Reading through the interviews on Performance Kitchen something shines out: Confidence. High performing athletes often have really high levels of confidence. This influences how they think, feel and behave so when they try to reach new speeds or distances or skills they have a degree of certainty that they can do it. Confidence is essentially the lens through which they think and feel about everything that happens to them. The higher the confidence, the more rose tinted the glasses become.
90% of Olympians say they have a very high level of self-confidence and when a wider range of athletes, from club up to international level were asked, over half said their self-confidence was the most important mental skill they had. Other studies have found a clear positive relationship between confidence and performance.
So athletes don’t just crave confidence – they need it. There are twelve sources of confidence but two stand out for being really robust. One of these is to be extensively prepared.
The more preparation you put into a competition or challenge, the more confidence you’ll have when it comes to your performance. It sounds so obvious but it is also so easy to get carried away with excitement (or nerves) that we forget some key things. Not just forgetting kit (I am guilty of turning up at a bike race without any bike shoes and having to borrow a pair five sizes too big) but I have seen runners missing the start of the London Marathon because they didn’t sort travel details and triathletes throwing up on the beach before Ironman races because they didn’t feel confident they had done all they could. Six months of training sabotaged.
Once you realise the massive impact meticulous preparation can have on your confidence levels it is easier to prioritise it. This extensive preparation needs to include physical training, skills development and mental practice. It also needs to consider the logistics of each specific event so nothing is left to chance.
The preparation begins with writing great goals that you are in complete control of. Qualifying for the World Championships is a goal of many elite athletes but actually qualifying depends on how others do. A better goal would be to look up the times, distances, heights or goals required in the past to qualify and use these as your target. You then have a goal that, if you have been realistic in your ambitions, you can control.
The month or so before a big competition is the time to get ‘What if’ planning. This process involves thinking through every single thing you are worried about in your competition and writing them down so they stop ruminating round your head and can be addressed effectively. We look at each worry one by one and work out a way to prevent it happening. An athlete may worry about missing the team bus to the start of a race. So we prep for that by setting two alarms and asking a team mate to knock for her. We then look at a plan for if the worry came true. The plan in this case might be to have the number of a taxi company and some cash to hand and to do some of their warm up while waiting for the taxi. Simply having a Plan B like this takes away much of the stress.
Once you make it to competition week, a pre-competition routine is a great way to feel prepared. Doing the same things ahead of each competition helps you feel focused and ready. The Olympic Rower Helen Glover has talked to Performance Kitchen about how she mentally and physically prepares. “Morning of the race I had a routine that pretty much stayed with me for my whole career, when I woke up first thing, I would have some slow-release carbs, like some porridge or some cereal like Weetabix, then after our warm up or ‘pre-paddle’, I would have a banana, maybe some biscuits and an energy gel that contained some caffeine.”
To write your own pre-competition routine think about including; kit and equipment, food, drink and nutrition, mental skills, music, warm up, travel and admin tasks like registering, paying or kit check. Think through when you like to do each of these and build them into a routine.
With a great controllable goal, lots of ‘what if’ planning and a pre-competition routine then the confidence levels on competition day should be robust and a performance to be proud of should follow.
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