We all know and have seen Usain Bolt prior to the start of his races. The way he is so relaxed, so confident, brimming with self-belief and looking like he does not have a care in the world. This embodiment of confidence and self-belief is not just found in Usain Bolt. Look at Roger Federer when he is playing his free-flowing forehand, or Chris Gayle hitting 6’s for fun, or Jessica Ennis-Hill in full flow at the London 2021 Olympics. So, how do these athletes exhibit what seems like super-human character traits of unwavering confidence and deep self-belief? Read on dear reader, read on.
Nerves and anxiety
I can promise you that ALL athletes who have achieved greatness will and still do feel nerves and anxiety. They are just a lot better at hiding and controlling their feelings and portraying calmness and security on the surface. They sometimes ‘trick’ their mind into reframing the nervous feelings into positive excitement for the challenge ahead. This can be done and is a skill to be learnt. You can see how to do this in this blog article on the subject of nerves and anxiety.
When you get nervous, and you will, try and avoid automatically jumping to the irrational conclusion that you have no confidence and self-belief. A lot of athletes tend to make this connection and leap, and it becomes a strong self-fulfilling prophecy that is ultimately damaging and serves no purpose to playing and performing at your best. By having this narrative in your mind, you can quickly spiral. One slightly bad shot, one error in judgement, one slightly awkward movement you make. These small, inconsequential acts in isolation are nothing really, but can easily become the first thread that can unravel entire matches for weeks on end.
“I am nervous, so I am not good enough”
“I am anxious that I will be made to look silly”
“I am afraid that if I lose, I will not be selected for the College I want”
“I am fearful of how bad I am going to play today”
These types of sentiments are your mind getting hijacked by the monkey mind. They are just thoughts. But when these thoughts go unchecked and are allowed to run wild, they can become your identity. You are beginning to catastrophise the situation and the seed for this catastrophising can be that initial feeling of nervousness. You cannot block out nervousness and you should not try to do so. However, you can work WITH the nerves and anxiety to help prepare you for the match and to ultimately make you perform better. As mentioned before, this is a skill to be learnt. We are not born with this ability; it is a craft that needs to be honed over time and with patience. Try and not let nerves and anxiety become your barrier to ultimate confidence and self-belief.
Sources of confidence
I am not one for empty positivity and neither should you be. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place to have a “fake it ‘till you make it” attitude, but over the long-term and if wanting to build real sustainable confidence and self-belief, this concept is flawed. It can give you a short-term boost and injection of dopamine (the feel-good molecule in the brain) and self-belief so do not discount it, but the real powerful stuff comes from looking at and cultivating your confidence and self-belief from different and wide-ranging sources. Why not rather make it so you do not need to fake it?
Below is a list of some sources you can use to build up your confidence and self-belief.
1. Previous performances – what have you already achieved? (see Best Matches below)
2. Extensive preparation – how much preparation have you done mentally and physically?
3. Vicarious experiences – watching others perform successfully
4. Verbal persuasion – others showing or telling you they have faith in you
5. Trust in advisors – believing those who help you have brilliant skills
6. Environmental comfort – comfortable and familiar in the environment you’ll be in
7. Social support – support from those who matter to you
8. Innate factors – feeling that you have a natural ability
9. Your view of your situation – feel that things are going your way
10. Psychological states – reframing the physical feelings of threat as excitement towards a challenge
11. Physical self-presentation – how you look
12. Competitive advantage – when competitors do poorly
Source: Performance In Mind
After looking at the above list, which of the above areas do you think you are lacking in? Which areas need addressing? Which areas need to simply become more conscious in your mind? Are there obvious gaps you are not employing to help your confidence and self-belief? If so, take action and start to make some positive changes in your environment.
The remainder of this article is going to focus solely on point 1, previous experiences, and how to practically use this method to positively influence your future performances.
Ali Farag refers to “cultivating the small wins” over the course of his career.
“I make sure that I pause and celebrate the small wins often…this may be as small as a particularly good training session or practice match, right up to winning the World Championships. I find when I cultivate the mindset of recognising and celebrating the wins often, this grows my confidence and self-belief and becomes a habit”
One of the most common and impactful ways of building confidence and self-belief is to remember your best-ever performance/s on the court. Here is how you do it:
Recall your best-ever games of squash. It may be a specific run of points. It may be just a single game or match. Or it can also be a whole tournament where you were just unstoppable. You have played your best-ever game of squash, and this will always stay with you no matter what. No one can ever take that away from you or tell you otherwise. Replaying, reliving, and visualising it will give you confidence and self-belief. Try and recall this game, match, or tournament now and think and relive it. If you are able to visualise effectively, the feel-good molecule, dopamine, will be released by your brain and flood your body when you replay this memory. You want to recall as much detail about this match as possible including the venue, the opponent, your kit, your equipment if you can remember it, as well as the thoughts and emotions surrounding the match. Feelings of happiness, motivation, drive, passion, and confidence should all be present and relived. The more vivid the details the better! But do not stress if you cannot recall everything. This exercise is to build up your confidence and self-belief, not to make you more anxious and nervous if you can’t quite remember every fine detail.
Become aware of what and how your game is played. What gives you confidence within your game? What shots and movements allow you to believe in yourself? Now you need to shift the focus onto the game or match coming up. Take your previous good experiences and transport and project them into your next match or matches you are playing. Really see and believe in this and exactly how you are going to use your best-ever previous matches and executing them in the future. You have done it before so you can do it again, and even better! Back yourself and be confident that you are going to use what you have done in the past to positively affect the future.
Players such as Ali Farag and Nour El Sherbini use this method, whereby using previous experiences, they build confidence and self-belief for what is to come. This exercise is not empty positivity, far from it, rather it is grounded in the real and true experience you have encountered in the past. Therefore, world class athletes use this method regularly before and during events to compete at their best and to build their confidence and self-belief.
In the Journal section of the SquashMind app there is a Best Matches journal. Here, you can record your best-ever matches and store them for future reference. Recording these matches 12-48 hours after they have been played is ideal, but you can always input previous matches from months or even years before. You can build up a good library and database in this section of the app that you can go back and revisit time and again when you need to build your confidence and self-belief.
Furthermore, within the SquashMind app there is a deeper and more in-depth visualisation on this subject, and you could search for “Playing Your Game” if you wanted to practice this method on a more regular basis via a guided visualisation. Another two useful lessons in the app for this subject would be “Playing With a Lead” and “Confidence In Your Shots”.
If you liked this blog, please do share with others that may be interested on this subject and find it of use. I work closely with players on all aspects of their game and mind. I offer online Zoom lessons and become a mentor and accountability partner for players. I find 1:1 online lessons immensely powerful for learning and am now using the court more so for practice. Being able to learn away from the ‘distractions’ of playing is proving to be highly valuable.
"Learn online, practice on-court"
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- Be aware that even the best athletes in the world get and feel nerves, it is common and part and parcel of competitive sport. Just because you are nervous does not mean you cannot have full confidence
- Know that you can grow confidence and self-belief from multiple different sources and check on the above list in which areas you can look to cultivate and improve upon
- Recall your previous best matches and previous experiences. Use this as your guide to build confidence and self-belief within yourself as you have been and done it before so no reason you cannot do it again
- Journal and write down in as much detail these previous experiences and keep handy for future use
- Practice visualisation and relive these previous experiences often. Try and make this a habit during your week to build real and sustainable confidence and self-belief