Confidence is an athlete's game

Illustration by Angelo Sanchez

Kids who grow up playing sports often dream of the big leagues.

A tiny percentage of those kids with a dream actually succeed in becoming a professional athlete. The ones who do are the ones who believed in themselves.

Nobody remembers the kid who had the best sportsmanship. Yet, for some reason, society is caught up on cramming athletes into expectations of kindness and selflessness.

I’m all for raising kind kids and advocates of love. However, I want that off the field, off the court, out of the gym and whether they admit it to themselves or not, so do all sports fans.

In September 2017 Baker Mayfield, former quarterback for the University of Oklahoma, planted an Oklahoma flag in the center of Ohio State University’s field after a blowout win. There was an uproar nationwide about sportsmanship and disrespect, and overall Mayfield’s act of pride and confidence was vilified.

But to all the haters, Mayfield is now the starting NFL quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, making millions each year.

There is a time and a place for humility. Sports is not that arena.

Michael Jordan did not become the greatest basketball player of all time by being humble. He worked until there was no doubt he was the best, and he let everyone know.

When Stephen Curry missed 11 3-pointers in a row, he didn’t ask Steve Kerr to put him on the bench. He shot again, turned around and stared the crowd down with classic Curry confidence that the ball in the air would swish through the net.

The best of the best believe in themselves with a confidence that dances around or blatantly crosses the line into cockiness, and I love it.

This is why I don’t understand how confidence is so frowned upon by society and the parents of athletes today.

In high school, I played basketball for Highland High School in Gilbert, Arizona under the direction of the coach with the most wins in Arizona high school women’s basketball history. My coach, Miner Webster, instilled pride in ourselves and our program.

When we stepped onto the court, there was never any question in our minds that we would win. In the locker room, it was the same way. Coach Webster made us believe in ourselves, and that confidence carried us to the quarterfinals of the state tournament my senior year.

On the other hand was my college sports experience. I had a two-year stint playing for the NAU women’s rugby team.

I was fresh out of high school, still embroiled in the, “Win at all costs — believe in yourself,” mentality of Highland basketball. That mentality brought me instant success. I trained and studied my position, and at the start of my first season, I was captain and starting scrumhalf, which means I had to coordinate the offensive strategy for each game.

Unfortunately, my team didn’t have the same outlook. I immediately felt the backlash of my attitude, which ruffled feathers. The confidence that was instilled in me from early years was labeled as something toxic and unwelcomed.

My team didn’t believe they were capable of winning every game, and they didn’t believe in themselves. For two straight years, we lost every single game we played.

I believe confidence is crucial to the success of athletes. The attitude shouldn’t be seen as a toxic presence in the locker room, but rather as a tool that has led to the success of the Baker Mayfields and Michael Jordans of the world.

Throw away that participation trophy. Dream bigger and have confidence.

To the haters on the sidelines and the fans on the couches, don’t hate on the mentality of greatness. Embrace it.