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Prescribing Confidence

nick ruddock Jul 01, 2016

What’s the worst bit of feedback you have given your athletes recently?

I know, bit of a strange question really, but as my own worst critic, it’s something I think about often …

Here’s mine – ‘be more confident.’

I’m not sure what I was expecting, perhaps the athlete to internally flick a switch and feel competent to perform a skill they clearly have self belief issues with, but really, the feedback was and is useless.

By way of definition, confidence (or self confidence as we are referring to here) is ‘belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities.’ Confront an athlete with a skill they lack self belief in and their likelihood to perform that skill with ‘confidence’ is limited.

So is confidence something an athlete can fake? Is it something they can just switch on after being asked to be more confident? I think not …

My feedback to the athlete would have been more appropriately communicated as; ‘be more aggressive.’ Aggression can be consciously adjusted by the athlete by doing something harder, faster or with more conviction. Perhaps that’s what I meant, as aggression could be interpreted as a bi product of confidence.

Confidence is something that needs developing and nurturing over time, often built through a gradual progress of skill development and a positive environment. There are of course several other factors that would influence how much or little confidence an athlete has when performing a particular skill, including the environment and equipment, mood, their warm up, the coaches expectations and attitudes, or the relationship the athlete has with them.

It goes without saying that our job as coaches is to create an environment that breeds and nurtures confidence, elevating our athletes’ self esteem and psychological stability.

I asked professional stunt man Richard Dwyer of his view of ‘building confident kids,’ a motto of Richards company, Flair Gymnastics;

Being a confident person is your God given right and without confidence you will certainly NOT be performing, achieving or living, loving or being your best in life.

There are many opinions and definitions of what confidence is, so to keep things simple and for clarity of the word ‘confidence’ in this blog, when I use the word confidence I mean;

“Complete and total belief in yourself and in your own powers and abilities”

Confidence truly is a state of mind.

When someone is in a position of authority, as a child you take their words as ‘gospel,’ believing them to be speaking the complete truth and their words can powerfully flatten that inner confidence that you were born with, so we end up having our minds poorly programmed.

Sports like gymnastics, where goal setting and reinforcement of positive behaviours is rewarded and celebrated, breeds a confident self. Correctly trained sports coaches who OWN their minds and love passing on their knowledge to others are trained to use confidence as a tool to help achieve goals and this becomes a positive feedback loop in the brain leading to more and more confidence and more and more goals being achieved.

It is no surprise then that our role as coaches is crucial in the development of our athletes confidence. I ask Richard what prevents athletes feeling confident in their performance…

The one and only ‘thing’ that stops us from choosing to feel confident, or as I have heard some people say “I’ve lost my confidence” is the same thing that stops us from doing anything in our lives and that one thing is FEAR.

In summary, FEAR is a thought about a future event that may or may not happen.

It’s our mind working out the worst possible scenario of what the future looks like and then our minds meditating on (going over and over and over) that negative thought or event, that is actually unlikely to happen.

So how do we grow, build and cement our confidence? I asked Richard …

I believe the answer to this is simple, but it takes consistent practise – by achieving goals. And to go for our goal we must first eliminate fear and see failure as feedback.

Here is my simple confidence formula; Confidence is a MASSIVE contributor to happiness because progress = happiness.

Confidence is a bi-product of achieving goals so you MUST first be able to overcome fear if you are to gain true inner confidence.

Valuable advice from Richard who has confronted fear as a high level athlete, professional stunt man and now in the world of business.

So next time you ask an athlete to ‘be more confident,’ consider whether they are able to apply the feedback, or whether we need to think of better ways to grow confidence more organically through smarter coaching.


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