I am convinced confidence is important when it comes to training for competition but how do you build this confidence? In many sports, there are multiple competitions which happen within a period of time. For example, in my sport Taekwon – Do, there are at least four tournaments I compete per year. This requires an athlete’s performance to peak multiple times per year and not always with the same amount of time in between competitions. One way to build confidence in sports like this is to win every competition, but this doesn’t always happen. So how do I do it?
I have created a system that has worked for me. I call it phasing. You may have read something like this and every athlete needs to figure what out what works for them.
In preparation for each event a number of factors fluctuate. Of course your physical abilities, weight, calorie intake and physical output change but one of the most important and most overlooked change is in an athletes mentality.
There are many factors which fall under the label “mentality,” confidence being one of them. In diagram 1.0 you can see how confidence increases through the preparation phase of training. This simply means that as you train and prepare physically you become more comfortable with your ability and more confident that you can perform what you practice.
What you would like to do is really understand when it is that your confidence is at its peak. If it takes you four weeks to train and feel you are confident in your ability then you need to plan four weeks in advance of the event to begin training so that when you attend the event you are ready to go. Simple right? That part should be.
You may ask, “How do I know when I feel confident and when I am ready?”
For me personally, I keep a training journal and I write weekly or daily how I feel about my training to keep track of where I am from a mental perspective. When I am feeling lack of confidence at a point in my training, I may look back at my journal just to discover that I have only trained for 5 weeks. Then I can adjust for next time and start my training a week earlier. Of course there is more to it than time spent training but for the sake of simplicity we will stick to that one factor.
If you do take part in a sport like Taekwon – Do where there are multiple events strung together you need to make sure you phase your training correctly. Diagram 1.1 shows what happens to confidence when there are two events. It goes up as you train and then you get the result of your first event. After a win you ride out that level of confidence and it eventually comes down especially as you slack back training. In preparation for the next event it would again peak, assuming you planned your training properly.
One thing that you may notice if you compete, is that after a while of training and keeping confidence at its peak you experience a bit of what we call “Burnout.” This happens for a number of reasons relating to physical exhaustion but for myself it is always mental exhaustion. This happens when you are pushing your mental ability to the max for extended periods of time and not giving your brain and body a chance to understand what you are putting it though. Change is good and pushing your body and mind is how you grow, but at some point you need to plateau to start the process again.
Mental exhaustion or “Burnout” may feel like this:
- Lack of confidence
- Lack of motivation
There is an ideal level of confidence. You do not want to be over-confident and you do not want to lack confidence during training. You need to be somewhere in-between. The majority of athletes would like to be here for their training. Keeping this ideal level will allow you to peak in confidence when a competition rolls around. I find that keeping this level of confidence throughout my training allows me to focus more on future goals.
One may argue that you wouldn’t want confidence to reach its maximum even during competition. It is healthy to believe in yourself and your abilities but I believe that every good athlete realizes that losing is not impossible. Believing that your opponent or challenger can get the better of you that day keeps you in a state of flow. It keeps you sharp and aware.
Equally important is what happens to an athletes confidence after the event. Depending on the result, the rate at which confidence will decline changes. As in diagram 1.4 you can see how if you win the event your confidence will stay at the same level longer and will decrease more slowly than if you lose. Of course, we all want to win but in a sport where you have a string of events to train for I argue that it is more important to react to a decision than the actual decision.
What this means is that you need to analyze and adjust. If you win you need to realize the trajectory of your confidence. You don’t want it to ride to high for too long. Being over-confident can cause you to develop false confidence. A lot of people who do this become successful at an event and let it get to their head, they stop training because they feel they have been there done that then when they go to compete again they lose.
For me, personally, I love compliments. I know it makes me feel good when I am recognized for hard work. In fact other people’s compliments go a lot further than they should in my world. I have recognized that from journaling how they make me feel. So I adapt. After winning at a tournament you will never see me at the Dojang. I stay away for a day, or two, or how ever long it takes for me to come down off my high and for the students excitement to subside. Some people I explain this to think I’m crazy but I get pleasure and satisfaction from the process of preparation and then the performance not necessarily if I win. I still have the goal of winning but sometimes you may win but perform terribly and this doesn’t satisfy me. I want to win easily and then get right back to training. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I don’t think it’s really a good thing. I wish I could celebrate with others but I know myself and that’s how I am.
On the other hand, if you lose you need to realize that your confidence may have taken a hefty blow depending on things like your perceived confidence going into an event, your belief in the probability of a win, and any strange things that may have happened during. As with most people your confidence will probably fade away more quickly assuming you do nothing to reverse this erosion.
After a loss, my thinking is that I am actually in the perfect level of confidence to be training. I call the loss a reality check. My latest example of that would be losing to a competitor at the 2012 Nova Scotia Provincial Championships. What I realized after that loss was that I needed to hit the gym… and hard. A short time after my loss, I captured the Eastern Canadian Championship. If you adjust quickly the previous result doesn’t matter in fact I would argue that a loss, if managed mentally, will increase motivation and allow you to reach a higher level of confidence than what you had before the loss.
After I explained that to someone they asked me why you wouldn’t want to lose every event and then win the most important event when the time came, so that along the way you can increase the trajectory of your confidence. The problem lies in your thinking. Just like how exhausting it is to keep your confidence and physical conditioning peaked for extended periods of time it is equally hard and mentally draining to restructure your belief in your self to over come a loss. You can’t do it time and time again, you need a win at some point to assure yourself that you worked this hard for something.
I have a high tolerance for losing. That doesn’t mean I am a good loser. Anyone who has played golf with me can attest to that. In Taekwon – Do I instantly start thinking about my next plan of action. I remember losing and on my way to the other side of the ring to shake the other coaches hand immediately after a match I was thinking about being in the gym and what I would do to correct my performance.
The thing about confidence is that it is always fleeting. We build it up but it continually wants to come down. Don’t let confidence appearing people fool you. If someones confidence is just bursting out of the their body, in my experience, they are over compensating for a lack of confidence or they are riding on false confidence. False confidence is believing in skills that you don’t posses and belief in ability you don’t have.
As your sills increase and your challenges become more familiar it takes more and more for you to get the same increase in confidence. What do we do to continually increase our confidence the same amount or the maximum amount? Evaluate your skills versus your challenges before, after and during event and make sure your goals are leading you to a place where you are testing and pushing yourself each time.
The Art Of Adaptation: Confidence is continually fleeting. Monitoring your mentality and adjusting your game plan is the best way to make sure you are on track to increase performance and to win events.
How I monitor my mentality:
- Plan out training and take notes on how I feel
- Talk to people about my performance
- Note how I feel after the result (Win or Lose)
- Review my notes and ask myself “how you can adjust”
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