“How much can we write? I have three words so far,” one athlete piped up from her group huddled together on the bench, holding up a small, folded sheet of paper in one hand and a pencil in the other.
We were in the middle of a team-building and confidence-boosting exercise in their locker room, in which each player wrote a positive descriptor for each girl in their group. They would get to read a pile of positive affirmations afterward.
“Just one word per person,” I responded. “Each person in your group should get one positive word from you, including yourself.”
The smile faded from her face almost immediately. “For myself? Oh no,” she said. “I can’t think of any.”
I hate to say it, but this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten this answer.
Actually, I expect it at least once every time we use this exercise.
As much as we blab about its importance in high performance, how to build it, and why you need it, confidence is really hard.
It kind of looks like a farce and often rubs up against narcissism. Sometimes you can smell the fakes.
And, if you’ve got anxiety or imposter syndrome, you probably feel like running through solid concrete is easier than building self-confidence.
The thing is, society (sport included) communicates to some of us how great we are and some of us how average or terrible we are. All around us, messages silently drive home that “if you do _____, you’ll be a high performer!” or “if you’re _____, you’ll be worthy”.
Here’s the thing:
Confidence is a muscle. Flex it.
1) Decide to train your confidence. Make an effort in advance.
Unless you’re a Self-Confidence Superhero (in which case… why did you click this article?), you’re not going to wake up tomorrow morning confident. You won’t be standing up straighter after thinking confidently for one week. You won’t have us all convinced that you’re IT after a month. And your new-found confidence won’t transfer to your game if you’re just half-heartedly faking it.
Actually, confidence is a decision.
Building it takes time and persistence. Grit.
Even when you’re pretty sure you suck today, you’ve got to flex that confidence muscle.
If you truly want to become self-confident and bring its benefits into your game, you have to make it your side-hustle and work on it right along with your strength training, your field training, and your conditioning.
2) Instead of fearing failure, learn from your mistakes.
Don’t dwell on your failures.
What good does that do you? Do you feel like you “deserve” to be punished for making an error?
You don’t. Everybody does it. Even the experts still make errors… regularly!
It’s how you CORRECT and MOVE ON FROM errors that matters.
When you make a mistake in the game and you want to kick yourself, let it roll off your back. Make a habit of (even physically) shaking it off. You can come back to it later, do a self-feedback after the game, and do better next time.
Stop beating yourself down. You’re being your biggest enemy.
3) Visualize yourself playing optimally.
Mental training has to start in advance. Like we said, you won’t wake up one day automatically confident.
Begin to see yourself being confident in your game.
In training, embody what confidence looks like for you. Get comfortable with the shift in mindset, body language, and energy. It’ll be easier to transfer this directly into your game when it becomes natural in training.
4) Celebrate small, seemingly insignificant victories.
Sure, it may have just been one good lift.
Maybe just one good pass.
But, when you’re in the process of decisively building your confidence, every little step matters.
Besides, if you only ever spend time noticing your mistakes, it’s no wonder why you’re thinking negatively and your confidence sucks.
After workouts or a game, write down three positive or good things that occurred during training. Where did you improve? Where were you satisfied? Then write down three things you need to improve. What could use some work?
When you get used to recognizing positives as well, it gets easier to let the negatives roll and the positives work in your favour.
For the record, applauding yourself during positive moments or small victories is not prideful. You’re not automatically a narcissist. You know there’s still ways to improve, but you’re recognizing where and how much you’ve gotten better.
Self-criticism and punishment aren’t cool. They have super negative clapbacks to your game.
Get comfortable clapping for yourself.
5) Remember what’s important.
There are no conditions on your worthiness or stipulations on your greatness.
Not goals, not PRs, not number or caps or training days or good lifts. Not competitions or expectations or fame.
Literally nothing influences your worthiness.
If you can start operating out of a “my performance doesn’t impact my worth as a human AT ALL” mindset, you’ll see, feel, and embody a change in your confidence.
Again, it’s okay if you don’t always feel confident, satisfied, or worthy.
Sometimes we’re a bit too gloomy to see the positives and the lights within ourselves.
Surrounding yourself with people who see those things in you and can remind you of your greatness, even when you don’t feel great, is special. Stick with them.
(And remind other people of their greatness too, while you’re at it.)
Remember, becoming confident takes time. It’s a decision and it requires training to follow through on it. Put in the work sooner than later, and your performance will thank you.