Confidence - an essential ingredient in the recipe of success
Frank Reynolds explains how to improve your performance by developing your confidence.
Yes, it is true; you cannot go out and buy confidence, if only we could. Confidence is gained through a very complex process of learning, experiencing, failing, bouncing back, planning and most of all, experiencing success.
As I look at each of the athletes in my squad, I see individuals who joined with little confidence in what they could do as a runner and now have confidence in heaps. Then some still struggle with a lack of confidence and insecurity about how they will perform. How did this happen? From this, we can see that confidence has a lot to do with each of us and how we process our experiences and grow in a positive direction. It has a lot to do with how we react and process what is happening to us as we go about training and competing. Outside influences affect us and our confidence. It is always important to be aware of the other things going on in your life and how they might affect your performances as an athlete.
Everyone, even the most confident, will approach a major event whether it is an exam at school, a presentation, a marriage ceremony or a track competition with some butterflies in their stomach. If they did not, I would be concerned. However, it is the confident athlete who can handle the butterflies and channel the nervous energy into a positive performance. This is a learned practice, and the sooner each athlete tries to be more positive and focused on their preparations, the sooner their confidence will build.
What are some things they can do starting now?
Being able to achieve improved focus and confidence will translate into an ideal performance so let us review some steps your athletes can take to help them overcome their butterflies and build their confidence.
How to improve performance
Focus on performances and the process - not on outcomes. This is easier said than done. As a society, we are brainwashed into focusing on who wins and thus if you do not win, you are a loser. You may be able to focus on the process, but can your parents or your friends? Many times, I have heard a parent scold their child because someone beat them, or they did not have a good race (in their mind). Ignore any of this and remember points 5 and 6 above. Planning for the competition is essential. One of the biggest confidence bashers is something unforeseen that hits you out of the blue, just as you are about to compete. Oops, I forgot my track shoes!!! Make a serious effort to plan for your competition right from this point to when you go to the starting line. Think of everything that will happen and anything that might happen.
As part of your planning carry out some of the necessary preparations you will need to do like getting enough sleep, eating well at the right times and doing other things to keep you motivated and focused on the positive. Develop race strategies and tactics. Go over them continuously in your head and consider various race situations and how you would deal with them.
Learn skills to control your emotions and feelings
Control anxiety and stress with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualizing, yoga, and meditation. Control lethargy and the feeling of tiredness by activation. Go for a jog or listen to some high energy music. Think about your race and see yourself performing well. Be focused. One of the best ways to avoid succumbing to negative emotions or feelings is to be focused on the task. You have planned everything from the time you get to the track until your race. Stay focused and stick to your plan. It is not time to renew your friendships and be a social butterfly. Do that later. Go over and over in your mind, your strategies and tactics and continue to reinforce your positive attitude during your preparations. Use your training group to reinforce the positive experience.
Warm-up together if possible and talk about your goals and support each other as a team. Reflect on your previous races and the appraisals you have done. Reflect on those areas you were having trouble with and how you could rectify them. Make sure you are aware of what you planned to do and make every effort to change those behaviours and mistakes. This is called analysing the process and doing what you need to do to improve it in the future.
Finally, it would be best if you had an idea of how you are going to race. When the gun goes off are you going to aimlessly drift along with the other competitors, or are going to get into it and run to the best of your ability? You have already developed in your mind many race strategies and scenarios. This will have helped you be mentally ready for almost any eventuality but remain focused and continually re-evaluate the race as it unfolds. A lot will depend on the tactics employed by the other runners. It is how you deal with their tactics and how you dictate your statement of how you are going to race that will determine how successful you will be. Stick to your plan if you think it will work. If the race unfolds differently than you expected to modify your strategies accordingly. The main point is to work hard from the start and challenge for the lead or your personal best at the right time. Leave nothing on the track at the end.
I hope the above points will help you in your preparations. Most of it will be a lifelong process for you, not just this week. I hope by continually striving to master the 'mental' aspects of performance, you will gain the confidence to go with your superior physical condition through the months of training you have done. But confidence comes from within, and everyone can have it if they want it. Confidence is priceless, no MasterCard required.
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About the Author
Frank Reynolds is a Canadian Level 4 high-performance coach, middle and long distances, working with elite athletes as well as coaching high school athletes with the NorWesters Track and Field Club.