Head coach Tony Fagelman talks confidence

Head coach Tony Fagelman talks confidence

Date: Tuesday 26th May 2020 at Whittlesford


The last of Tony's articles (for now), is on Confidence, or as its called in psychology, Self-Efficacy.

Confidence can be thought of by many as a level of healthy arrogance. Think of all those sports stars you watch on TV or have met, so many of them exude a huge degree of confidence, the way they speak, they way they hold their bodies, the way they move. Everything about them demonstrates a high level of confidence and in many, this is perceived as arrogance.

But is arrogance a fair label to attach to those that succeed in their chosen sport or profession. Shouldn't the behaviours that you're attributing as arrogance be considered as healthy confidence and if you want to succeed, should you look to adopt a measure of the same 'healthy confidence'?

Studies into success in sport and life, show that there is a direct correlation between self-confidence and success and this is even greater when attaining peak-performance. Athletes who have reached the top are self-confident, their confidence has been developed over many years and is the direct result of effective thinking and frequent experiences of where they have been successful.

Confident athletes think about themselves and the action at hand in a different way to those who lack confidence. Such athletes have found (been taught), that what they think and say to themselves (self-talk) in practice and competition is critical to their performance. They have learned that the conscious mind is not always their best-friend (negative self-talk) and that the mind must become as disciplined and trained as the body in order to respond effectively in training, especially when learning new skills and in competition.

We need to be clear; Thoughts lead to Feelings which in turn lead to Behaviour. Inappropriate or misguided thinking can lead to negative feelings, which in turn leads to poor performance. However, appropriate or positive thinking leads to feelings of enablement and this leads into good performance.

Confident athletes think they can and they do. They never give up, they keep trying until they succeed, even in the face of negativity or failure, because they take the positives from the act of trying. These athletes are characterised by positive self-talk, images and dreams. They imagine themselves winning and being successful. They say positive things to themselves and do not doubt their own abilities. This positioning of yourself to keep your mind on the positive aspects of your sporting performance and life in general, even in the face of trials and setbacks is the hallmark of a successful athlete. To get their you have to learn how to do it. This has been termed 'learned optimism'. Having learned to be optimistic, you will gain the most from your abilities and your improvement in confidence will prepare you for successful performances.

There are two other elements that we should consider that make up a sports psychologist view of confidence, these are 'Optimism' and Self-Efficacy. Optimism can be defined as 'a tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspect of a situation.' We will look at how to cultivate this optimistic tendency to your benefit. Self-efficacy refers to the conviction that one can successfully execute the specific behaviours required to produce the desired outcome. By this I mean that you can successfully complete the skill because you've put in place all the required progressions necessary, and not just physically, but mentally as well, you are ready and prepared and confident to execute the skill.

These three taken together, confidence, optimism and self-efficacy make up both a complete global belief as well as a specific one, a belief of 'I CAN DO IT', a belief that is essential for success.

There are a number of Misconceptions about confidence that we should dispel right now;

  1. Either you have it or you do not; Confidence is the result of a consistently constructive thinking process that allows you to do two things (a) retain and re-use successful experiences (imagery and visualisation) and (b) let go of less successful experiences
  2. Only positive feedback builds confidence; Although positive feedback from your fellow gymnasts, your coaches and parents help to build confidence, its possible to reinterpret criticism, sarcasm and negative comments as challenges and use them to improve. Do not let negativity impact your thought processes, choose to act on the comments with a positive attitude and use them to gain confidence, screen the comments, use them and disregard the rest.
  3. Success always builds confidence; This isn't always true, building on success at one level, doesn't always mean that success will translate to success to the next level up. Just because you won your competitions at NDP 2 does not mean the same will happen at NDP 3 or at a different age group. So you need to use your successes as paving stones to the next level
  4. Confidence equals outspoken arrogance; Many athletes find difficulty in separating the quiet, internal, private confidence needed for success from the noisy, external public confidence often portrayed by athletes in the media. It is crucial that you realise that you can be confident without being conceited or arrogant. Be quietly confident in your approach and treat people with the same respect you expect to receive.
  5. Mistakes inevitably destroy confidence: Remember, sport is played by imperfect beings, it takes time and effort to reach a level of accomplishement and then more time to extend that. Confidence is easily destroyed by dwelling on the times you failed, or simply didn't do as well as you hoped. You must not allow those failures to undermine your confidence, you must use them to help you move forward, every step is a learning step, irrespective of whether it is a failure or a success. Use the failures to find positives, there are always positives in every attempt, irrespective of the outcome. A confident athlete will find those positives and use them to build and improve.

Confidence is a result of how one thinks, what one focuses on and how one reacts to the events on one's life.

So, can you improve your own confidence, the following four elements will allow you to build a solid foundation of which to base your confidence and allow you to step forward brimming with the need and ability to succeed;

  1. Understand the interaction of thought and performance; You need to deliberately focus your thoughts onto those aspects of the environment and of yourself that produce powerful, confident feelings. This will lead to better and better performances. Don't dwell on negative thoughts or emotions, do not concern yourself with what's going on around. Just concentrate on those positive elements that help you.
  2. Cultivate honest self-awareness; When your looking for that control over your thoughts and awareness, you must be honest with yourself. You can't lie to yourself; you must attune your thoughts to the positive, do not consider self-criticism and self-doubt, these are poor habits. Successful athletes recognise when they are telling themselves untruths, they stop, take a moment to re-focus and consider positive truths, they are the ones that go on to succeed.
  3. Develop an optimistic story about yourself; By this I mean, how you consider the events that have made up your life contribute to your overall attitude, are you a pessimist, realist or optimist. This positioning generally comes from your own view of yourself in the world, whether you think of yourself as valuable and deserving (optimist), or worthless and hopeless (pessimist). In order to utilise this for yourself, you need to interpret the events that have happened to you in an optimistic way so as to increase or at least maintain your confidence, do not let them become an unproductive millstone around your neck. You will learn to do this by experience, so do not expect to be able to see the positive in all things at all times, however, never forget that all things have some level of positivity within them.
  4. Embrace a thinking pattern of excellence; Consider how you can achieve what you want to and work towards that. Go for your dreams, be excited about what your aiming for and set out with the best intentions of getting there. Focus on success, consider your daily accomplishments and how they build towards a bigger picture of success and attainment as you reach for your dreams. Be your own best friend, biggest fan and greatest coach, give yourself the advice and support you give to others, create an image of the most knowledgeable and helpful person you know and imagine that they are giving you that support and advice. Create your own reality, interpret the events that happen in such a way that it can lead to your success. For example, if your fist attempt at a new skill doesn't go to plan, see it as a learning step, you can feel and see where you went wrong, not build on it, similarly, if your first routine didn't go as well as planned, see where the improvements can be made to make your second routine a success.

It is important to tune out those negative external voices, the ones that erode your confidence. Social media can be a wonderful tool, but also a burden, if you do not gain the support you need from the tool, simply eliminate the tool. Distance yourself from negative data and use only positive forces to build your confidence.

All of the previous articles can be used to assist you in building your confidence, in particular Self-talk (re-read it again to see how it can help you). However, it is your own perception of how you feel about yourself that provides for the greatest achievement and also the greatest downfall. Believe in yourself, take the positives from every situation, aim high and aim true and you will succeed.