by Joel Friel
I believe that the most important thing an athlete takes to the start line on race day is confidence. It may even be more important than fitness or form. There are several things I do to help build confidence in those I coach. But the bottom line is that it has to come from inside. I can’t instill it; I can only encourage it and provide an on-going training experience that fosters it. Here are two little things I’ve learned along the way about how athletes can build their own confidence.
One of the things you can do to promote self-confidence is to build a bank account of successes. It’s easy. Every night when you go to bed, after you’re turned out the lights, you have the only time in the day when there are no external interruptions. This is a good time to run a quick check of the things you did that day in training. Find one thing you did well. It may not seem like a big deal. Maybe you climbed one hill well or had a good set on intervals. Relive that moment several times until you fall asleep. You just made a deposit into your confidence bank account.
Some of the deposits will be big, some will be small. But your account needs to grow each and every day. The week of a race you can start making withdrawals. Any time you feel a bit of anxiety about the upcoming race go back and pull one of those vivid success memories out of your account. Relive it. When the little voice in your head says you can’t do it make another withdrawal immediately. When someone expresses doubt about your chances of success make a withdrawal. When you step to the starting line make a withdrawal.
Never deposit the bad things or unwelcome moments in training. Never. Let them go. They’re trash. Stay focused on the positive experiences. Deposit only them in your account. Withdraw only them.
The second thing you can do to boost confidence and therefore performance is to “act as if.” Always assume the posture and disposition of a confident athlete. Always. Act as if you are confident. You’ll be amazed at what that does for your confidence.
So how does a confident athlete act? Look around and find athletes who exude confidence. What do they do and say that’s unique? Study them. What you will probably find is that they stand tall and proud. Their heads are up. They look people in the eyes when talking. They don’t denigrate others to try to elevate their own self-esteem. They move slowly, precisely and fluidly. Like athletes. It’s obvious they think of themselves positively.
Now you may not feel that way all the time but act like it anyway. Fake it till you make it. It’s remarkable how taking on the posture and demeanor of confidence breeds confidence even when you’re not feeling that way. It’s not possible to be confident with a defeated posture and demeanor. It’s like saying “yes” while shaking your head “no.” The two don’t go together.
So that’s the conversation I have with the athletes I coach when they need to build confidence. I’ve seen it work. Give it a try.