Confidence is a key differentiator between those who do well in their sport and those who do brilliantly. It doesn’t just give us a bit more certainty that we have what it takes to achieve our goals but shapes everything around that too. It means we can be more positive, keep going when we hit a setback and simply enjoy the process of being an athlete more. This positivity means we are also better able to maintain momentum to see difficult situations as exciting challenges rather than scary barriers to overcome.
There are 12 difference sources of confidence that we can draw from as athletes. Some are transient. Having a fantastic coach and a great group of training partners will give you lots of confidence, but it will disappear instantly if you have to move house or the coach retires. Feeling confident in the new latest kit will work for a while but the kit will age and a competitor will get something with better technology and the confidence will fade.
Two sources of confidence are pretty robust though and one of these is really key, not just to boosting confidence but also to our performance success. This is building knowledge from our previous experiences. Not just official performances when competing (although those are great too) but skills or moves or speeds or heights you have reached in training. This evidence of what you have already achieved provides the strongest contributor to sport confidence. In fact, researchers have found that, in about half of all cases, past performance emerges as the most important reason someone is confident. Knowledge that you have achieved the skill before gives you direct evidence that you will be able to use it automatically when it is required. This becomes self-fulfilling so your confidence grows over time ensuring you continually feel able to attempt something slightly more difficult. This source is so robust that even if you have a bad competition your confidence won’t diminish significantly.
To build your confidence from experience you need to get back to basics, shuffle off to the stationery shop and buy a diary. Online diaries have their place but to use it effectively as a confidence tool a paper one works so much better. In it you don’t only write the training you are doing but how it felt, which elements you enjoyed, any niggles you notice, any negative or unhelpful thoughts you had and any strengths you spotted. Doing this long term will give you a fantastic resource to look through and spot patterns in training preferences, injury issues, self-talk, new skills learnt and evidence of all the hard work you’ve put in.
Another way to build up this evidence is to create a skills sheet so you become hyper aware of all the tools in your armoury. Choose the ten most important skills required for your level in your sport and write them on a sheet of paper. Over the next few months, every time you complete that skill in training or competition write the date next to it until you have at least five dates next to each skill. That piece of paper now gives you visual evidence of 50 times you have nailed the fundamental elements of your sport.
Helen Glover in her interview on Performance Kitchen explains just why giving ourselves evidence of our efforts is so important. “I remember there was a race in 2011, the last race Heather [Stanning OBE] & I lost because we were unbeaten for the next 5 years, we lost the race by 0.004 seconds, and I remember after that World Championship race, getting the silver medal and looking at it thinking, ‘that could’ve been gold, and I’m going to do everything, leave no stones unturned’…I want to sit on the start line in London and in Rio and know, categorically know, that I’ve done everything.
Finally, before every competition, complete a confidence booster. This is simply four boxes on a page which you fill with: your goal, your mantra, three strengths you have that you will be able to use in the competition and three practice sessions you did in the build up which will help you succeed in your goal. You can get much of this information from your diary. Completing it on a Tuesday or Wednesday for a weekend competition means every time you feel worried or anxious you have it close by to read through and boost your confidence levels.
With all this in hand you will hear the starting whistle go knowing you have the skills, experience and practice to achieve whatever you have set your mind to.
Josephine is a Chartered Sport Psychologist and works with those who want to perform at their best; whether that is completing their first Parkrun, qualifying for the Olympics or mastering a difficult piece on stage. She has so far worked in 20 different sports, many performing arts specialisms and with those in professional roles wanting to progress up the career ladder. She runs Performance in Mind (performanceinmind.co.uk) and loves to chat about sport psychology on twitter at: Josephineperrry