How Can We Build Each Student’s Confidence Within Their Personal Skill Set?

By: Mark Banasiak @MoreThanGym

Children love to move and want to be active. However, some students lack the confidence to participate in certain activities or use specific types of equipment. This lack of confidence may come from a lack of exposure or poor performance in a previous situation. If we want our students to be active outside of school, we must build their confidence within their personal skill set.

I believe our goal as physical educators is to provide a safe and inviting classroom where all students can experience growth in their skill development.  We need to equip each child with the basic skills so that when they see an activity at recess, in the neighborhood, at the park, or anywhere else that they have the confidence to say, “Hey, I can try that because I learned it in PE!”


If we want to achieve this goal, we have to lay a foundation that can be built upon over the course of several school years.   We cannot expect a child to have the confidence to participate in a neighborhood game of basketball if they have never been taught how to dribble, pass, shoot, or guard another person.

Here are a few things to consider when planning for building student confidence within their personal skill set:

1) Modify the activities to an age-appropriate level. PE standards often use words like “non-complex” & “game-like situations.” That is, don’t expect your students to abide by the same rules and boundaries as collegiate and professional athletes. As long as they are striking the volleyball appropriately, you may consider allowing 4th and 5th graders more than 3 hits before it must be sent back over the net. Additionally, you may start your volleyball unit with a balloon and then progress to a beach ball.

2) Provide repeated opportunities to practice. After the initial instruction and practice, consider looping back every so often to let the students revisit a skill. During the last 5 minutes of another lesson, you could let them dribble a ball or turn a jump rope.

3) If they make a mistake, let them try again. When practicing 3v3 basketball, let the offense have the ball back and start again after a bad pass, a missed shot, a made shot, loss of control of the ball, or if the ball is intercepted by the defense. This provides the offense with the opportunity to immediately build upon their success or to practice the same situation where an error was made. Otherwise, the students waste a lot of time rotating after each score or error. The teacher can tell the groups to switch from offense to defense every 2-3 minutes.

4) Use activities that simulate defense.

  • Active Defense – These activities have designated persons on offense and defense. That is, they involve someone actively guarding or trying to block another person from moving or advancing an object.
  • Simulated Defense – These activities have organized chaos happening throughout the activity. As a result, the participants have to pay attention to where they are moving in order to keep from bumping into another student. There is no one actively guarding them; however, the sheer presence of other students near them can mimic a defender. This may cause them to alter their pathway while moving or to select a different way to advance an object.

5) Design skill progressions that are sequential and build on previous experiences. Skill progressions are like climbing a flight of steps. Students cannot simply jump to the top (culminating activity). They must go step by step. If the students are ready, move them to the next level; however, if they are not, they should practice some more. Knowing where the students left off last year can help you better plan your entry point into the progression.

6) Provide feedback. As the students practice, a teacher needs to observe everyone and provide specific feedback. The specific feedback helps to individualize the instruction. If a student has it, you should progress them to the next level. If they do not have it, you should provide encouraging and corrective feedback coupled with additional practice time.

7) Make the skill practice fun. After teaching the skills and providing initial practice time, you may consider allowing the students to apply those skills in large group activities. If the practice is fun, they will be more inclined to want to participate and improve their skill set.

8) Tell the students why they are learning the skill. Let the students know why the skill is important. You may consider sharing with them a few instances where they could use that skill outside of PE.

9) Try to have a one-to-one equipment ratio. In order to minimize wait time and maximize skill development, try to provide each student with their own piece of equipment. If equipment is limited, you may need to be creative with your stations.

10) Ask questions. As we practice, I often stop and ask questions such as, “Did anyone miss a shot?” More likely than not, a large number of folks will raise their hand. This allows those who are struggling to see that other students also miss shots.

11) Share a personal story. Since most students think their elementary PE teachers are rock stars, you may consider sharing an example of yourself making a mistake or struggling with a skill.

In the end, our job is not to train students to participate in travel, middle, or high school sports. We are teaching all students to have the confidence to be lifetime movers.

Are you intentional in trying to build each student’s confidence within their personal skill set, or do you simply cross your fingers and hope it happens naturally?



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