Gaining The Mental Edge Part I: Secrets of Confidence
© Winning Edge Psychological Services, LLC
Every athlete wants to play with confidence. Coaches want their players to exude confidence and play with intensity. A confident athlete has been defined as "being able to be positive, motivated, intense, focused, and emotionally in control when they need to be (Taylor and Wilson, 2005). Athletes who think and behave this way remain confident even when they are not performing well. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, believes that a positive mind set can be developed by following a series of specific steps. Dr. Seligman's research in positive psychology seeks to discover the ways individuals who are optimistic, motivated, and resilient think. If you are an athlete who would like to be more confident, or if you are a coach and want to learn how to develop your team's confidence, read on.
A confident athlete has the belief that he/she has what it takes to be successful no matter what is happening on the field/court. His/her thoughts are positive, in the moment, and directed to the task at hand. By focusing on their strengths, believing that they can make a difference in the outcome of the game, and staying in the moment he/she creates confidence. The combination of confidence and a positive mind set allows the athlete to meet the demands of the game head on. The athlete who lacks confidence quickly becomes negative in thought and emotion. Negative thoughts and emotions combine to create doubt which drains confidence and takes away the ability to make things happen. When asked what he was thinking just as he began a sudden death play off for the championship of a golf tournament, Tiger Wood said, "I love it when things get messy". Woods enjoys the intensity and pressure of the finish and optimistically believes that he has what it takes to win. He brings confidence to the course!
Confidence can be built if you consistently work on several areas of your mental game. The key is to recognize that you can strengthen your confidence, but it is going to take attention and effort. The first step on the road to building confidence is deciding that you want to improve your confidence, and committing to working on it daily. Coaches and athletes can facilitate the next aspect of confidence through good preparation. Being physically prepared and knowing your job on the field/court is the foundation of confidence. You can't fake preparation. If you know you have done everything possible to perform your best, you will feel confident. Reviewing your preparation with your coach can help you fine tune your practices, your technique and your overall level of preparation.
Second, a confident athlete will focus on his/her strengths. No one ever got to the top by focusing upon his/her weaknesses. Your strengths help motivate you and keep you going when things are not going well. Third, you need to actively seek and be comfortable with receiving positive feedback and constructive criticism. Some athletes have to learn how to be open and accepting to the positive. Athletes who lack confidence are often uncomfortable with positive feedback or dismiss it as disingenuous. At the same time you need to reduce and eliminate negative feedback. Negative feedback is negative self-talk or destructive criticism from others (coaches, team mates, or family members). Destructive criticism is commentary that attacks you (not your play) and causes negative emotional reactions. Constructive criticism is technical feedback that helps you improve your play. Negative self talk occurs when an athlete says negative comments to himself/herself. Fourth, you need to learn to notice when you think negative and replace your negative thoughts with positive strength based thoughts. You will be amazed once you allow yourself the permission to "catch" your negative thoughts, no longer listen to them, and begin to believe in your strengths!
Fifth, you need to learn to develop the power of perspective. Perspective comes from building three mental muscles: personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence (Taylor & Wilson 2005). A confident athlete personalizes by taking responsibility for those things that are under his/her control, while not blaming his/her self for things out of their control. By recognizing what they do control and as importantly what they do not, the athlete remains focused on the task and not distracted by unimportant variables. Confident athletes also believe that their success is pervasive. This means that he/she believes success was due to his/her skills and success will happen again. The confident athlete also thinks of his/her skills, abilities and success as permanent. He/she knows that his/her ability to succeed is a permanent part of their game. Pessimistic athletes believe that success was due to luck, not his/her ability. The pessimistic athlete believes that success is fleeting and failure is just around the corner. Recognizing the differences between he optimistic and pessimistic athlete is helpful. Once the athlete has personalized control, sees success as pervasive and permanent he/she now has the positive perspective of confidence. If you begin thinking in a positive manner, focus on your strengths, be prepared, personalize control, and believe that success is a permanent part of your life, you will have confidence to spare!