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Dr. Jim Taylor Headshot

5 Keys to Athletic Confidence

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Prime confidence is a deep, lasting and resilient belief in your ability to achieve your goals. Prime confidence keeps you positive, motivated, intense, focused and emotionally in control when you need it most. With prime confidence, you're able to stay confident even when you're not performing well (it happens to even the best athletes periodically). You're not negative and uncertain in difficult competitions, nor are you overconfident in easy competitions. It also encourages you to seek out pressure situations and to view difficult conditions and tough opponents as challenges to pursue. Ultimately, prime confidence enables you to perform at your highest level consistently.

Five Keys to Prime Confidence

I have identified five keys to building prime confidence that will create an upward spiral of confidence. Each key alone can enhance your confidence, but if you use all of them together, you'll find your confidence growing stronger and more quickly. The ultimate goal of prime confidence is to develop a strong and resilient belief in your athletic ability so that you have the confidence to give your best effort, perform at your highest level and believe you can achieve your goals in the most important competitions of your life.

Preparation breeds confidence. Preparation is the foundation of confidence. This preparation includes the physical, technical, tactical, equipment-related and mental parts of your sport, and it means putting the necessary time and effort into every aspect of your training. If you have developed these areas as fully as you can, you will have faith that you will be able to use those capabilities gained from preparation to perform as well as you can in competition. The more of these areas you fully address in your preparation, the more confidence you will breed in yourself. My goal for the athletes with whom I work is that when they arrive at any competition, they can say, "I'm as prepared as I can be to achieve my goals."

Mental skills reinforce confidence. When I work with athletes, I encourage them to create a mental "toolbox," inside which they will put essential mental tools that they will need in training and competition. (Fortunately, your mental toolbox doesn't weigh anything, even when it's filled with tools!) Just like having a spare tire, tire iron and jack if you get a flat tire while driving, the tools in your mental toolbox are available when you have breakdowns in your sport -- for example, when you get tired at the end of a competition, have a period of poor play, or have a close call go against you. Tools that you can place in your mental toolbox can include inspirational thoughts and images to bolster your motivation, positive self-talk and body language to fortify your confidence, intensity control to combat confidence-depleting anxiety, keywords to maintain focus and avoid distractions, and emotional-control techniques to calm yourself under pressure.

Adversity ingrains confidence. Like most athletes, you probably love to train in ideal conditions when you're healthy, rested and on your game. But how often do you compete under ideal conditions? Probably rarely. More often than not, the worst conditions come out when you want them least. But it isn't the conditions that determine who succeeds and who fails because, for example, two athletes can face the same conditions but view and respond to them entirely differently. Athlete A may see them as a threat that causes negativity and anxiety. Athlete B sees those same conditions as a challenge and becomes motivated and excited. So who do you think is going to succeed? The challenge is to maintain your confidence when you're faced with the worst possible conditions.

To more deeply ingrain confidence, you should expose yourself to as much adversity as possible in training. Adversity can be environmental obstacles such as bad weather during a soccer game or a strong headwind in a running race. Adversity can also involve your opponent, for example, who is a little better than you or who has a style of play that frustrates you.

Training for adversity has several essential benefits. Adversity increases your belief that you can respond positively to the difficult conditions, because you've shown yourself that you can in training. It shows you ways to adapt to the adversity so that you can make those adjustments in competitions. Training for adversity also familiarizes you with hard conditions, so that when you get to a competition with such demands, you'll be confident enough to say, "No big deal, I've trained in these conditions before." Plus, training for adversity just makes you feel tough!

Support bolsters confidence. It's difficult to achieve success on your own. The very best athletes in every sport have many people supporting them. There will be times when things are just not going well, and it helps to have people -- for example, family, friends, coaches and teammates -- to whom you can turn for support and encouragement. Though your confidence may wax and wane depending on how you're feeling, the quality of your training and your recent competitive results, you want people in your life whom you can count on to give you a "booster shot" of confidence. For example, have a coach say, "I know you can do it," or a friend tell you, "Hang in there. Things will turn around."

Success validates confidence. All the previous steps in building confidence will be for naught if you don't then perform well and achieve your goals. Success validates the confidence you have developed in your ability; it demonstrates that your belief in your ability is well-founded. Success further strengthens your confidence, making it more resilient in the face of adversity and poor performance. Success also rewards your efforts to build confidence, encouraging you to continue to work hard and develop your capabilities.

But when I talk about success, I don't mean just competitive success, at least not right away. You can't just go out and have a big success to give you confidence. Your initial goal is to create little "victories" every day in training. When you walk away from practice, you should be able to say that you just "won" that day by doing what you needed to do (e.g., work hard, listen to your coach, focus on key areas of improvement, keep at it even when it really hurts, overcome adversity) to achieve your long-term goals. With each small victory in training that you accumulate, you move one step closer to that big victory, namely, achieving your competitive goals.

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