How Athletes Can Perform Their Best When it REALLY Counts (Part 2 of 2)

By Dr. Jim Taylor

If you missed the first installment of this article you can read it here.

How to Reverse the Spiral?
Think less, feel more. The first step in getting back on track involves realizing that thinking more about your performing or putting more effort in won’t work. To the contrary, you actually need to do just the opposite, namely, less thinking, less trying, more feeling, and more letting go.

It starts by recognizing that performing well is about feeling, not thinking. Two types of feelings are involved. First, the physical feelings you like to have before competitions. You want feel strong, comfortable, and at your ideal intensity. Second, the emotional feelings you like to have before competitions. Some athletes like to feel happy and relaxed. Others like to feel inspired and excited.
Perform like a kid. One very consistent feeling athletes often lose this time of year is why they perform in their sport in the first place. Remember that feeling of freedom and joy you used to feel before competitions started to REALLY matter. For example, one athlete I work with who is competing at the World Junior Ski Championships in Are, Sweden next week said that he skis his best when he feels the way he felt when he was a kid. He just loved (and still loves) bombing around a mountain, “hucking” big air, and being a little crazy. In recent years, as his goals have risen and competing in his sport has REALLY started to matters, he has lost touch with the incredible love and joy he feels in his sport. My advice to him? Get back to that feeling and do a lot of bombing, hucking, and craziness in the coming week leading up the big event!

Express yourself. You need to get out of “protective mode” in reaction to seeing the upcoming competitions as threats to avoid and get into “expressive mode” in response to seeing the upcoming competitions as challenges and opportunities to pursue your love of your sport. Competing in sports is like creating a painting on a canvas. You don’t think through every stroke of paint you put on the canvas. Rather, you get in front of the canvas, see and feel the image you want to create, and then you simply turn off your mind and trust your creativity to express that internal image on the canvas. The same holds true for sports. Just before you enter the competitive arena, see and feel how you want to perform, and then trust that your body will express itself during the competition the way you’ve trained it to.

Nothing to lose. You have to perform as if you have nothing to lose (because, in the big picture, you have nothing to lose). You will surely perform your worst if you feel as if every competition is life or death. Now that is pressure! You perform your best when you let go of expectations, pressure, and fear of failure. You perform your best when you are totally focused on the process and the present. You perform your best when you turn off your mind and just let your body do what it knows how to do. You perform your best when you take risks and just go for it. And you perform your best when you are having fun and competing because of your deepest feelings for your sport.

“Forget it!”. For you to perform your best, you have to get in the starting gate and just say “Forget it!”. This attitude doesn’t mean not caring about your sport, but rather not caring about the consequences of your sport. It means being able to accept whatever happens as long as you take your shot and perform your best. When you adopt the “Forget it!” attitude, you liberate yourself to perform without doubt, worry, or fear, and with confidence, commitment, and courage.

Three Goals on Game Day
When you are able to clear out the mental and emotional clutter from your mind that’s holding you back, you can then free your mind to focus on three simple goals on game day.
Getting Prepared. Before the competition, you want to be able to say, “I’m as prepared as I can be to perform my very best.” Ultimately, that’s all you can do. Being well prepared doesn’t guarantee success (because you can’t control everything in sport), but not being prepared certainly ensures failure.

Bring it! During a competition, your singular goal is to “bring it,” meaning being fully commit to and completely focused on performing the best you can from start to finish. Bringing it doesn’t guarantee success (because S&%# happens in sport), but not bringing it certainly ensures failure.

No regrets. After the competition, whether you won or lost, you want to look back and have no regrets because you left it all out there. Of course, if things don’t work out the way you had hoped, you’ll be disappointed. But knowing you accomplished these three goals will minimize the regrets and inspire you to pursue these three goals in the next competition. And I truly believe that if you continue down this road, at some point, good things will happen.

Dr. Jim Taylor holds a Ph.D. in Psychology, is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco, and blogs on politics, education, technology, popular culture, and sports for huffingtonpost.compsychologytoday.comseattlepi.com, and on his own blog at drjimtaylor.com.

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10 Strategies To Build Unstoppable Confidence In Youth Athletes – Part 2

By Craig Sigl

In this article about confidence building, we are going to go a little more “Mental Toughness” on you and a little less actionable strategy than Part 1

We are going there because the biggest holdback to building long lasting consistent confidence is because too many of us are looking for magic bullets to solve our problems.

We hope and dream for a pill or potion that will help us build confidence or kick our bad habits or lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks, or stop our overactive anxiety and worry or get to sleep, etc., right?

Well, this mentality actually PREVENTS solid confidence from forming and so we must destroy it to get maximum confidence-building results. So here’s the next 4 strategies in this series that are really concepts to open the gateway to real confidence that lasts:

Strategy #4 You don’t NEED any confidence to accomplish great things.

Yep, you read that right… not even a shred of it is necessary for brilliant performances in any sport or field.

The first step in building confidence is in letting go of the NEED for it! You see, athlete’s (especially young athletes) hold themselves back from their best performances when they show up to competition and don’t FEEL confident. They then, incorrectly, judge themselves lacking and therefore start thinking about performing and trying to control their movements, which just doesn’t work.

In other words, it’s the thought that you NEED confidence when you don’t have it that creates tension, tightness and nervousness that actually hurts your ability to perform!

If you think you NEED to feel confident in order to perform, and you aren’t feeling it, well then, that’s a big problem, right?

And the truth is, Athletes, and people in all endeavors for that matter, do amazing things every day with ZERO confidence!

Let’s take this to it’s logical extreme and see if my theory holds up…

We were all babies once, right? And we wanted to walk because we saw adults around us walking, right? We end up walking because we possess 2 character traits, even as a baby:

Drive/Desire. We want to walk, just like we want to achieve/win in our sport.
They aren’t afraid to fall down and get back up again.

Those 2 things are all you need to achieve anything.

Babies have ZERO confidence about walking when we decide to walk. Babies don’t even have the ability to comprehend Confidence…and yet, they teach themselves to walk. If we needed confidence to achieve things, then very little would get in our world!

Confidence is icing on the cake. Traits 1 and 2 above are the cake!

Strategy #5 Teach your child that acquiring confidence is a skill that you learn and practice just like any other physical skill such as swinging a baseball bat.

Everyone understands that learning how to swing a baseball bat properly or shoot a basketball accurately, or play the piano takes instruction and practice, right?

But, for some reason, we think that confidence is some kind of random thing that happens to us (or not) or only occurs AFTER we have some kind of success. Can you see how if you believe this (which most of us do) then you’re not going to do much toward creating it other than hope and pray it shows up at game time. Good luck with that!

The reason we believe this is because we don’t see the instant results from our confidence building work like we do with physical skills work. In addition, even young kids can comprehend the cause and effect of doing a drill for tennis serve and how that can improve how they will serve in competition.
But they struggle to make the connection between what you tell them about confidence building and how it will pay off in the game. There’s a huge disconnect there. If you can bridge that gap, then you might actually get them to DO this work.

How do I bridge the gap?

Basically, 3 steps. 1. Ask them about the last time they played their best and how they felt while doing it. Stick to the feelings. 2. Ask them about the last time they played poorly and draw out those feelings. 3. Ask them if they play better when they FEEL like they did in step 1 or 2.

Finish with…”So, if we could get you to FEEL like #1 BEFORE competition, are you more likely to perform better?
The answer should be yes. And then you hit them with “Confidence is the feeling.” Want to get confident again whenever you want so you can play better?

Boom, we’ve just connected Confidence feelings to playing better and now you can proceed with the rest of my strategies.

Strategy #6 Switch from fixing what’s wrong to repeating what’s right.

In sports, it is commonly taught by coaches that the way to improve is to identify your weaknesses and work to fix them. This is a useful teaching concept, especially for highly confident people but if that’s all you’re teaching them, then guess what? You are teaching them to FOCUS on where they are not good which makes it really tough to build confidence.

Why? Because confidence, in essence, comes from the belief that you can accomplish something. Can you see how focusing on what you do wrong destroys that belief?

This goes for adults too but kids take this to the extreme and is a big part of performance anxiety.

Now, I’m not saying be pollyannaish and only praise the good stuff and ignore the mistakes. What I’m saying is, when a kid is taught something and he/she performs it well, STOP and focus on what you did WELL. Have your kid pause and send a message to himself after the successful execution of the skill to sink it in that he CAN do it and DID do it right.
Send him home that day (or to bed) thinking that message and repeating in his mind his/her successful execution of the skill over and over and over in his/her mind.

If they do this, they will literally be laying down a special chemical (Myelin) on their bodily neural network that fired off to execute the skill properly, thus helping the nervous system to REPEAT the electrical impulses!

In short, do something right and think about what you did right a lot and you will be more likely to repeat what you did right. It’s simple biology and sometimes we call it “muscle memory” but the great thing about the mental game is that you don’t have to actually do it in reality to release the Myelin and create the “muscle memory.”

Stand by for Part 3 of this series where we will get back to more things you can actually do and drill on to build long lasting consistent confidence!

Craig has personally worked with thousands of professional and amateur athletes on the mental side of their game. He is an author and creator of 7 mental toughness programs sold in 28 countries and writes to over 30,000 athletes in his emails. Learn more about Craig and contact him at www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com

Building Real Confidence

By Tony Earp

Confidence and self-esteem are important for every player to have in order to be successful on and off the soccer field. As coaches and parents, one of our goals is help develop both of these in players over the course of their childhood to help them be prepared for the real world when they are off on their own to face the challenges ahead. Confidence and self-esteem help people deal with adversity by being able to make thoughtful decisions in difficult situations that are aligned with their core values. It helps people stay the course in pursuit of their goals while others tell them it cannot be done or they are doomed to fail. Confidence and self-esteem prevent people from quitting too early. The importance of these traits in a person cannot be stressed enough. With that said, we need to be very careful in how we try to develop confidence and self-esteem in kids as they grow up. Too often, we are too focused on making kids feel confident and have self-esteem through artificial means versus developing the skills that are the foundation that confidence and self-esteem are built upon.

Success does not develop confidence or self-esteem. Confidence and self-esteem develops sustain, life-long success. It is not the other way around. Too often, we try to manufacture situations that kids will have success in order to build their confidence and self-esteem. Although in the short term, yes, a child will feel good about what just happened, but will that confidence last? Is it the type of confidence that will remain the next time the child fails? Or is it more like a big shiny bubble that is great for a moment but will not last? Unfortunately, artificial success creates a confidence “bubble” that will always pop leaving nothing of substance behind.

To build confidence and self-esteem in kids, you are not really focusing on building those things. To build that in a child, the focus needs to be on developing the skills required, and abilities needed, to actually be confidence and self-assured about what they are able to do. To build confidence and self-esteem, a person needs the skills and ability to be successful in whatever they choose to do. Building confidence and self-esteem without any real substance behind it, is like building a house with no foundation. Under the slightest amount of pressure, it will crumble.

For example, a doctor who is confident is normally confident for good reason (at least we hope so). Over a career of developing knowledge and skills to provide the best care possible for patients, the doctor is confident in the ability to diagnose a problem and treat it accordingly. Although the doctor may be wrong at times, it does not hurt the doctor’s confidence or cause doubt in the doctor’s ability to do a great job. But what if the doctor lacked any substantive knowledge or advanced skills, what if deep down the doctor really knew that those abilities were not there? How quickly would the doctor’s confidence and self-esteem fade at the moment that the doctor is challenged or faced with adversity to any degree? How quickly would the doctor shy away from “difficult cases” or give up when a diagnosis could not be found quick.

In relation to soccer, confident players are ones who have the necessary skills to play the game. They are not necessarily the players who are having success. Yes, they may claim to be confident and may even show the body language and demeanor of a confident player, but what happens the first time they are really challenged by the game or another player? What happens the first time they fail? Does the confidence remain or does it quickly fade? Does the player assume he is no longer a good player? Or is the player confident in what he is able to do and recognizes a temporary setback and an opportunity to grow and develop.

Kids are confident and have a high self-esteem when they know they are good at something. When they know they have the skills to be successful, and they can make a positive impact on what is going on around them, they are confident and will shine. When challenged, they do not break. They rely on what they know how to do and what they can do to meet the challenge and overcome it, but even when they fail, it is never from a lack of effort or persistence. More importantly, they do not take it as an attack on their self-worth or confidence, but as an opportunity to learn, grow, and become better. Even in failure, self-esteem and confidence can grow, but only in those who are really confident and have a self-esteem solidified on the substance and value of their abilities.

Too often we are too concerned with the final result, a score, a grade, a certificate, etc… and not concerned enough with what the child actually is capable of doing or what the child actually knows. Think about back when you were in school, and you got an A on a test or a paper. Getting the A is a great thing, and in no way am I saying that trying to achieve high scores is a bad thing. My question is what did you really have to do to get that A, or what did you learn? Getting the A is not what built your confidence or self-esteem. It is what you are now capable of doing or what you now know that was significant. It is what real self-esteem and confidence grows from. If the A was not really earned, nothing was learned, or the child was setup to do well (easy questions, “spoon fed” the answers), then the A really has very little value. Yes, the child may be “proud” of the grade, but then what? What is the child left with besides a memory of a moment that they felt good about something they “accomplished?”

On the soccer field it is the same, we are too concerned on whether a child wins and loses and the effect it will have on their self-esteem or confidence, rather than really looking to see what the child is or is not capable of doing. What is the child learning or not learning how to do? Winning is a great thing, and every player should compete to win, but winning does not build confidence. Ability does. Players can be on a team that wins all the time, but if deep down they know they do not have the skills to play the game, then they are not confident or have a high self-esteem when it comes to soccer. Yes, they feel good and smile after a win. Of course they do, since winning feels good. But the truth is, they are not building confidence to play the game. Why? They have nothing to really be confident about.

Confidence and self-esteem come from one simple question: What can you do? The more skills and ability a person has, the more they are capable of doing, the more confidence they will have in what they do. Past success, does not help a person in regards to what they are capable of at this moment. When the answer to the ability question is “not much,” how would we expect someone to be confident in that scenario. This is why our mission and goal as coaches and teachers is NOT to help kids have success. It is absolutely and most importantly always to help kids DEVELOP SKILLS and ABILITIES to be able to answer that question…. What can you do?

Also, when that becomes the focus, it provides the kid a straightforward answer to what needs to be worked on. Simply, whatever they cannot do right now is what they should be working on to be able to do in the near future. Confident players know their strengths and their weaknesses. They are not ashamed or embarrassed by their weaknesses, but instead use those areas of their game to guide their training and drive to improve. Unconfident players, ignore their weaknesses and try to pretend they do not exist. When those weaknesses are exploited, a player’s’ confidence in his level of play immediately plummets.

Instead of trying to build confidence and self-esteem through artificially, adult manipulated, worthless “victories” or prizes, confidence needs to be developed by making players confident in the skills they possess. In order for them to be confident in those skills, the focus for coaches, teachers, and parents should be to instill those skills, not confidence. Without the skills, there is really nothing for a child to be confident about. Again, yes, having success, winning, getting a good grade, makes anyone feel good, as it should. All I am saying is that it is critical to pay attention to the context in which those things are being accomplished. Are they being done in a way that it is earned by the children through the development of skills and knowledge, or is it being given to the children with little substance or value supporting that success? It is the simple difference between building confidence and building nothing in child.

 

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com