Today’s Topic: How to Build Confidence In Sport
A large part of what I do is help people build confidence while finding their flow. I get a lot of questions about how to build confidence, so that’s the first question that I’m going to tackle here today.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’ll give you a little bit of an intro about myself if this is your first time meeting me. I’m a High Performance coach and I have a Master’s in Sport Psychology. What that means is I primarily help young athletes, a lot of whom are gymnasts and swimmers and a lot of individual sport athletes, but I also work with athletes who are over 18 and people who are in team sports. I help them link up the mind and body so they can perform at their best when it counts.
One question I received often is,
Q: How do you build confidence?
I’m sure if you think back to a time in life when you were really confident, you can see some trends or some things that went into your training and life that allowed you to feel really confident.
I’m going to refer mostly to Bandura’s research from the 70s, because I really agree with it as far as how to build something called “self-efficacy.” That’s that feeling of essentially, “I can do it…I feel like I can do it.” That’s confidence. That’s the confidence in the way that an athlete needs it – the ability to walk out on the field or on the court or in the gym and go, “I can do it. I got this.”
How to Build Confidence
There are six different ways to build confidence. Something important to note, and I say this all the time, everybody’s different… what makes me feel confident might be different from what makes you feel confident. That’s why I’m giving you all six and you can decide which ones of those really work for you and which ones of those don’t. It’s okay if they don’t work for you.
If you are a coach or a parent, just know, not everybody is motivated the same way. One person may need a big cheering section, and one may say, “Don’t look at me. It makes me nervous.”
Six Ways You Build Confidence
1. Past performances
This one is a no-brainer. If you have a successful performance, then you feel confident. If you have an unsuccessful performance, you feel less confident.
The way you can apply this is to take skills and break them into chunks. Each little chunk you do successfully, you continue building success. Then your past is full of successes instead of failures.
If you have a bunch of failures in your past, that’s okay because you can start building confidence through successes. Just know that it doesn’t have to look a certain way. It doesn’t have to be doing the entire performance totally perfectly every single time.
What you want to do is start taking down the ratio of successes to failures. You want to set yourself up to be challenged, but not to the point where you’re going to be falling short consistently. If you start out strong, it doesn’t mean you can’t build confidence, it just means you want to continue stretching and continue improving throughout the season.
2. Vicarious Experience
This is the idea that when you’re training and your friend (who’s your same age and your same skill level) is training alongside you, when they get a skill that you’re working on for the first time, you’re able to look at them and go, “Oh, my gosh. If she can do it, I could probably do it.”
This also goes the opposite way, too. If you’re at a competition and your teammate has a horrible routine, then you go, “Oh, no. I’m at the same level. I’ve been training the same amount of hours and she just bombed it. Does that mean I’m going to bomb it, too?”
This can be a domino effect of, “Oh, my gosh. Someone else did poorly, so that means that we’re all going to be bad because we all have been training the same way.”
Be careful with that one because that doesn’t necessarily have to be true. Somebody else might lose focus, they might have something on their mind and it doesn’t necessarily play into their training. You don’t always want to go, “Uh oh. Someone else did badly, that means I’m going to fail.”
At the same time, when you see somebody working alongside you that has a success, it can pump you up and go, “Okay. If she can do it, I can do it.” That’s the vicarious experience.
3. Verbal Persuasion
I’m using all of Bandura’s big words, but this basically means, talk; people saying, “You got this.”
Whether it’s you saying it to yourself, “I can do this,” that inner pep talk, or it’s your coaches saying, “You can do it. I’ve seen you do it before, I know you can do it again.” Then you internalize it and go, “Okay. I think they’re right.”
Your teammates, your parents, your mental coach, whoever it is that’s giving you that feedback that you’re on the right track, that starts building confidence. Anytime you notice you’re thinking, “I can’t do it. This isn’t going to go well,” you’re eating away at your confidence. You’re much better off to start scripting your own confidence-building language. That might look like, “I got this. I can do this.” You can add your own language in wherever you think you might drop in confidence.
If you know that you get a little shaky right before you compete beam, you might stand there waiting for the judge to salute going, “I got this.” Doing the Laurie Hernandez, “I got this. I got this.”
Fill your mind with positive words, so that that way, you don’t have a chance to eat away at your own self-confidence. Now, if you have a negative coach or a negative parent or negative teammates, be ready to block it out because that really does affect the way that you feel about yourself and about your skills. If you have negative influences in your life, be ready to shut them off because it’s not going to help you with building confidence at all.
4. Emotional State
This is when you show up in a bad mood and then you get nothing done. I think we probably all have this where we’re like, “Ah. I’m here because I’m supposed to be here, but I’m not going to have any fun doing it. I’m just going to look at the clock, and then it will be over, and then I can go home.”
If you show up in a bad mood, you have to have some things in place to flip that around.
Because really, a bad mood brings negativity which decreases confidence, which decreases your skill level, which decreases your mood. You’re in a downward spiral of unproductiveness.
Then, you go back to the gym the next day and you’ve got this past experience of failure that also decreases your confidence. That mood can be so critical. Make sure that you’re on top of it: When I’m in a bad mood, what brings me up? If it’s not my coach, because my coach drives me crazy. If it’s not my teammates, what does? Is it trying to put on a smile and help your friends who are in your group with you? Or thinking about dinner when you get through it? It can be just, “Get through this next set and just focus on doing the very best version of this set,” that you can do.
Know that that mood, that funky mood is eating away at your confidence.
Try to give yourself some kind of emotional control strategy. That’s something I teach clients and something I teach in the PerformHappy community, too: how to control these types of emotions so that you can snap out of that bad mood because that’s going to eat up your energy and your confidence.
5. Physiological State
That’s when your heart is pounding, pounding, pounding and you are short of breath and you feel like you’re going to wet your pants. Your confidence is going to be potentially lower.
What you have to do there is figure out how to get your heart to chill out, get your breathing back to normal, get your shoulders relaxed, get back to the way your body would feel if it was calm and confident. If your body would feel like it was having a heart attack when you’re confident, great, go for that. I’m guessing that’s probably not exactly what you want or what you’re aiming for.
Ways to Chill Out Your Body
Now, this is what people usually do wrong. They usually go, “Calm down. It’s okay.”
That doesn’t work because your reasoning, thinking the brain is shut off when you’re in stress mode, when you’re in fight-or-flight. What actually works is breathing, feeling your feet on the ground, getting present, getting into your body, taking a second to scan through and relax the muscles that are tense.
Then also, imagery can be really helpful. You can think of a time or a place where you’re really relaxed and happy. T hat can allow your brain to go, “Okay. It’s okay. We’re doing fine.”
As your body calms down, your confidence will go up because then you don’t feel like, “Oh, my gosh. I’m going to freak out. What’s going to go wrong?” A s long as you can do certain things to calm yourself down, then that’s better.
This is a concept that’s similar to visualization. The difference is that in visualization, the keyword is visual, so it’s only what you’re seeing. It’s as if you’re sitting, watching a movie of yourself doing something.
Imagery is very similar, but you’re not just watching a movie, you’re in the movie -you’re feeling it, you’re smelling it, you’re tasting it, you’re moving around in it, you have 360 degrees of senses. If you can learn to do this well, (this is another thing that I teach clients) you learn how to incorporate all of those senses. It’s as if it’s really happening.
Let’s say there’s a skill that you’re working on that you’re not that confident doing, that you really want to get more confident doing but you’re not yet. Or maybe it’s a skill that you haven’t learned yet because it’s a little bit dangerous or scary…
You go into your mind, and I always recommend getting really relaxed first. Taking some nice, deep breaths in through your nose, out through your mouth, and just go through your entire body and relax, relax, relax. The more relaxed that you get, the more that your brain’s ability to go, “That’s just your imagination,” kind of calms down and your brain will actually start to go, “Wait. Is this really happening?” That’s what we want. We want to trick your brain into thinking that. You completely relax, you go in. I usually like to do a little sensory check.
For a beam routine, you go and you stand there next to the beam. You look around and you smell the chalk, you feel your feet on the ground, you feel your leotard on your body, and you go through all of the different senses before you get up to do the routine, or the skill or whatever it is that you’re training.
Then, you do that skill repeatedly. Usually the first few times, it won’t be super strong. S ometimes, you can’t control it and you fall in your mind. Sometimes, it’s blurry or it’s black and white or you’re missing certain sense. It might be really hard to get the smell in there sometimes.
Some people are more visual, so you’ll see bright, vivid colors but they don’t really feel their body. You also want to have thoughts and emotions. If you want to feel confident, you need to feel confident in that imaginary experience.
All of the senses + feelings and emotions
Then, the last bit of doing it correctly is making sure that you’re doing it real-time. When I work with swimmers, I actually have them literally get out their stopwatch and figure out: what time do you want to get? T hey start it, they do their visualization. Everything exactly as they want it, they stop it and it should be exactly the time they’re aiming for.
For you, if you’re a gymnast, you do the same thing. If you know your floor routine, you do it with the floor music. If you have the time for the beam, you make sure you’re doing it exactly the same as you would in real life. Because that’s what really gets your brain locked into feeling like it’s really happening.
If it feels like it’s really happening and you’ve gained control of it and it’s going well, then the next time you get up to do it, your brain is going to go, “Oh, we’ve done this before. Okay, this is good. I’ve done this before. We’re safe. It was great.” The more that you can do that, the better.
That’s the quick overview of ways to build confidence. We have: past performance, vicarious experience, physiological state, verbal persuasion, that’s the self-talk and the cheerleading. Emotional state, that’s a funky mood, and imagery.
Story: The 4-minute mile
I’m going to give you a quick story that some of you may have heard and some of you may not have that kind wraps it all up with a bow.
There was a runner named Roger Banister, I’m guessing some parents have heard of this guy and maybe not the kids. He was an Olympian in the 50s. He had this goal to break the four-minute mile. The world record was set at 4:01 in the 1940s. Now, this guy is 12 years later running this 4:01. Everybody’s running as close to four as possible, but there is this common conception that it can’t be broken. If you break a four-minute mile, you might physically fall apart and die. This was what people believed. There was nobody who had ever done it. Even with all these fast amazing runners, the assumption was that it couldn’t be done.
This guy, he went to an Olympic games and got fourth place, which is basically the worst … I mean, yeah, you got the Olympics, you got fourth place, cool. You just missed a medal. It has to be the worst. He was mad. He was like, “You know what? I’m going to show it. I will prove it to everybody I’m going to go break that four-minute mile.”
Everyone thought he was nuts. What happened was, he started training. He saw these guys who were training with him and they were getting a little faster and he was getting a little faster.
Then, he started to see that maybe it was possible. He has this past experience of increasing speed, increasing speed. Then one day, this guy on the other side of the world, wanted to get the four-minute mile and he’s like, “Oh, no. I ‘m not letting this guy get it.” He goes out and in less than perfect conditions he gets it. He’s the first man in history to run mile in under 4 minutes.
What do you think happens next? In six weeks, another guy get it. Then, another guy gets it and another guy gets it.
As soon as somebody proves it can be done, you can do it.
It just goes to show one of those vicarious experience moments. As soon as somebody else does it, you can look at it and go, “Oh, well, I can do it.” That’s the power of the team.
Okay, I have another question here…
Q: “What should you do as a parent to help your child get past the mental block when the coach isn’t going back to the basics?”
Okay, so that’s a great question. I did a coach session last week. If they haven’t seen that, go ahead and watch that. Maybe you can send it to the coach. Here’s the first thing to do and this is one of the exercises I do in the Perform Happy community where I have a whole training on overcoming fear and that’s at performhappy.com, if you want to check it out.
One thing I’ll say real quick before I sign off is, have your child focus on the controllables.
Focus on the Controllables
Write two lists:
1. On one of them, you’ll write “controllables.”
Then, you’ll write down everything you can control. Examples: attitude, actions and efforts. Write down everything you can come up with that is within your control.
2. Then another list, a second list is things you can’t control.
The coach goes on this list, along with spotting, mats, equipment. Write out as many things as you can possibly come up with that you cannot control. Then, take a good objective look at it.
Most of the time, that list of things you can’t control is the one that contains the most stressful things on it.
Then, you go back to what you can control. Within the realm of possibility… can you do private lessons? Could you go in for open gym and set things up? Can you get a different coach? Can you communicate in a way that’s within what you can control? Sometimes, you’ve got to get creative.
I’ve worked with kids one-on-one who had very difficult coaches, extraordinarily difficult coaches and they were able to work it out.
It’s really about knowing yourself. The athlete knows herself and goes, “You know what? This is too big. This is too much. I’m not going for it.” It’s getting to know yourself and what is doable, so that you can build confidence from there.
Feel free to reach out and this one, I can maybe address a little bit more next time because we are out of time.
Basically as a parent, help her focus on what she can control. Help her to focus on the things that will help her to build confidence and then hopefully, as she stops going for things that she’s going to fail on and goes for things where she’ll succeed, even if her coaches are not being terribly helpful, this over time will start to work. I hope that that answers your question.
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