What basketball players and babies have in common

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Just as an encouraged baby overcomes stumbling with a smile, teams triumph when fueled by trust and support. Encouragement and support make people flourish. Together with a healthy portion of self-confidence, this is the key to unlocking incredible achievements.

Recently, I witnessed a baby taking his very first steps. It was not only incredibly adorable, but also a marvelous display of self-confidence.

Little Maxim stumbled about twenty times, but he also got up twenty times. Sometimes with a pout, but more often with a wide smile. Our cheers seemed to only bolster his determination. I found it delightful. That little toddler didn't even consider giving up. He paid no attention to what others might think and and the idea that he might never become skilled at it never entered his mind. Yet, these are often the thoughts that frequently come to us, adults, when something doesn't immediately go as hoped.

One of the keys to little Maxim's success, is encouragement. Not once did we think to be angry or disappointed when he fell again.

And that's precisely it: Babies, like adults, are capable of great things with the right encouragement. But what often happens after our early years of motivation? We go through various experiences and convince ourselves that we aren’t good enough, that we’re falling short, that others perceive us as foolish, uninteresting, or insignificant.

Slowly but surely, our self-confidence becomes buried under a thick layer of doubt.

However, that innate self-assuredness, that fire that propelled us as babies, still resides within us. We just sometimes need a bit more encouragement to boost our self-confidence.

A study* (2014) by the University of Berkeley, California, captured my attention. Different NBA teams were tracked from their preparation to the all-important playoffs. And guess what? A pattern emerged. The teams that encouraged each other the most with high-fives, fist bumps, back pats, and uplifting gestures, were the teams that ultimately reached the finals.

All these gestures hold special power; they build trust. Teams that support and motivate each other are the teams that triumph. When a team transitions from 'blaming, complaining, and judging' to 'I believe in you,' they become simply unbeatable.

And this doesn't only apply to sports teams, but to everyone. Additional encouragement can uplift your loved ones, colleagues, and friends. Knowing that others believe in you provides an incredible boost. However, recognizing that the most significant individual in your life, yourself, believes in you, that's truly magical.

In South America, Florencia Andrès coaches elite athletes. Even they have moments of doubt. As an important cup match approached, a footballer approached her. His self-confidence was low, and he doubted his own abilities. Florencia made him realize: his negative thoughts were imprisoning him. She advised him to focus on something that would strengthen his self-assurance in the upcoming days.

He chose the phrase "I believe in myself." He had to continuously repeat this mantra, from morning till night. Whether upon waking up, in the shower, while in the car, or during training, that phrase had to echo like a recurring melody in his mind.

On the day of the cup final match, the stadium was packed. His team played fantastically. He also performed exceptionally. But the opponents wouldn't back down. The game was tied, nearing the 90-minute mark.

And then it happened. He got the ball. With the ball at his feet, he dribbled through the entire defense and scored the decisive goal just before the final whistle. After the game, he stated: "When I had that ball, I wasn't thinking about the opponents nor the pressure. My mind kept repeating: 'I believe in myself,' 'I believe in myself'…"

So, remember to believe in yourself; you are capable of incredible things. Also, make a habit of offering others encouragement. We all benefit from that!

*Tactile Communication, Cooperation and Performance: an ethological study of the NBA - 2014 -
by Michael W Kraus and Dacher Keltner

Authored by Caroline Anseeuw - 24 Aug 2023

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