For athletes, self-belief is a strange old thing as it waxes and wanes with the influence of external and internal forces, and because of this it can be both your best and worst friend.
We've all been there on a sports field when reality hits and all the training and preparation you did to build self-belief goes out the window because an opponent has brought their A+ game or changed tactics, both of which you hadn't properly prepared for.
When climbing a mountain in the Italian Alps with the Italian Alpine Special Forces a long, long time ago, every man in the 20 or so party had an ultimate understanding and confidence in their abilities. I climbed among men at the top of their game and felt supremely confident that I could hold my own. Self confidence bubbled to the surface everywhere I looked.
Then disaster happened. An accident where a vital piece of equipment failed. Nobody expected it, and it was extremely rare for a new 13mm kermantle rope to literally break under the slightest of pressure. The result, 3 men fell and the 17 others looked on in bewilderment. Self belief disappeared almost immediately, and even the most experienced climbers found it difficult to regain composure. We had lost our self belief in seconds and the whole game changed.
Self-belief can therefore have two levels of 'state' - the one in training where you almost deceive yourself that you are the best at what you do (because you're essentially benchmarking yourself against old metrics) to create a self constructed system of belief;
The other state of self-belief comes with the reality of competition. This one is far more fluid and dramatic and on the plus side can enhance your performance, but on the minus side can quickly destroy your self-belief, taking with it focus, clarity of process, and worst case scenario, freezing your critical decision making. Like those mountaineers.
My question to you would be, what thoughts do you have on being able to step outside the moment, going into crisis management mode, and finding that self-belief in the heat of the moment?
Below are some tips gathered from sports experts around the world on what athletes should be doing all the time to help them overcoming a lack of self belief. Many are obvious, but then many are just not applied, because of a little thing called ego!
Tip 1: Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper. At the top of the left column, write, "situations in my sport in which I am most confident," and on the right side, "situations in my sport in which I am least confident." Write at least three situations in each column to help you visualize. Concentrate on what you might end up doing in these situations – by confronting the good and bad will help lead you to cope better should the situation arise.
Tip 2: Establish a specific time and place to do your mental imagery. Think about successful performances and use all of your senses. Try to think about what it looks and sounds like when you're in the right place to be successful.
Tip 3: Talk to other athletes on your team whom you admire to see if they use positive self-talk. Write three positive self-statements on index cards and review them each morning and before you go to sleep at night.
Tip 4: Begin to pay closer attention to your own tactical strengths and weaknesses. Write down three examples of each. For each game or match, write down the major weakness of your opponent to keep it fresh in your mind.
Tip 5: Pay close attention to your coach's words of praise. Write them down and repeat them to yourself. Commit them to memory, so that when you are in a pressure situation, they will automatically come to mind.
How many of us are confident in ourselves? I mean really confident…and I am not talking about egotistical stuff.
Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to run through a few techniques that have helped me in the past, and those that I know help athletes grow in their mental strength. So, stay posted!
Self confidence is a good feeling about yourself and your capabilities. So, if you're a self confident person, it simply means that you feel good about who you are, and you also feel good about your ability to achieve things you want to achieve.
When athletes feel confident, they are more readily able to turn sporting potential into superior performance. Conversely, when they feel unsure of themselves, the slightest setback or smallest hurdle can have an inordinate effect on their performance.
What is self-confidence?Self-confidence is commonly defined as the sureness of feeling that you are equal to the task at hand. This sureness is characterised by absolute belief in ability. You may well know someone whose self-belief has this unshakeable quality, whose ego resists even the biggest setbacks. In such people, confidence is as resilient as a squash ball: the harder the blow, the quicker they bounce back. Nonetheless, although confidence is a desirable characteristic, arrogance - or a sureness of feeling not well founded in one's ability - is undesirable. If self-confidence is perhaps the 'guardian angel of sports performers' then arrogance is their nemesis.
The six sources of self-confidence
The confidence an individual feels during a particular activity or situation is generally derived from one or more of the following six elements:
1. Performance accomplishments are the strongest contributor to sport confidence. When you perform any skill successfully, you will generate confidence and be willing to attempt something slightly more difficult. Skill learning should be organised into a series of tasks that progress gradually and allow you to master each step before progressing on to the next. Personal success breeds confidence, while repeated personal failure diminishes it.
2. Being involved with the success of others can also significantly bolster your confidence, especially if you believe that the performer you are involved with (e.g. a team-mate) closely matches your own qualities or abilities. In effect, it evokes the reaction: "if they can do it, I can do it".
3. Verbal persuasion is a means of attempting to change the attitudes and behaviour of those around us, and this includes changing their self-confidence. In sport, coaches often try to boost confidence by convincing athletes that the challenge ahead is within their capabilities: "I know you are a great player so keep your head up and play hard". An athlete might reinforce this by repeating the message over and over to him or herself as a form of self-persuasion. A tip here is to avoid stating what you want in the negative; so, rather than "'I really don't want to come off second best" try "I really want to win this one". Accordingly, your mind will not need to consider what is not required in order to arrive at what is.
4. Imagery experiences have to do with athletes recreating multi-sensory images of successful performance in their mind. Through creating such mental representations, mastery of a particular task or set of circumstances is far more likely. What you see is what you get.
5. Physiological states can reduce feelings of confidence through phenomena such as muscular tension, palpitations and butterflies in the stomach. The bodily sensations associated with competition need to be perceived as being facilitative to performance and this can be achieved through the application of appropriate stress management interventions such as the "five breath technique" and "thought-stopping". I will be covering these over the next 2 weeks through my blogs.
6. Emotional states are the final source of self-confidence and relates to how you control the emotions associated with competition, such as excitement and anxiety. Very often, the importance of the occasion creates self-doubt, which is why it is essential to control your thoughts and emotions. Learning imagery and concentration skills such as those described in "the circle of excellence" will help.
The Circle of Excellence
This visualisation exercise recreates the mental state associated with past performance success and will help you in bridging the gap between your ability and confidence:
Until next week…