"When your Confidence is not at your best, the first thing that goes is the fluidity, the movement, the spontaneous side of the game, and you could see that." - Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager, after a recent loss to Man City
As we continue to navigate our new normal and try to live our lives through this global pandemic, it becomes increasingly important to take care of ourselves - physically, mentally, and emotionally. We are faced with challenges on a daily basis. In a previous article, I highlighted the importance of using the ABC's of managing our stress to give us the best chance of keeping and staying healthy. One of the C's mentioned, Confidence, deserves even more attention. It is through the challenges we face, the disappointments and adversity which has become almost routine, that can bring about growth, self-discovery, and self-enhancement. What guides us successfully through life's land mines is our passion (grit) and Confidence in our abilities and learned experiences. This article will delve deeper into Confidence and how best can we use our lived experiences, along with some training tips, to enhance not just
Confidence but robust Confidence, to help us not just survive but thrive in all aspects of our lives - even sport.
Confidence 101: What is it?
"Experience tells you what to do; Confidence allows us to do it." - Source Unknown
Confidence is a skill like knocking a forty-yard diagonal ball behind the D or parrying an upper 90 strike over the bar, that can be improved by daily practice. A new concept, robust Confidence, refers to a set of intense, stable beliefs that helps competitors remain durable, responsive, ego-protecting, and motivated. These beliefs are multifaceted in that it ranges from how you believe you can plan, prepare, make snap decisions, and execute all sorts of skills, especially mental, physical, and technical skills.
Perfect examples of robust confidence show productive emotions, focus on the most appropriate cues (present-focused), pursue more challenging goals, show greater effort, play to win, are resilient in the face of adversity or failure, produce positive momentum, and play optimally.
Players who have robust Confidence remain optimistic in tough times, mostly by appraising the situation they find themselves in as a temporary challenge and one that they can grind through by doing the little things, like getting back on defense, communicating, playing a simple ball, and the like, until they and the team climb back into the match.
Confidence-in-Action: How to enhance it?
"Practice like you've never won; Perform as you've never lost." - Source Unknown.
Many people don't think to ask where their Confidence comes from. Developing robust Confidence entails maximizing these many sources of Confidence on a daily basis, such as your prior accomplishments, mastery attempts (improving skills), demonstrate the ability (by how you play and an outcome like winning), verbal feedback (like compliments and positives from coaches), imagined play (visualize your game or watch yourself play on digital video or VR), being fit, quality preparation and training (physical, mental, and technical), environmental comfort (feel satisfied in the place you train and play in), and an optimal emotional state like being excited, optimistic, hopeful for the day or upcoming match.
How can you maximize these many sources to your advantage on a daily basis?
Strategy 1: Since prior accomplishments are one of the more salient sources of Confidence, it is critical to give yourself credit for what you accomplish in training, classes, in the weight room, and in matches, on a daily basis. This is best accomplished through Journaling. One of my national championship team clients emphasizes to their players to write down their responses to these 4 questions daily:
- What went well today?
- What specific contributions did you make?
- What compliments/feedback were you given?
- What did you learn today?
From time to time, the coaches will read over these responses to help reinforce and support this process. Journaling in this fashion can be a great way to not only keep track of but provides the opportunity to refer back to them for another confidence boost. You shouldn't wait until someone like a coach says something good about your play – you know what you did well. Record it!
Strategy 2: Another source of Confidence entails vicarious experiences, getting a confidence boost by watching your team or individual teammates succeed, or even watching videos of others succeeding or inspirational movies like Rocky or Invincible. Choose to devise a mix of video clips to watch throughout the week to maximize Confidence. Better yet, include some as part of your pre-match routine!
Strategy 3: Incorporating visualization into your pre-practice, pre-game, or coping routines (when things are not going so hot), can be a big confidence booster. Picturing your last good shot, pass, tackle, dive will trigger the release of positive neurotransmitters in the brain (oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins, to name 3), which boosts your emotional state and competitive focus. This can take a few seconds but have long-lasting effects on your performance.
Strategy 4: Another source of Confidence mentioned above is the quality of your preparation and training. If you watched your video, got in quality reps in the weight room, giving all you had in training, then give yourself credit for all the work, you put in! This is best done by taking a step back and simply think or say to yourself, "I've put in the work this week - I'm so ready for this match tonight." This statement can also be written down in your performance journal. Only you can give yourself Confidence.
Strategy 5: Coaches Feedback & Motivational Climate. Confidence Counts, so Step Up Coaches! Who can help and how to bring it onto the field, court, pitch, or pool
Coaches, teachers, and parents can do a lot to enhance players' confidence levels by giving praise-worthy feedback (not open praise) as well as using feedforward comments, which is more future-oriented and not focused on the past, such as: "On the next crossed service, call for the ball quicker, so we know whether to stay or go."
Coaches create a motivational climate on their teams, whether they know it or not. Is it a motivating, confident-enhancing one or a demotivating, confident-eroding one? How are mistakes handled? What type of leadership style do you use more often (autonomous or authoritarian)? How much information is shared between coach and player? Is the climate based on improvement or outcome? Do all contribute, or is it just the starting 11?
Creating a confident team entails being on TARGET: Task-vary the drills and make them challenging; Authority-involve players in decision making; Recognition-reward improvement and effort to boost Confidence and drive; Grouping-smaller groups get more reps so vary the training groups from small to large; Evaluation-standards of performance should measure progress not just outcome; Timing-use teaching progressions from simple to the complex and challenging, especially for younger players.
Portions of this article are from Dr. V's mental toughness training books (Coaches Choice) and his articles in the United Socer Coaches' Soccer Journal.
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