The number one challenge that most athletes go through as they develop through the elite stages of their sport is ‘confidence’. As the athleticism, physicality, and speed of opponents and athletes around them rise so does the skill level of competition.
For many, this can cause athletes to experience more self-doubt, nerves, and fear which are completely natural experiences to go through as part of the human makeup. The common denominator for athletes who experience these types of emotions is that they care, they want to perform to the best of their ability and they want to win. These are all great characteristics to have.
However, with the right mindset, these experiences of self-doubt and fear can be overcome to create a confident, consistently performing athlete who’s ready to take their game to the next level.
“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.” – Carl Lewis
First of all, as you navigate through the elite levels of your sport – your body, muscle memory, fast-twitch muscle fibres, and central nervous system begin to adjust to prepare you to meet the challenge. The more you are competing against better athletes, the faster your opportunity is for growth and development.
When it comes to confidence at the next level, it is important to understand and develop a growth mindset towards your sport. Many athletes who make the jump from junior levels to semi-pro or professional levels go through stages of self-doubt that they have never really experienced before – and so they should!
Why? because at junior levels you are only ever competing against competition that is only ever 1 or 2 years ahead of you. When you come into semi-pro or professional organizations, there are teammates and opponents that have 10-15 years of experience on you. This is why it is important to understand that it takes time, effort, patience, experience, mistakes, and failure for you to be ready to compete at that level.
For some athletes, this is a matter of ‘last man standing’. Because if you can endure everything it takes to live your dream and not let it waiver your work ethic – then you deserve to play at the highest level.
In the meantime there are strategies that you can take on, that will build inner-self belief and confidence to fast-track that process.
Here are 12 ways you can develop the ultimate self-confidence:
- Be the Hardest Working Athlete You Know:
It is no secret that hard work breeds confidence. Think about it… If you are outworking others, working at your craft more than anyone that you know – You deserve to perform with the highest level of confidence in your ability. Every rep that you lock into your mind and muscle memory improves your skill level. So, if you’re putting the most time, effort, and practice into your craft your potential will be greater than anyone else. What you are capable of performing, will be greater than anyone else. This means if you take your mind out of it your skillset alone will be unmatched. This is the foundation of success and confidence in ability.
2. Focus on your Strengths:
The human body is uncanny, in its ability to assemble muscle memory. But for one to perform these spectacular feats on a consistent basis – there is a whole lot of time, practice, and repetition that has to go into raising the standard of that skill to an unconsciously competent level. Performance should always showcase what you have spent hours, days, and years preparing for. Training is where an athlete grows and develops. Performance should always be a reflection of what you have trained to a competent level. This is why it is important to focus on strengths in performance. When you see how those strengths help you be effective in performance, it builds a sense of belonging, self-belief, and confidence.
“You are the only person on earth who can use your ability.” – Zig Ziglar
3. Control the Controllables:
With so much that can occur in competition – distractions, calls, momentum swings, trash talk, etc. it is important to understand what you as an athlete, have control over and what you don’t. Whether it be physical or mental, energy is energy and can be drained quickly in a toxic environment. Negativity is draining in itself and can leave you feeling completely exhausted and operating at a lower vibration. For an athlete to operate at their best consistently, it is vital they are aware of where they place their focus or thoughts in order to boost, not hinder their performance. Besides, negative emotion rarely boosts confidence.
When it comes to sports performance, according to Dr. Stephen E Walker – the controllable factors fall under three key categories. Those categories are preparation, effort, and attitude.
4. Acknowledge Fear:
It is completely normal to feel any type of nerves or anxiety before a performance. In fact. the adrenalin that is pumped into the body can actually energize the muscles and prepare you for competition. But these nerves and anxiety can also debilitate an athlete’s ability which plays into our fear state of mind. Fear is the feeling of loss of control and has a physiological reaction in the body that makes it feel so REAL. Fear generates an uncomfortable feeling in the body to warn us of physical or psychological danger. The human reaction to fear is to prepare the body to fight or flee. When we acknowledge that fear is in our bodies, we become at peace with it. Our heart rate lowers and we send a message to the brain that the danger or risk is no longer there. When we understand how to manage fear it gives us a level of confidence to overcome the uncomfortable feeling to help us perform at our best.
5. Trust Your Instincts:
When the body and mind are in the present moment at the same time it creates a synergy between the two that has the ability to evoke a flow state (otherwise known as performing in a zone). Understanding that every rep is lodged into muscle memory and your central nervous system is key to being able to trust your instincts in the heat of competition. The more work you put into developing your skillset. the more your body remembers the movement. Once you are able to trust your instincts and believe that your skillset is good enough, the more evidence you will see of that paying off and the more confident you will feel. A coach once said to me “You will never get any better or any worse 10 minutes before a game. So let go of control and trust your instincts”.
6. Focus on the Process. NOT the Results:
While there is no denying that results are an integral part of sports, fixating on the outcome can create pressure and anxiety in a fear-based state of mind. Training yourself to focus on the process of performance rather than results allows you to be more immersed in the actions it takes to produce results. A great way to achieve this is to have mental cues that keep you in the moment and focused on what’s important now (W.I.N.). When our mind wanders too far ahead not only do we trigger performance anxiety but we create a split focus between present and future. With so much, that can divide our intention in performance it is vital to be 100% immersed in this play.
7. Write a List of People that Believe in You:
It is important to understand that confidence for all athletes — even at the highest level — ebbs and flows. Confidence is not all-or-nothing. It’s a state of mind that fluctuates, so don’t beat yourself up when your confidence is lower. Remember that there are people that believe in you. It could be a coach, manager, trainer, family member, or fellow performer. They have the belief in your ability that you currently may not have. There is no harm in asking them for purposes of reassurance.
8. Are You Nervous or Excited?
The feeling of anxiety is physiologically almost the same as the feeling of excitement. Both feelings produce an elevated heart rate and a feeling of butterflies in your stomach. Both might make you sweat as your body is pumped with adrenalin, readying itself for action. While the feeling is similar the emotion is different. Excitement is connected to joy, whereas anxiety comes from a different emotion — fear. It is important to distinguish them because when we operate from fear a fear state of mind, we are operating from a place of survival, rather than a place where we can take advantage of opportunities and possibilities, such as when we are excited. So, let me ask you again… Are you nervous or excited?
9. Recall Upon Previous Success:
Think about previous successes that you have had. What did that feel like? How were your emotions during this time? Furthermore, how confident did that make you feel? Using memory recall is a positive strategy to enable athletes to re-build confidence as it associates with belief. One example is to look at body language during competition of teams in winning positions against those in losing positions. These positions are actually great experiences that can be used when required.
“On your best days, you learn confidence. On your worst days, you learn persistence. There is always something to learn.” – Unknown
10. Focus on Self – NO Comparisons:
The majority of elements in sports performance that are under the direct control of the athletes fall within oneself. Understanding that most intimidation in sports is self-induced. Athletes who lack confidence in performance usually give too much energy and attention to other competitors by making comparisons, thinking too much about the reputation of their competitors, or feeling like they do not belong at the current level of competition. Focusing on your strengths and what you can control in sports performance allows you to perform to the upper echelon of your ability. In turn, the results build confidence.
11. Have Standards. NOT Expectations:
A functional mindset is the opposite of trying to make everything perfect. This begins with the idea that you do not have to be perfect in performance. In fact, it is impossible to perform perfectly with so many unknown factors of competition. You cannot be perfect in an imperfect game. So drop that expectation. You will make mistakes and you have to accept mistakes. The greatest athletes in the world make many errors. What separates the best from the rest is their ability to recover and move on to the next play. Go into performance with standards, not expectations.
12. Act Confident. Not Arrogant:
Confidence is a verb. We have to make this mindset shift and think of confidence not just as something you feel, not just as something you are, but something you do. Confidence takes action and acting confident isn’t just in your thoughts; it’s also in how you carry yourself. How you carry yourself affects how you feel and how others perceive you. If you want to be the athlete to beat, carry yourself like you are the athlete to beat. This is different from being cocky or arrogant. This is allowing your body to send the message to your brain that you can do this. When you hold yourself with confidence, you start to feel more confident.
“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.” – Jerry Sternin
We all recognize that our success accelerates when we are confident. Practice, learning, and studying all yield confidence. Put time, effort, and repetition into your craft at a greater level than anyone else and you are bound to increase your confidence.
Because as we become more skilled at a task, our fear shrinks and our confidence grows. As our confidence grows, we get better (more competent). This is the essence of the confidence/competence loop.
Want to become more confident? Get more competent.
– 𝐶𝑜𝑎𝑐ℎ 𝐶𝑎𝑙.