A Blueprint For Building Confidence
by Leif H. Smith, Psy.D.
Confidence is the single most important ingredient for athletic success. However, it is also the one aspect of personality that most athletes can improve on. With this in mind, the following is a blueprint for building your confidence as an athlete; this plan can be applied to any sport and any level of athlete, no matter if you are an Olympian or a junior varsity athlete. Follow the steps carefully, and watch your confidence increase incrementally.
Step One: Identify Your Biggest Fears
The first step in building confidence is to identify that which is holding you back from being the athlete you want to be. If you haven't experienced the success you desire, it is most likely because you have fears that are holding you back. Some common fears that get in the way of success include:
- Fear of failure: Ironically enough, the more you fear failure, the more you will fail. Athletes who get to the top of their sports learn to overcome this issue early in their careers. They learn that being scared of failing equates to competing passively (due to fear of taking risks that might fail), and they know that no athlete can become better in his or her sport when competing in a passive manner.
- Fear of success: This, too, is a common fear that precludes athletes from becoming champions. Some athletes actually focus on the "negatives" (in their minds) that will coincide with their future success- increased responsibility, increased exposure, increased expectations. They psych themselves out of doing well.
- Fear of injury: Another common fear. Some athletes have a fear of injuring themselves during competition. They become more passive, take less risks, and gain less rewards.
- Fear of change: Athletes are creatures of habit, much like everyone else. Change in these habits can be an intimidating prospect for those athletes who become too accustomed to their daily routine. The "change" can be good (increased success in their sport) or bad (decreased success in their sport), but a certain percentage of athletes fear change either way. They are too comfortable in their current routine.
- Through first understanding what it is that is ultimately holding you back, you can then seek to eliminate this "excuse", and move forward.
Step Two: Master Fear
How do you master fear? By becoming active, rather than passive, in it's presence. Most athletes view fear as something that should be avoided. They do everything in their power to get away from it. Top athletes, however, put themselves in positions where fear is heightened, where anxiety is increased, and come out sparkling. This is because they learn to define fear differently than the average athlete. They define fear as: False Evidence Appearing Real. What does this mean? This means that they view fear as something their mind has created; a falsehood. For example, most athletes fear failure. They become anxious about it, and focus so much on trying to avoid it that they end up doing it more than their counterparts. Top athletes, however, understand that losing or failure is nothing to be afraid of. There is a 50/50 chance they will do it anyway, and even if they do, what's the worst that could happen? Mastering fear means running towards that "bully" called fear that turns you into a passive, anxiety-prone athlete. The closer you get to that "bully", the more you realize that it is not as intimidating as you previously thought.
Step Three: Identify Your Greatest Strengths
One of the first steps I always take in working with athletes is to inventory their athletic strengths. I figure out what they already have in their possession that has allowed them to make it as far as they have, without any assistance from me. Once I understand the athlete's strengths, I can tailor our work together to maximize these strengths and enhance their effectiveness. For example, many athletes come to me to better understand how to be mentally tough. When I take inventory of their strengths as an athlete, I realize that their work ethic is the primary reason they have done so well. Therefore, I make sure to put these types of athletes in situations that will force them to get tougher. I prescribe situations that provoke anxiety, knowing that this type of athlete will work hard and learn from each situation.
Whatever your strengths are as a competitor, seek to maximize them. Working to correct weak areas takes too long, and is less efficient. Go with what got you there.
Step Four: Set a Course of Attack
Most athletes put more time into choosing their dinner at a local restaurant than they do a plan of attack for becoming a better athlete. That needs to change if you are to become the type of athlete who competes on a consistent basis at the highest levels. If you want to become more confident, set a plan on how you will do this. Much like weight lifting, where the results are gradual and incremental, success in building your confidence will come from gradual and incremental exposure to successful situations in your sport. Set your athletic life up so that you will consistently be working towards larger and more rewarding "successes". Begin small, and work your way up to the ladder of accomplishment.
Step Five: Measure Your Success
This step is crucial to increased confidence in sport. If you want to be able to really know that you are becoming more confident, you must be able to quantify your success, much like a scientist would. What does this mean? It means that you must be able to define confidence in behavioral terms. By doing this, you will be able to actually measure your confidence. Most athletes avoid doing this. Some simple ways to quantify and measure your confidence might include:
- measuring amount of times you competed with true grit and determination (things that are entirely under your control, unlike wins and losses)
- measuring visits to the gym/workout facility
- measuring weight/body-fat percentages
- measuring increased poundages while lifting weights
- measuring decreased times during aerobic workouts
This list is not intended to be all-inclusive by any means, but the point is simple: find a way to measure your increased confidence in your sport. Define it through means that are entirely under your control, so that increases and decreases are directly related to your performance and nothing else.
These five simple steps, if followed, will allow you to feel much more confident as an athlete and a competitor, no matter what sport you are competing in. They are the basis of every outstanding athlete's regimen, and incorporating them into your daily routine will provide dividends for years to come.
Personal Best Consulting, Inc.