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.