Athletes build confidence Q&A

It’s Q&A time once again. Let’s talk about how athletes build confidence. Here’s one of the most popular questions which flooded my inbox: “what is the best way to get confidence back once you’ve lost it”.

Now it’s time for the answer. Freaking out before or during your events sets you up to under-perform. Those crazy, racing thoughts mess up your flow. Accessing the zone is absolutely impossible when your body’s rigid from tension.

Ever notice how frustration quickly rises when your performance fails to cross over from practice to competition? Logically, there’s no reason for you to totally collapse under pressure. Trying to fix confidence issues from a logical perspective magnifies the problem.

Peek inside the confidence issue

When tactics, strategy and equipment changes fail to correct things, then there’s a perception issue. Somewhere a breakdown exists between your thoughts, mental game and action. No one wants to admit it’s an inside job. Yet, a solid mental game is the solution.

Competitive athletes realize confidence counts as much, if not more, than competence. We’ve all witnessed upsets where the underdog wins. Rock solid confidence combined with laser focus trump abilities.

What’s the reason for shaky confidence, disrupted focus, and trashing your well planned strategy at the very last minute?

Getting into your head, where you’re thinking too much, is the problem. You’re unknowingly making mistakes which then cause you to under-perform.

I’ve talked with many highly talented athletes who fall into a slump, beat up on themselves when their game is off, or struggle to get out of the hole they dug themselves into but actually end up digging themselves in even further. And it’s not necessary.

Get out of your own way

There is a solution to get out of your own way so you’re performing consistently. Plus, when you stop having a massive melt down prior to your start, you’ll perform better (and have more fun).

The thoughts below contribute to low self confidence.

Any one of these will sap your energy by distracting your focus. The problem multiplies when several of these performance stopping thoughts clog your mind.

  1. Comparisons. Stop checking out the competition if it causes you to start questioning yourself. This leads to more problems than it solves.
  2. Perfectionism. Playing a safe game keeps you average. All athletes make mistakes…and it’s okay. Athletes build confidence when they’re prepared to learn from their mistakes.
  3. Name calling. Calling yourself names like stupid, failure or loser after making mistakes are deadly. It’s impossible to win when you’re focused on your faults.
  4. All or nothing thinking. This is closely related to perfectionism. Either you’re doing something to the extreme or you’re totally avoiding it. Progress stalls when you avoid straying beyond your comfort zone. Champion athletes go beyond the “sure thing.”
  5.  The gospel truth. Your coach, teammates, parents and other people’s input are based upon their own point of view. One offhand comment can rattle your confidence, especially when someone’s counting on you or instructing you to avoid a mistake.
  6.  The dark side. Stepping into the dark side of negativity is dangerous. If this commonly happens, then let’s interrupt those thoughts. Put on a headset with music that has lyrics you enjoy or a meditation track. It’s difficult to think when you’re focused on listening to an MP3.
  7. Bad outweighs good. Athletes are notorious for dwelling on their mistakes and minimizing their successes. What’s that all about?
  8. Worst case scenario. Your mind gets tricked here. Whatever you tune into, gets delivered. When you’re worried about all the problems, guess what happens?  Your mind believes that’s what you want. Well, it delivers the very things you’re hoping to avoid.
  9. Your crystal ball is damaged. Something goes wrong at a specific venue. Then the next time you’re scheduled to compete there, you’re filled with worry about repeating history. Although you made a mistake yesterday, you’re a different person today. Shift your focus from avoidance to approach. Strategically become aware of how you will play things out differently this time around.
  10. Pure luck. Here’s where you minimize your successes. Taking credit for the time and effort that set you up to win is difficult. Instead you downplay your effort, skill or preparation. Athletes build confidence when they celebrate their win before moving onto the next challenge.

Where do you stand?

Athletes build confidence  with mental game strategies. photo credit: 140525_14595_Onion Man via photopin (license)

Athletes build confidence with mental game strategies.
photo credit: 140525_14595_Onion Man via photopin (license)

If you’re not satisfied with your response, then the next steps are critical confidence building steps. Thinking too much throws off your game. Performance doubts interrupt your flow.

Athletes can only access the zone when the mechanics of a move are placed on auto-pilot. Scrutinizing every detail slows you down.

Research shows athletes with low confidence work harder to avoid loss than they do to achieve wins. It’s called loss aversion. This means coming in last has more pain than placing first has rewards. Athletes then focus on playing not to lose instead of playing to win.  It’s counter-intuitive, but this really happens.

The research claims lack of confidence is tied to winning. The more importance you place on winning an event, the more likely you’ll get unraveled during high pressure moments. During those moments, the enjoyment has vanished and you’re working hard to avoid losing.

Clench your fist

There’s a German study which claims clenching your left fist helps relieve high stress moments for athletes. Right handed athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand prior to their competition didn’t choke as much during high pressure moments.

How is that possible? The left side of your body is connected to your right brain. That’s the side which influences automatic movements and taps into muscle memory. Self confidence is gained as you reduce over-thinking. You’ll want to pack a tennis ball or one of those stress balls into your athletic bag. Then next time when you’re wondering how to build confidence, go grab your stress ball to give it a good squeeze.

Challenge: Pack a headset and a stress ball into your athletic bag. Wear your headset and listen to your favorite play list. Go to this link for a pre-performance mental game warm-up. It’s a way to keep you from dwelling on the negative.

Next grab your stress ball. With your left hand, squeeze it a couple times. Research has shown this helps to keep you focused under pressure. These are two tactics that help athletes build confidence. Give them a try to see what works best for you.  Then share your best confidence building strategy.

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