By international athlete Kate Holt
Whether you are a serious athlete or running just for pleasure, without self-belief, you won’t fulfil your potential or even get out the door to run at all. To live a life of high achievement in sport, business or your chosen passion, you must wholeheartedly believe in yourself and your ability. Take Usain Bolt, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roger Federer and the like. They are so confident in their own strength, that they make running the fastest time in the world, being footballer of the year and the greatest tennis player who ever lived – look so easy, and fun that we all want to try.
“I felt indestructible – almost superhuman when training and racing (winning). I felt confident and happy. Nothing could bother me…”
Quote from ex-international athlete Clifton Bradeley.
It’s only a few days now before your competition, and the nerves start to set-in. Questions and thoughts about the event begin to appear, and you start to run the race through your head repeatedly. ‘Am I confident? How will I feel? Will I win or will I run badly? All these thoughts pass through your mind in preparation for the event. Essentially what you are really getting at is how much do I believe in myself. While pre-race nerves and anxiety are normal, it’s important to control them. Otherwise, they will either make or break you. Often winning athletes will claim that they knew they were going to win even before the event started. On the other hand, if you are not confident and are ‘psyched-out’ by the mere mention of your rival’s name, then you have probably already lost. Being prepared mentally is therefore incredibly important for sports performance. When your body and head are maximally prepared for sports performance, you will reach your true potential, and when they are not, you won’t. It’s that simple.
The degree of belief a person has in their ability to achieve their goals can be defined as confidence. Self-confidence is described as ‘the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something’. Studies show a correlation between confidence and performance, as confidence improves, so does the performance (Abdullah 2016). The amount of confidence an athlete has can either make or break them but being confident to some degree is vital for success. For example, Hays, Thomas, Maynard and Bawden (2009) found that athletes who had more self-belief were likely to stay focused and control their nerves for longer when under pressure. Hence why Federer will still beat his rivals in a long-drawn-out tennis match.
Because confidence is volatile and susceptible to change, athletes can often feel that they have no control. This, however, can be turned around, for as long as the athlete understands where their confidence comes from. When we talk about self-belief, we base our judgments on concrete and tangible evidence. This could be taken from previous performances in training or competitions. It might be a particularly excellent training session you churned out in recent days or that race where you ran a personal best. Training and racing are a great way of knowing where your fitness and ability currently lies, but also positive comments from your coach and peers. A win always boots confidence, but you have to be confident before the win even comes. Belief tends to comes from a sequence of smaller events that ‘builds’ confidence.
Although it is true that confidence can is built slowly by positive events and environment, so can it be that confidence can be shattered by negative feedback, injury and a negative situation.
“My life and head fell to pieces”.
Quote from ex-international athlete Clifton Bradeley after his career finishing sports injury.
This is how to remain confident and mentally strong for your sport
Some scientists argue that individuals are genetically wired to be more confident. In a study conducted over twenty years ago, Plomin investigated children confidence in their ability to do well in a standard IQ test amongst 15,000 sets of twins. He found that confidence in ability determined success and that confidence scores amongst identical genes were more similar than fraternal twins. However, you’re often presented with stories where individuals who have come from broken and or abusive homes with very little or no confidence who go onto achieve remarkable things.
Referred to as the “don’t worry, be happy” neurochemical, studies have shown that increasing our Serotonin can improve confidence (Van Der Roest, Kleiner & Kleiner (2015). Serotonin is responsible for regulating, anxiety and mood fluctuations and is found amongst a variety of foods such as eggs, cheese, pineapples, Tofu, Salmon and Nuts and seeds.
Eat the right foods
Foods rich in omega-3 fish oils – In recent years there have been studies that suggest omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can help to prevent low moods and depression as they affect the neurotransmitter pathways in the brain. Ensure you are eating at least one portion of oily fish a week such as sardines, salmon, cos, mackerel and trout. Two portions with a high-quality omega-3 oil supplement are ideal.
Vitamin D rich foods – This vitamin is thought to increase levels of serotonin in the brain, so aim to include foods in your diet that contain vitamin D such as eggs, oily fish, yoghurt and fortified cereals etc.
Vitamin B rich foods – Another key vitamin for energy production, low levels of vitamin B have been noted in those with depression. Foods like spinach, broccoli, meat, dairy and eggs are great sources of B vitamins.
Selenium-rich foods – Studies have shown a link between low selenium levels and poor mood, so try to include foods like lean meat, whole grains, brazil nuts, oats, beans/legumes, seafood, nuts and seeds etc.
Avoid – caffeine, processed sugar and alcohol, which can all lower your mood.
You must have quality sleep and the right amount for you. Eight hours of quality sleep seems to be a common goal for most people. Broken or insufficient sleep will reduce your performance and increase the risk of unhappiness and injury.
Home and social life
Your mood, temperament and personality come from your peer group and family life, i.e. your ‘sum totals’. We are often a product of our upbringing, but certainly, your daily environment will determine your current state of confidence. Make sure you hang around will confident like-minded individuals you have ambition and drive to do well in life. Cut out negativity in your life and those that doubt your ability. This is difficult if family are the ones that sap all your enthusiasm and confidence. You would either have to speak to them about their negative effect on you or spend less time with them if you wish to be confident.
Meditation is an excellent way of relaxing, clearing your mind and focusing on your confidence. Listen to confidence building mediation apps or find a quiet space in silence to focus on your breathing and happy, positive thoughts – pushing away doubts and negativity from your mind.
Record positive events
Record and journal positive events and results in your life and how they made you feel. Go back to them and add further notes or merely read them regularly. This will keep you in the state of mind you had at the time of writing them and bring you back to how you felt. Don’t record or give mind-time to negative thoughts.
Operate from your prefrontal cortex
Your prefrontal cortex is where the happy, confident planning part of your mind lives. Learn more about this amazing part of the brain and operate and think from there as often as you can, avoiding limbic system type thinking, which is negative and destructive. You can train yourself to be more mindful and confident, but it needs practice. Once mastered your negative thoughts will be kept to a minimum.
Read, watch and listen to positive media
Many successful people read, listen and watch motivational media and help to teach you techniques and provide inspiration for your own confidence. Google or YouTube the words ‘motivational speaker’, ‘becoming more mindful’ or ‘how to become confident’ etc. and this can help a lot.