Confidence is a universal concept in modern sport, and a key factor in determining how well you perform.
Before Mindsport outlines ways to improve confidence, it may be of use to identify whether you are an athlete that has high or low confidence.
If you are an athlete suffering from low confidence
You will often display lower levels of communication with teammates and coaches.
You may show signs of frustration and aggression after making a mistake.
After a poor performance, you tend to blame external factors such as the coach, teammates, and the opposition, instead of taking personal accountability.
When competing there is a greater likelihood that you will play an overly safe game; taking very few risks.
Negative body language may also be characteristic of a lack of confidence, for example slumped shoulders and a lowered head position are typical of someone with lowered levels of confidence.
Mindsport has compiled a list of applicable techniques and philosophies to help boost and raise confidence in the domain of sport.
The power of optimism
Its important to view mistakes and setbacks in sport as essential stepping stones in your career. Embrace mistakes and disappointments as fundamental components of your career, and they will lose their capacity to damage your confidence. Also regard losses as experiences that hold valuable information about yourself, highlighting areas where you need to improve, as another tool to meet set-backs constructively.
It sounds contradictory but if you can integrate this approach into your sporting regime you may never feel frustrated, angry, or disappointed again. An ability to extract the positives from all sporting events is one of the most important and powerful strategies you can possess.
Write down at least 3 things you learn after every loss, to improve your progression as an athlete. This can be done individually, or if you are part of a team as a group exercise.
Famous individuals from all walks of life have talked about the importance of making every experience work for them in a positive way.
Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb spoke publicly about the importance of making mistakes. After his seven hundredth unsuccessful attempt to invent an electric light he spoke to the media about his efforts:
‘I have not failed seven hundred times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those seven hundred ways will not work. When I have eliminated all the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.’
For more information about the optimistic mindset please read the article optimism vs pessimism
Start Again, Simply
Often in sport, immediately after making a mistake in the field of play you feel the need to compensate for the error, and try an over elaborate action. Doing this you increase the likelihood of making two consecutive errors, and as a consequence you run the risk of damaging your confidence.
Directly after making a mistake start again simply. This increases the probability of a successful completion, helping to erase any negative mental impact the initial mistake may have had. Once the simple, successful completion has been made you are in a positive place to push beyond your comfort zone and try something more elaborate.
‘Simplicity is genius’ Anonymous
Look into my crystal ball
Mental rehearsal is commonly referred to as visualisation, however this is misleading. The power of your imagination does not only apply to visuals, but to sounds, feelings, and tactile sensations. Fortunately the brain does not differentiate between real and imagined events making it a formidable tool if used regularly. Vivid dreams are a prime example of how powerful your imagination can be.
Before training or competitive games mentally rehearse how you want your future performance to unfold. Close your eyes, and take three deep breaths. Once you are relaxed, imagine you are watching yourself on a large TV screen. See yourself playing well, and notice the sounds and feelings that accompany this image. For the greatest impact make the image bold, bright and full of vivid colour, and the sounds loud and clear. When you have created a clear picture drift into it and view everything from your own eyes. The more you practice this, the more vivid your mental experience will become.
By completing this exercise you programme your mind to attract positive and successful outcomes.
It is sometimes good to sit on the fence
Often when you are suffering from bouts of low confidence, there is a tendency to try too hard, in an attempt to force yourself out of the poor run of form. This is inadvisable because the harder you struggle to rediscover your best, the further you push it beyond your grasp.
In order to regain your form pitch your efforts in between being too relaxed and trying too hard. Find the middle ground between these two opposites to rediscover your best form. It is only through relaxed excellence that we can enter what sportsmen like to call ‘the zone.’
‘You can have anything you want, providing you first let go of wanting it’
Power talking is achieved by constructing self-affirmations. Self-affirmations are positive verbal statements that you express aloud or internally. They are designed to place your mind and body into highly resourceful states.
Write down 10 different self-affirmations, all designed to work in different contexts.
For example; ‘you are going to have the best game of your life’ is a self-affirmation to say to yourself just before a big performance.
Once you have written down your affirmations, practice using them in the desired situations, remembering that the self-affirmation can be expressed internally or externally. Both can be equally effective.
The self-affirmation should be expressed in the tone that best reflects its message. For example a loud, strong voice maybe adopted for ‘come on, you can do it’, while ‘keep calm’ may be expressed in softer tones.
The message also needs to be stated in the present tense, for example ‘I am performing at my best and it feels fantastic.’ This way the message is more effective as it directly relates to your current state.
The past doesn’t lie
As we have mentioned, mental rehearsal is a powerful tool that most top athletes have used at some point in their careers. Mental rehearsal can be used to recreate past successes. This gets you into a positive internal state, and reminds you that you have the resources to succeed.
Imagine a time when you performed at your best. With your eyes closed recreate all the sights, sounds and feelings of one of your greatest past performances. Spend 5 minutes or longer indulging in your match winning performance and only open your eyes when you have no doubt that you can recreate this past performance in the present moment.
If you have done it before, you can do it again
Step into someone else’s shoes
When your confidence is low, it is common to want to step out of your own shoes and into someone else’s. Using the power of the mind this is possible!
Think of someone that is confident, and copy everything that they do that makes them this way. Behave and carry yourself in exactly the same manner, matching their body posture, their facial expressions and how physically move when they are performing at their best. After modifying your current state to mirror that of your model, you will to take on a persona that oozes confidence.
Behaviour is context dependent. This means that you behave differently in different situations. For example, if you perform well in training this does not guarantee you will perform well in competitive situations. Often due to the unfamiliar environment of the competitive arena, your top performances do not come as naturally as they would in a familiar training situation.
When you arrive at the competition venue, take time to explore it. This will help to boost your confidence prior to the performance.
Also try a technique called positive hallucination in order to raise your confidence levels:
Begin by standing where you would normally stand as if you were about to compete in the arena. With your eyes open, picture yourself playing at your best, right in front of you. Notice how your body moves, how you physically carry yourself, recreating the sounds and feelings that accompany your vision.
The fun factor
One of the biggest predictors of performance is your internal state. If you feel good going into a contest the likelihood is that your performance will reflect this positive condition.
To ensure feelings confident and positive remain, get yourself into a resourceful state. Ways to do this include listening to music; laughter; mental rehearsal; reading inspiring material and communicating with friends and family before competing.
He who dares wins
Sometimes a lack of confidence can sneak up on you because of a refusal to push beyond the comfort zone. Make sure that your behaviour is a reflection of someone who is courageous and positive, rather than someone who acts out of fear. If you very rarely venture outside of the comfort zone, you perform reactively and not proactively. This results in your performance being dictated and controlled by your opponents.
During performances, try to engage in 3 or more actions that are productive and challenging. For example, if you are performing within a team and you find it difficult to communicate with others, actively encourage your team-mates. You will notice confidence boosting effects immediately. It doesn’t matter which difficult acts you choose to engage in, so long as you know they will be beneficial to you and your performance.