Confidence is a universally desired trait. It affects performance, and since confidence is purely a subjective experience controlled by your perception, altering your perception can greatly influence your confidence. Working on your mindset will likely provide far greater results than time spent training or working out in the gym.
Achieving Your Capacity
You can’t achieve more than your capacity. Let’s face it – you can only give 100 percent, and that should always be your aim: getting as close to your capacity as possible. One of the greatest blocks to performing close to your capacity is problems with confidence.
“Playing as best you can is one of the keys to greatness,” according to John Wooden, one of the few basketball coaches who is in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player as well as a coach.
In an interview with Anthony Robbins, John said, “I don’t get my players to play to win; I get them to perform the best they can.”
Expanding that belief, you can say, if a player is taking a free throw, his attention is best served focused on doing the task at hand and not wasting valuable space in his mind worrying about the effects of the shot.
John Wooden’s teams often beat better opponents because they played to a higher level of their capacity, even though they had a lower capacity as a team. It was this consistency that earned them so many titles.
The same holds true in other sports. Every tennis player can make a great shot. The great ones just make them more often and at the most important times.
Focusing on playing the best you can in each match will give you a greater chance to reach your capacity.
Focus and “The Zone”
The more you can focus single mindedly on the actions required to achieve a task, the more chance you have of achieving it. Anything else coming into your mind is redundant. When a player has this intense focus, he constantly slips into what athletes call “the zone,” the place where everything is effortless, the mind is quiet and magic just happens.
Richard Bandler (co-developer of NLP) in his work discusses some strange occurrences in this altered state of mind referred to as “the zone.” He notes time distortion in tennis players slowing the game down so they have more time to hit the ball.
The quickest way out of “the zone” is to think consciously, which will happen if you lose confidence or have doubts. Removing the fears and doubts and accepting you will give it your best shot will allow you greater opportunity to enter the zone.
“I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games, and 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed,” said basketball legend Michael Jordan.
This quote shows that Jordan was fearless. He didn’t like losing, but he didn’t fear it. Being fearless meant he was less likely to get taken out of “the zone.”
I worked with a professional tennis player who feared having the second serve returned fast past her. As she threw the ball up into the air, this fear physically manifested itself in her shoulder, causing the muscles to tense up. This in turn caused a self fulfilling prophecy of having a weak second serve. Even thinking about throwing the ball up created tension in this player.
We addressed and resolved the fear using mental/emotional techniques such as NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). (EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on each of these techniques, please see the “related articles” to the right.) After EFT in particular, all the tension this player formerly experienced was released, freeing her physically to make the shot and freeing her mind to focus on the game. I have seen many muscle memory issues from past defeats and missed opportunities, and the actual process of clearing these up is simple when using NLP or EFT.
Each time you clear a fear, it frees up more mental capacity to focus on getting close to 100 percent capacity, which results in improved performance. Realizing that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” is an important step. A fearless opponent is always a very dangerous opposition, as he will adjust his game until he finds openings.
The great players do not fear making shots. They are the ones who will make big plays on match point or with seconds to play in a grand final. They are willing to take responsibility because they hold no fear.
Release your fears of making mistakes and just focus on what you need to do. Once you accept you have fears and you face them, they transform into a valuable resource for you.
Fear and Choking
Choking refers to losing confidence, especially self confidence, just at the moment when it is needed most and doing poorly as a result (e.g., in sports). Often, the act of choking can completely alter an athlete’s life and/or ruin her career.
There have been many famous instances of choking but few greater examples than Jana Novotna’s defeat in the 1993 Wimbledon singles final to Steffi Graf.
Novotna, who became famous for crying on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent during the trophy presentation that year, had taken a 6–7, 6–1, 4–1, 40-15 lead and, with victory in her grasp, started missing simple shots. One notable shot was an overhead smash that hit the back tarp. Many shots went out by long margins.
Graf, sensing the crumbling of confidence, went on to win the next five games and the tournament. A great player can sniff weakness in an opponent and will rise to the occasion.
Novotna was a classic example of choking. Gripped with fear, she was unable to relax and play her game.
I once worked with an Australian Football League junior who had lost his confidence. When kicking the ball, he kept choking, which had been affecting him for half the season. This all stemmed from one poor kick he wasn’t able to put out of his mind, and therefore, he couldn’t concentrate on the things he needed to do.
Why is it some shots or failed attempts stick in the mind, and we are unable to get over them? I describe this as shadowing. This one (or more) kick, miss or game overshadows all the knowledge of how to play and overshadows the resources the athlete possesses. This is created from a state of mind that is influenced by many factors. The kick means more than just a missed kick. It could mean letting people down, and this adds unhelpful pressure. If this isn’t dealt with, you can play one bad game after another, which will really make an impression on the mind and can affect long term confidence.
Putting the mistake into perspective and moving on is fundamental in every sport. Michael Jordan had mastered this art. Some athletes perform better under pressure, but it is my belief that these athletes develop greater focus, almost needing something to “kick start” them. They do not allow the tension to affect them and their game negatively.
Relaxing the muscles is important. It is the mind that controls the muscles through its perception of events.
One amazing way to improve confidence is to remove a block in an athlete’s perception, which is usually tension created from a poor game or mistake.
I regularly see athletes who are stuck thinking about one bad shot. This blocks them from the mental resources of playing at their peak. They are just unable to stop thinking about it.
The bad event is likely to keep playing over and over in the mind’s eye until the player has learned something from it and can move on.
Let’s say a player played really well in nine games and badly in one. You would expect him to have high confidence, wouldn’t you? But it doesn’t always work that way, as the bad game takes on greater meaning than all the good ones combined. This one bad game literally blocks all of the confidence gained from the good games.
What if you were as good as all of your good performances? What if you could focus on the good ones and forget the bad ones and learn from them?
Something magical happens when this memory is resolved and put into perspective. This often happens naturally, but sometimes it can progress for years and can even ruin a career. When the block is removed, the bad game or mistake blends into the background, and the player gains a more balanced perspective and is able to focus on the task at hand.
I believe the great players learn to let things go the moment they happen and just focus in the present moment and the present shot. Athletes like Michael Jordan can just focus on their abilities. They think about what they want to happen and believe they can achieve it, putting mistakes behind them. Even missing so many important shots, Jordan is still one of the most successful athletes of all time.
Great athletes hold no fear and keep doubt at bay. Losing happens and is part of the game. Great athletes do not invest any energy or mind resource in losing. They get straight up and fight again.
Some will say that the great athletes rely on their ability. This is most certainly true, but how many other athletes have we seen with incredible talent but who are not able to apply it or to regularly get near their capacity. It is not just ability. It is applying that ability consistently.
Everyone’s own thoughts are unique, and it is what these thoughts mean to us that can cause problems. Instead of focusing on playing her game one shot at a time, Novotna let her fear control her, and this cost her the title.
Building the Right Frame of Mind
Since we can now see how the way we think about events affects our state of mind, will changing what we think about change our confidence? You bet it will.
Try it yourself. Think about one of the worst games you have ever played. Now take a moment and notice how your body feels. Notice any tension you feel and notice how much confidence you have. Doesn’t feel good, right? Most of you will have felt some residue energy from that memory. To your body and mind, it feels as though it is happening over again.
Now forget about that and think about the best game you ever played. Think about how great it felt. Tune into your body and sense how it feels. How’s your confidence? The chances are this feels much better. In the space of two minutes, you can completely change the way your body feels through thoughts.
I once worked with a professional athlete who was a great passer of the ball, but when he missed a pass, he would lose confidence. To restore it, he would make lots of small passes until his confidence returned. This seemed far too much work, so we used the following technique: whenever he missed, he thought about the best game he had ever had and felt the adrenalin of that rushing through his body. The result was quite startling. He went on to be player of the tournament.
You are free to think what you like, but we get caught in habitual thinking patterns and assume that is the way things work. Once you realize you have control, you are on the path to mastery.
A golfer may address the ball in the same ritualistic way for each shot to get him into the right frame of mind. Other sportsmen will bounce the ball a certain number of times or hit their gloves together. They are looking to activate a pattern.
If you create a ritual associated to confidence - known as an “anchor” in NLP - then you can fire this anchor off each time you need to access that confidence.
Three Easy Steps to Improve Confidence
- Clear any blocks. When a bad shot or mistake plays on your mind, just accept you made a mistake and focus on the good shots. You can personally use EFT while thinking about the bad shot or mistake, and it will often clear the block there and then. If this doesn’t work, you may need to go a little deeper, and chances are a good EFT practitioner can quickly resolve it.
- Create an anchor to get you in the right frame of mind. See www.nlpu.com or any of the thousands of other NLP resources available online. This will allow you to start to control the states of mind you require for top performance.
- Just give it your best shot. When it comes to choking, realize that, whether you win or lose, doing your best is all that counts. You will win a lot of friends and respect giving it your all. You can’t do more than that. Looking back, you can relax in the knowledge that you gave it your best shot.
Confidence is an abstract concept and unique to each individual. But as we continue to understand more of how the mind and perception works, we can improve confidence significantly, which translates to improved performance.