Teaching Self-Confidence

Teaching student pilots how to be confident aviators can be one of the most challenging tasks facing a flight instructor.  Older instructors probably have a better handle on this problem, while new CFIs may still be working on the concept.

What is confidence?  Self-confidence begins with self-esteem and includes a component of knowledge.  Part of self-confidence is judgment and yet another includes experience. All of these components make up what we describe as a confident pilot, one who exercises good judgment and possesses great skill.

The issue for flight instructors becomes one of how to teach their students confidence.  How do students acquire judgment?  How do they obtain experience?  Moreover, what do flight instructors have to be wary of in their students?

What makes a person a dangerous student pilot?  Can a student be over confident?  Which students would be prone to taking abnormal risks?

These are all very serious questions for a flight instructor, particularly a young and inexperienced CFI.  If you are one of the latter, how would you deal with the over-confident, risk-taking student?

The key is training the student properly and setting the training environment by proper leadership.  Performance in the airplane is dependent on a student’s perceptions of his or her instructor’s personal confidence.  Then you have to work with each student individually.

When we talk of flight students, let us disregard their chronological age for a moment.  There are those who are very experienced at a young age, and there are those who are older with no experience.

As flight instructors, we are the experienced ones.  We are, if you will, the parents.  It is our job to develop the student pilot into a well-rounded, highly motivated, and confident pilot.  To this degree, our job is not unlike that of a parent.

Unfortunately, parents can do great harm to their children’s developing self-esteem and self-confidence.  In his book, The Power of Self-Esteem, Nathan Branden points out parents can hinder their child’s growth and self-esteem in any of several ways.  A parent can harm children by emphasizing the child’s shortcomings, ridiculing or humiliating the child, especially in front of others, or telling the child, he or she is valueless, or their ideas are not important.

Now you can take this list by Branden and where it says, “parent,” insert the term, “CFI” or “flight instructor.”  Likewise, where it says “children” or “child,” use the term, “student.”

As instructors, we are essentially parents: treating the student pilots as children.  And I don’t mean in a condescending manner as you might treat a troublesome adolescent.  In other words, we have to treat students as people for whom we truly care.

I have often told the student flight instructors I have helped develop that whenever you teach anyone to fly, the first thing you must do is to teach each one of them as though they were a blood relative. 

There should be no difference in the way you would teach someone you don’t know as compared to teaching your brother, sister, father, or mother.  They should all get “the same treatment.” 

It is part of being a professional.

-30-

© 2010 J. Clark

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