Why Confidence Drops During Competition Season

Hi everybody.  I’m coach Rebecca Smith and I’m live today for a quick Q & A.  I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently because the gymnastics season is just starting. 
If you are just getting to know me, I am Rebecca Smith, the founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching and the PerformHappy online training program.  I got this question from someone in gymnastics, either a parent or coach. 

Q: My athletes have confidence during the offseason.  Then, when meet season hits, they struggle with confidence on skills they already have, and I struggle with trying to help them push past the fear of skills they already have.

This sounds like a coach, but parents might be in that same position as well.  So, these athletes have all this confidence in offseason.  I talk about July-mindset.  “Can we be in July?”  Everything’s easier, there’s no pressure, and there’s no ticking clock.  You just work on upgrades and when you’re ready, you go to the next thing.  You sort of ease into your skills.  Then, you get to January and it’s like, “Go do it.  If you’re not ready, too bad.”
This big shift happens as we get into November, December, January, where athletes have been earning confidence all summer and fall, and then winter hits and it goes down, which doesn’t make any sense.  You would think that all the effort that you’ve been putting in would build to this beautiful, full piggy bank of confidence, but it doesn’t work that way for everybody.

Mindset

So here’s a quick answer as to why this happens.  It’s all about the mindset.  It’s all about the perspective, the way that you’re looking at it.  What has changed from July to January?  Well, everything.  You are making everything different.  Parents go from, “Oh, that’s cool.  You’re working that new skill,” to, “That’s great.  Did you do it by yourself?  Did you do it without the mats?  Oh my gosh, are we going to be ready?  Do you have it?  Are you ready?”  And athletes go from, “Oh, I want to try this.  That would be fun.  I’m getting closer. I’m getting closer,” to, “I’m not good enough.  Oh my gosh, what am going to do without my coach there?”  It’s the same situation with a completely different lens on it. 

Shift in Focus

In July, you’re focused on the process.  You’re focused on getting a little better every day you’re doing it because you want to.  You’re in it for the love.  You’re not worried about winning, you’re not worried about place, and you’re not worried about qualifying.  You just show up and do Tuesday, and then you do Wednesday, and then you do Thursday.

Outcome Focused vs. Process Focused

But then, the whole culture of gymnastics (and I imagine this happens for lots of other sports) switches, and it’s now time to do what we’ve all been working for.  It sort of takes the process out of the picture and focuses on outcomes – we need this outcome and this outcome, we need you to be perfect here.  We need this to look great and if it doesn’t, we’ll all be very disappointed.  Now, this probably isn’t said in actual words, but it’s said in actions and energies.

Sudden Change in Perspective

I’ve noticed with the girls in the PerformHappy community who have been total dynamos working through their baby steps, rebuilding confidence, building self-confidence beyond their sport.  When season comes, they go from just blinders on, baby steps, just working on their stuff, not worrying about what other people are doing, to all of a sudden completely changing their perspective.

Baby Steps

If you want to keep your confidence solid, it’s kind of funny.  It’s not about “go and get your skills and then you’ll be confident”, you have to look at it with blinders on baby steps.  Just take baby steps.  Coaches, see if you can stay in the process because let’s face it, this competition is not going to be their last competition, it’s like this little dot on the line of their gymnastics career.  What they have an opportunity to do at this competition is learn what they’re made of, learn how they do under pressure, learn what works for them and their mental preparation.  Learn what works for them and their physical preparation. It’s like a little mini check-in.
So you train, you do the process, you work, you put in the effort, you put the attitude behind it, you show up and you’re a good teammate.  That whole process is really the whole point of the sport.  If you want to have athletes that are not on this roller coaster of emotion, if you want to have even-keeled athletes, it’s about showing up, putting in the work, and being good people.  Then you go to a meet and it’s like a little quiz.   How’s your training going?  You can see, “Wow, my training is not going well if my meet wasn’t good.”  So instead of thinking “I’m not a good person,” you think, “Okay, we need a lot more numbers on floor.  We need a lot more numbers on beam.  We need to work on this on bars and then we’re going to go and put an extra effort on this on beam.”  You take that away and new wisdom has been installed as a result of that experience.

Bring it Back to the Process

Go back to what you were doing before in July – taking baby steps, getting a little better every day, focusing on the process, staying in your body, staying in the moment, executing skills, not just trying to be perfect, trying not to fall.  That steals so much excellence from people, that focus on not messing up.  Instead of being in one skill or one pose and executing and feeling and letting that pose just completely be the only thing that you’re focused on, the only thing that you’re doing.

Outcome Goals Create Nerves

If you’re focused on the outcome, it creates tension.  It creates nerves and eats away at your confidence.  It eats away at your self-esteem.  I’m not saying that you can’t focus on goals, but the reason that you want to have an outcome goal is if you’re losing motivation in the gym.  You’re thinking, “Oh, I’m so tired.  I do not want to do this conditioning set,” but then you start thinking, “Oh, but I want to do well at that meet.  Okay, I’m going to push a little harder and dig a little deeper.” 
If you need motivation in the gym, that’s fine.  Use your outcome goals.  If you want to get to college, great, but I’m going to tell you a little fun fact, secret insight. When I talk to athletes about college, for most of them, it is a source of stress that brings them down, which makes them feel less than, which makes them compare themselves to others, which makes them discount their personal process.  It is such a big overwhelming outcome goal for so many people that it pulls them out of the joy of the moment, the reason that they do their sport.  It sends them into this crazy high expectation, I have to be perfect land of tension and stress that zaps the joy out of it.

Shift from Joy to Tension

A lot of the time when I work with athletes, there’s this clear moment in time where they became aware, maybe they were good enough for college, or maybe they have the timing right for college, but it was going to be a struggle, and they go from loving the sport and being naturally good at it and having fun to having this external agenda.  What happens is that zaps the joy out and creates a lot of tension and nerves.
So yes, college might make you make your heart beat, it might make you excited to be part of something, but if it’s bringing you down and making you feel like you’re not good enough, don’t think about it.  It’s not helping.  Don’t think about the meet this weekend.  I know this is easier said than done, but don’t think about the outcome.  Think about what is happening right now.  Where are your feet in this moment?  Where’s your body in this moment?  What does your breath feel like right now, coming and going in your body…

…and everything is okay.

If you can do those little check-ins, where are your feet?  Everything is okay.  You’re okay, you’ve always been okay, you’re going to be okay.  Now let’s get a little better right now.  Just a little better attitude, a little better effort, a little more joy, a little more kindness.  Then, at the meet, you do the same thing.  You aim for getting a little better.  You promise yourself, “No matter how I do at this competition, I’m going to learn from it.  If I knock it out of the park, I’m going to reflect on what worked.  If I fail miserably, I’m going to reflect on what worked, and that’s going to make me a better competitor at the next meet.”
It’s all about the mindset. 
Thank you for listening today.  If you have any questions, please reach out to me, Rebecca@performhappy.com and I wish you all a wonderful, happy season.  I hope that everybody can just be where your feet are today.

Grab a copy of my FREE Sport Confidence Roadmap
& get more peak performance insider tips