Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. -Henry Ford
As athletes, we have all had those times when we were sure that the task before us was well within our abilities, and there were other times when we were not so sure. You probably noticed that the percentage of success was much higher during those times that your confidence was strong. As a coach, you may also have noticed that some young athletes are much more confident in their abilities than others, and just because someone is “good” at their sport does not always mean they are maximally confident. So what is this thing we call confidence? Where does it come from? And perhaps most importantly, is it something that can be improved?
Simply put, confidence is the extent to which someone believes they are capable of a given task. Of course it is not limited to sports, but permeates our lives, from confidence in our ability to take tests in school, or interpersonal interactions, or almost any other human behavior. It is that little voice inside our heads that either empowers us in a given situation or makes us fearful and tentative.
Our confidence is the product of every internal and external conversation we have heard about our performance. It comes from parents, coaches, peers, and yes, even ourselves. Our brain is an incredibly complex organ that processes a dizzying amount of information each second. But in another very real sense, when it comes to our self-confidence, the brain is nothing more than a tape recorder that records and logs each and every one of these conversations. When it comes time to perform some task, our mind weighs the evidence like a little jury in our heads and produces some level of self-confidence based on the content of that tape. If you listen very carefully, you can actually hear the recording! The next time you are playing your sport, listen very carefully to what is going through your head. Is it a quivering voice saying “oh, this is scary, please don’t mess up!”? Or is it a calm, confident voice that tells you “you’ve got this one, show everyone what you’re made of!”? The answer to this question will tell you definitively what’s on your tape.
There’s good news and bad news about changing the content of your tape. The bad news is that your tape player does not have an erase button. But the good news is that, much like a cassette tape (for those who remember cassettes!) or a rewritable CD, you can tape over old recordings. So, you change the content of your tape (and thereby improve your self-confidence) by replacing destructive content with sound bites that are supportive and empowering. You do this through affirmations and other scripted self-talk. If you put in a little work on this, you will be literally amazed at the results.
This summer, Mind For Sports will be conducting Sports Confidence Clinics to help athletes fill their mental tapes with content that will help them get to the next level, both in their athletic endeavors and every other aspect of their life. Keep an eye out for information about these clinics, or drop me a line at DrRich@mindforsports.com for more information. Now get to work on that tape!