Confidence & Belief in Yourself

by Katrina Radke 1

May 16th, 2012 News

Dear Katrina May 14, 2012

Confidence, and belief in yourself.

  1. I feel like my coach doesn’t believe in me. I have lost confidence since he believes I am not training as well as I used to. I am trying, but can’t seem to hold the same times consistently in practice. I don’t even know if it physical or mental at this point.

-Anonymous, USA.

I hear you, and this is a big question that many athletes face at some point in their career. First, know that you are not your times. You can and deserve to feel good about you as a person, even if you have made mistakes or have had difficulty in practice or in races. This is merely a great learning opportunity for you to reach your potential. From here, you can more calmly create a solution to your issue.

Often, an athlete can train the same way for a few years and get faster. However, as mentioned last week in the question about plateaus, we all need to change the way we do things, to continue to improve. After all, life is constant change.

Similarly, if we are on the path of personal growth, it is wise to constantly be truthful about our commitment level, effort, and how we feel. From there, we can determine where we are at, what we need to do to get better, and also keep ourselves feeling good within.

I know, at some points in my career where I was more focused than others. I had to be honest with myself about what motivated me, and how driven I was to succeed. Other times, I was motivated, but then had to adapt to changes in how I was able to train, as my body hit puberty or was overly drained from the cumulative effect of heavy training. This lagging tiredness or inability to perform can make it seem that we are not in shape, not as fast, or not as motivated. Yet, it could simply be that your body needs a break, or change.

Also, there is a point where a coach might still believe in only one training method for success. Yet, both the coach and athlete have to be aware and honest enough to change what they are doing if they don’t see appropriate progress. What worked in the past might not work now. We also must take into account the cumulative effect of months and years of training, and what the long-term effect is on the body and self.

It is easy to hammer more and “try harder”. Yet, that is not always the best solution. As the body gets older, it is wise to adjust that belief to respond to the changes seen in the person.

Is this mental or physical? If it is physical, all we might need is rest, or a change in how we are living (i.e. get more sleep, stop going out so much, nutrition). Often, we mistake slower swimming with needing to “beat” ourselves up more, rather than being smart about having balance of intensity and rest.

We might have hit a plateau and need a physical change in training. We might actually be as motivated but fearful since we are no longer training as well, on a regular basis. Yet, it often can start as one, and then be both.

I just heard an interview with Michael Phelps, the greatest male swimmer ever, and his magician coach, Bob Bowman. The two of them have been a powerful team, to say the least. I wondered, how are they both handling the fact that Michael is no longer the “machine” in his many years of training, but more of a partner in their decision-making. Bob mentioned that he prefers the “machine” over the “man”. How are they handling the fact that his body has done many years of intense high volume yardage, and, how much recovery is vital for his success at this point in his career? How do they know when his training success (or lack of), might be physical rather than mental (his actual motivation to succeed)?

Yes, we must be clear on what drives us everyday to do what we do. Yes, there are many things to consider when it comes to being at our best in sport. Yet, in the end, when a swimmer stands up on the blocks to race, the training is done. In Michael Phelps’ case, he has enough years of major training in him that his body knows what to do, to still be the best, regardless of whether he was as fast everyday in practice. All he has to do is recall all of his many great performances, feel it as if it is happening again right now, and know he knows how to do it again. Then, the body will respond, in kind.

To gain your confidence back, be honest with how you really feel, instead of pretending that everything is fine. Express yourself to your coach, “I am giving my best effort, but can’t maintain the same times daily in practice.” Or, if you have gotten distracted with social or other activities, or have fears that have affected your ability to go after it 110% in practice, take ownership and express that, too. Then, a dialogue can happen between you and the coach.

Focus on having something that makes you feel good about yourself everyday. It can be as simple as making your bed (if you don’t regularly). Start with small steps to build trust and confidence back in yourself.

If you can’t hold the same times in a set of repeats, focus on something new, such as your turns, under water work, stroke count, tempo, your attitude, etc. They key is for you to leave practice feeling like you tried something new, excelled in a certain area, or focused in a new way. By setting the intention to have progress, you will feel better about yourself, and so will your coach.

Remember, we all get fixed in certain beliefs. The key is to notice that we have them, and pay attention to whether they are helping us or hindering us. Know you can change them at any time.

If we believe that we need to do 20,000 meters a day, go certain times in practice, or weigh a certain amount on a scale, or beat certain people in season, to swim fast in our most important meet, we will feel stress. It is vital to focus on what is working, too.

Our goal really is to free ourselves up, to feel good about who we are. We get to pursue what we love, and see what is possible. We get to trust that we can give our best effort and feel good with the end result, whatever that might be.

So, if your confidence is getting affected, talk to your coach, parents, a supporter of yours, or journal about it. Then, recall a time when you felt most confident. Remember it in detail. Know that you can have this experience again, even if you made a mistake (We all do! We are human, after all), didn’t train as well as you wished, or were not “good enough” in your mind.

We need to appreciate what we are doing, and who we are. We get to see that we are okay just as we are. In fact, we get to realize that we are more capable than we ever thought possible. We can let the magic into our lives, and let ourselves be present on the blocks and in the race, rather than letting other people or our own limiting beliefs stand in the way.

Focus on what gives you confidence. Notice how you feel as you are in this state. By practicing this, you are training yourself to feel good and have success in a whole new way!

Please feel free to email me with your stories on how you have overcome doubt or some level of adversity. If you are still stuck in a specific issue, please email me with that, too.

In addition to being an Olympian, and therapist, Katrina is an author. Her inspiring peak potential and wellness book, “Be Your Best Without the Stress” will be available June 4, 2012. To preorder, go to, (May 21), and other online sites.

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To the concerned athlete, I understand your frustrations and concerns you are having. I feel like most athletes go experience these discouraging thoughts at least one point in their careers. What you need to learn is how to rebound when you are feeling down about your performances, and you can use it as life lessons, not just in swimming. I’m not sure of your age, but it sounds like you have developed severe performance anxiety, which in return has lead to low self esteem issues. The book suggested by the author here may be a good start. I would also highly recommend “Feeling Good” by David Burns. The thoughts that you have about yourself and your perception of others’ opinions… Read more »

About Katrina Radke

Katrina Radke, MFT, is an internationally recognized Olympian, therapist, college psychology instructor, and a peak performance and health coach for many fields, including business, sport psychology, fitness, wellness and nutrition. She is a motivational speaker for corporate, educational and public events, and works with top physicians and health professionals. She …

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