is applicable in other sports. With all these examples athletes are taught to criticise not only their talent compared to other athletes but how they look as well. Self-esteem for a non-successful athlete in this sport is almost non-existent. But we as people who study sports and rec. Have the ability to help them.

    Are you aware of the many campaigns focused on young girls self esteem like with Always? Click link to view:

    Even little things we say in everyday English can affect the way our young athletes grow up to be something they are not and worrying what they look like in the eyes of other people. Their needs to be more talks in schools and focus groups on the way women should understand that it is okay for a woman to be strong, it is okay for a woman to have muscles and it is okay for a woman to sweat.

  3. lucyparkin says:

    Awesome post Caroline, I really enjoyed reading about the different ways in which self-esteem really do make a difference. I completely agree with what you wrote, about how self-esteem is essential to instil in youth at a young age, and without it failure becomes a much more definite outcome of any given situation. I have grown up playing multiple sports, and like you, both my parents are very athletic. I was a shy, quiet child, that never really had any confidence, sports helped me build my self-esteem steadily. I was, and am still not overly loud, but I do have enough self-esteem to compete, challenge, and participate in anything I set my mind to. Sports helped me build this mindset, through commitment, dedication, and my love for sports.

    In today’s generation, I think self-esteem is one of the most important developmental aspects youth can gain, purely because of the impossible media demands, and the stereotypes that society have created, focusing only on physical aspects. Body image has become the most important factor, for example, people going to the gym to look good, rather than participating in a sport for the enjoyment, physical, mental and social gains. This being said, I think coaches and parents have an essential role to play in youth self-esteem, and that they do understand the importance of giving youth an opportunity to build self-esteem from a young age. This can help avoid drop-out, increase social confidence and also academic success. I also love the quote from Coach Carter, it is something that will always relate, and that can continue to inspire youth in any given situation, whether that is sports, or life.

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