There’s very much a connection between the mind, the body, and our physical actions where everything is interconnected and linked to one another. We know this is true. We see it. You can always tell when someone is feeling extremely confident and has belief in themselves. Their body language changes. They walk taller. They have more of a swagger about them. Their physical movements are more assured and they’re able to perform with a higher degree of tenacity and intensity.
An athlete without confidence and self-belief is nothing more than an empty shell. They become hollow. They walk around with their shoulders slouched. They look frail and vulnerable. When confidence and self-belief is gone, the tenacity and intensity they used to perform with is replaced with a very visible look of doubt and uncertainty. Confidence and self-belief as an athlete is like the gasoline that fuels the car. Without fuel, a car can’t even move. Without confidence and belief in yourself, you can’t perform your absolute best.
Confidence isn’t about being cocky or arrogant. It’s not thinking you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s simple, but extremely effective things. It’s believing that you’re capable of greatness more than failure. It’s having a positive image of yourself, not a negative one. It’s talking to yourself in an empowering way instead of talking down on yourself. It’s seeing the outcome being what you want as opposed to what you don’t want. Most of all, it’s believing in yourself and your capabilities when everything and everyone else around you is trying to tell you that you aren’t good enough.
A confident swimmer will think only about the performance he wants to see happen. He doesn’t think about the performance he doesn’t want to see happen. A confident swimmer is never afraid to push themselves beyond their pain threshold if the situation demands it. A confident swimmer wants to swim against the best and thrives off of a challenge. A confident diver believes she can still come from behind to win even if her first dive goes poorly. A confident diver won’t compare herself to other divers and will instead of focus on her own strengths and what makes her great.
The great thing about confidence is that it can be trained, built up, and refined. Confidence is a skill. It’s not something that a person is born with. It’s not something that is given to you or bestowed upon you. It’s not something that you can just acquire out of thin air. And, because it’s a skill, that means that it can be practiced, learned, and mastered just like any other skill. When working with my clients, I talk about how there are two different kinds of confidence. There’s External Confidence and there’s Internal Confidence.
External Confidence is when your confidence comes mainly from external sources, or sources outside of yourself. For swimmer and divers, there are five main sources of External Confidence. They are as follows:
Results – Times and Scores that you get.
Rewards – Things like medals, trophies, and prizes.
Status – Your ranking or stature within your sport.
Praise – Receiving compliments and recognition.
Comparisons – Measuring yourself or your accomplishments to others.
While drawing confidence from these things isn’t necessarily bad, it can be a dangerous trap. What’s the problem with trying to gain confidence from external sources? Why would gaining confidence from things like results, rewards, status, praise, and comparisons be risky to do? It’s simple: External sources of confidence are temporary. If you look at each of those sources, you’ll notice that each of them are condition-based and, most importantly, are completely outside of your control.
If you depend on results, rewards, status, praise, and comparisons in order to feel confident in yourself, then what’s going to happen to your confidence once your results get worse, you’re not winning rewards, your status goes down, people start criticizing you, or you can no longer favorably compare yourself to others? What’s going to happen is that your confidence is going to disappear as well.
What you need and what you want is Internal Confidence. Internal Confidence is when your confidence comes from sources within you, not from sources outside of yourself. Just like with external confidence, there are five main sources of internal confidence:
Thoughts – What you think and the way you talk to yourself consistently.
Images – The image you have of yourself as an athlete.
Values – The principles and ideals that you hold dear and believe in.
Worth – The love you have for yourself regardless of weaknesses or flaws.
Growth – The progress and improvements you make in your sport.
You know the phrase, “If you tell yourself a lie long enough, you’ll start to believe it”? It works because the more you tell yourself something, the more your brain believes it to be true. You could be the best swimmer or diver on your team, but if you constantly tell yourself that you’re not good enough, that you don’t have what it takes, or that you’ve lost it and that you’ll never get it back, then your brain will simply absorb those thoughts, believe them as truth, and help you perform in a way that matches those thoughts.
The opposite is also true. You could be someone who isn’t the best swimmer or diver on your team or someone who’s failed to achieve anything up to this point in your career. If you constantly tell yourself that you know you’re good enough, that you have what it takes to make it, that you’re not afraid to go up against anyone, and that you can overcome any challenges or obstacles to succeed against all odds, then your brain will take in those thoughts, believe them to be truth, and help you perform in a way that matches those thoughts.
As a swimmer or diver, whether you realize it or not, you have an image in your mind of the athlete you think you are. You see yourself in a certain way. That image is overwhelmingly influenced by your environment and the experiences that you go through in your sport and in your day to day life. Every time you’ve done something poorly or failed, the image you have of yourself was slightly chipped away at. Every time you achieved success or got better at something, that same image of yourself was improved and enhanced.
To build internal confidence, you need to craft a confident image of yourself. The best way to do this is through Visualization. Visualization is the process of visualizing images in your mind in order to train your brain to act or behave a certain way. Every day, for a set period of time, spend time visualizing yourself as the swimmer or diver that you want to be, not the swimmer or diver you think you currently are. Visualize yourself walking tall with your shoulders back and your head up. Visualize strong body language. See yourself performing your sport with the kind of confidence and exuberance you’d want to have in your actual performances. In doing so, you’ll be crafting a confident self-image that matches the confident images you visualized in your mind and your brain will try to help you perform and act in a way that matches that confident self-image.
What are values? Values are the principles, qualities, and ideals that a person considers to be worthwhile, desirable, and holds to a high level of personal importance. As human beings, our decisions, actions, and behaviors are very much driven by the values that are most important to us. Values play the role of acting as our internal compass, helping to guide us in the direction of the decisions we want to make, the actions we want to take, and behaviors we want to exemplify.
Some examples of values are things such as the following: Dedication, Commitment, Greatness, Humility, Devotion, Respect, Honesty, and Optimism. If one of your values as an athlete is Dedication, then you’re going to dedicate yourself to your sport. If one of your values is Optimism, then you’re always going to see the glass half full as opposed to half empty. By identifying and practicing your values, you give yourself a great source of confidence because you know that, not matter what happens, you’re the kind of person who stick to what they believe and acts that out. You don’t change or morph based on what certain situations or other people want you to do or be.
I don’t think anyone can ever truly develop real, lasting confidence unless they learn to love themselves and who they are as an individual. You have to reach a point where you’re at peace with who you are, the attributes you have, and you recognize your high worth as a human being. Knowing your worth doesn’t mean permanently settling for or blatantly ignoring any weaknesses, faults, and shortcomings you may have. As always, those are things you continuously want to look to improve upon, change, or eliminate. Knowing your worth means that you understand that, like all human beings, you’re born with imperfection woven into your being, but you’re comfortable within your own skin regardless and you don’t let the words of other people change how you view yourself.
The more you recognize and acknowledge your own self-worth, and the more you love who you are as a person, the easier it is to feel more confident in that person.
In sport and in society, the overwhelming amount of focus is almost always placed firmly more on results and success more than development and growth. While those things are certainly important, it’s crucial to understand that results and success can’t happen without development and growth. When you first try something, you’re not good at it. So, you continue to work hard at it to get better. Over time, as you improve and as your capabilities grow, you slowly start to see better and better results and, eventually, success comes your way. As you notice yourself getting better and better, what happens to your confidence and self-belief? It increases. However, that’s only if you allow yourself to acknowledge and focus on that growth.
As you move through your athletic career, you’re going to experience many ups and downs, many wins and losses, and many successes and failures. Throughout all of that, you can always take solace in the fact that, as long as you’re putting your all into everything you do in training and your performances, you’re improving. You’re developing. You’re growing. With each new milestone you reach and every time you realize that something you’ve been working on is getting better, it’s extremely important that you allow yourself to acknowledge that growth and feel confident in yourself for that improvement. You have to learn to celebrate and feel good about the small, daily victories you experience along the way.
So, every day, use the voice inside your heard to talk to yourself in a confident way. See the kind of person you want to be and visualize in your mind a confident image of yourself. Put your values and beliefs into action and stand behind them so that you can feel good about yourself in knowing you’re the kind of person who knows what they value, puts those values into action, and stands up for them no matter what. Really embrace and love the person that you are, faults and weaknesses included, in order to make it easier to feel confident in that person. And, most of all, allow yourself to celebrate and feel good about your growth. Every time you learn something new, accomplish a small task, or reach a new milestone, let that growth and improvement make you feel better about yourself and believe in what you’re capable of doing even more. When you do all of those things, confidence will just happen. You’ll develop a permanent confidence, not just for sport, but for life as well.
About Will Jonathan