“The difference between winning and losing was simply belief. You have to be able to get up on the block and say to yourself, ‘I am the best in the world!’ You have to believe it one hundred percent…To break a world record, you have to say, ‘Not only am I the best in the world, but I maybe the very best that has ever been! In fact, I may be the best that will ever live!’ …Now to get your teeth onto that kind of thinking is very difficult to do. In fact, it is near impossible. Very few people can do it.” Duncan Goodhew – Olympic swimmer & gold medal winner
Confidence was the topic in last night’s Psychology of Sport class. I love showing the quote above to students at the start of class. I’m always struck at how students agree with Goodhew’s assessment of confidence while at the same time pointing at his “arrogance”.
Confidence it seems, is socially desirable – who doesn’t wish for more confidence in certain performance situations? – but like my students remind me – not entirely socially acceptable. This is a shame – since we’ve known for a long time now that belief in an ability to be successful at a given task puts the athlete in a position to succeed. Acquiring and/or maintaining confidence isn’t easy – but it can be done! Here are some tips:
Play your “Highlight Reel” in your head – it’s important we take the time to remember the times we’ve been successful at similar tasks. Albert Bandura (the rock-star of confidence or self-efficacy research) found prior performance accomplishments were the most dependable source of confidence
Choose to picture success – in other words, make the choice to picture how you would want to perform instead of worrying about the thing that might go wrong. Worry is a down payment on a debt you might not owe.
That being said, it’s important that you – have a plan before it hits the fan – well before performance, smart athletes anticipate and prepare for adversity. I think many athletes do the equivalent of closing their eyes, crossing their fingers, and wishing nothing bad happens during this performance. Take some time to think about productive ways to mentally and physically respond to the unexpected.
Make the butterflies fly in formation – Too often, athletes interpret pre-games nerves and jitters as signs that they’re nervous or afraid. It’s possible to reinterpret those simple physiological reactions as, “I’m ready” instead of, “I’m nervous”.
Be aware of what you’re thinking – what we think affects how we feel, and how we feel affects how we play. I’ve always liked Ken Ravizza’s description of unproductive thoughts as, “junk food for the mind”. Unproductive thoughts often lead to worry, doubt, fear, and worst, hesitation. The best, more productive self-talk are those thoughts that instruct our actions and direct our focus in the present moment.