Be Clear In Your Confidence

  |   Coaching, Psychology, Racing

Confidence can be an elusive old thing which we all surely struggle with from time to time. Whether you’re collecting Olympic gold or aiming to complete your first fun run, confidence, or potentially the lack of it, can make a huge difference to our experience, enjoyment and success on the day. So why is it such an enigma for so many of us and why do we often struggle with it so much?

Our confidence is best described as our belief in our abilities to perform a specific task to achieve a predicted outcome. There’s years and years worth of sports psychology research that all points to confidence being one of the most important differentiators between a successful and unsuccessful performance with all other things being equal. One of the most recent shining examples of this has been the widely publicised work Dr Steve Peters has done with the British Cycling athletes which led to some towering performances over recent years and his best-selling book The Chimp Paradox. What the research and his work shows us is that confidence is a very dynamic and unstable thing, which is influenced by an array of other factors. It’s this instability which many of us struggle with and leaves athletes feeling like we have no control over our confidence, meaning the inevitable ups and downs through a race or season are just accepted as being par for the course. But they don’t have to be, we can all take a bit more control over our confidence by taking ownership of it and training it just like any other element of our performance.

So let’s break down just a few of the things that we should look at to make an impact on our confidence…

We all talk about our confidence. A lot. We’ve all said or heard others say “I’m not feeling very confident about this race” or “I really feel confident going into this event”, but really if we think about it this isn’t quite right. As I described earlier, confidence is a belief, not an emotion. We don’t really feel confidence, it’s the positive or negative thoughts in our head that affect the way we feel. So if confidence is a belief we need to stop trying to feel confident and start thinking confident. That is something we can all control.

If we want to think confident, the best way to do that is clearly to be prepared. For any event or race that we’re bothered about performing well in we wouldn’t leave our physical preparation to chance. We’d go out and train and devise strategies for arriving at the race in good condition, so it’s time to do the same with our confidence. As we are headed for a test of our physical strength, endurance or speed, then we should be able to start taking positives from the physical preparation we’ve done and devising similar strategies for allowing us to think positive. Whether that’s having your favourite mascot, cheering team or kit, or mentally thinking through the race ahead of time in a quiet spot, they are all ways of getting into the right headspace. Make confidence an expectation, don’t just hope it’ll come.

confidence arrow

Knowing that there’s so many things that can affect our confidence, we should therefore begin to recognise that gaining confidence is not necessarily a linear process, nor is confidence a singular entity. There are many facets to your confidence which are taken from different aspects of your training and experience. This means that there are differing types of confidence which can have greater or lesser importance in different settings. You may be confident in your running ability for example, but not in your ability to beat your main rival. The levels of confidence you have in all these different aspects will roll together to give you an overall feeling of high or low confidence. We therefore should be aware of the different aspects of confidence that are relevant to each situation, understand where they come from and look to develop them, concentrating on the things that you can control (like your performance), not the things you can’t (like your rivals performance).

Finally, we need to be aware of how we build our confidence. Like so many other things in life, the better base we build, the more stable the outcome. Confidence is no different. Many athletes focus too much on developing their overall confidence but this is a hugely difficult thing to do given all that I’ve discussed above, so is likely to fail, bringing the circle of low confidence round again. Our confidence needs to be built over the range of sources we have, step by step, training session by training session, event by event, season by season. Having a wide range of elements that each grow in confidence gives a solid base which will naturally in turn develop a stronger, more stable feeling of overall confidence.

Plenty of food for thought in all the above, so I’ll leave it there for the time being other than to say, just like the physical aspects of our training, the best results come from effective preparation before an event. Confidence is just the same. Don’t wait until your race is upon you to summon up feelings of confidence. Look for the sources of confidence in your day to day life and daily training so you can arrive, physically prepared and feeling confident when performance is required.

So stay confident and, as ever, stay Positive.

Coach K.