Updated: Aug 7, 2021
Anyone being at their top of their game, whether they are athletes, musicians on stage or public speakers can tell you that confidence plays a very important role in performance. At a club level, I often have parents telling me "Yes, he played well, but he just need confidence in matches and he will start winning". hmm... "Just need confidence". Sounds simple... but it's a pretty big thing and it is a lot easier said than done. Confidence is indeed very important at any level, whether you play section 7 local pennant in juniors or Nationals, Confidence help you get the most out of yourself. So the big question is "how do you build confidence". Well, that's a pretty complex question but here are according to me the 5 keys to building confidence.
The #1 ingredient to building confidence for me is training. When you get to competition day and you know you have worked very hard day in, day out, you can really draw a lot of confidence. You have trained for this and you feel ready, confident. The opposite is true too when deep inside, you know your training has not been the best. Let's say for example you are a marathon runner about to start an important race, like a qualifying race for the Olympics. You have trained very hard over a long period of time prior to that race, knocking some very good times in the past few weeks and you know if you just deliver the pace you have been doing in training you'll be fine. That's a pretty big boost of confidence. On the contrary, you may be at the same race but knowing you've been a bit slack with your training lately. You'll be coming to that race, feeling...hmm..not that confident. Replace "being a runner", by being a Tennis player, swimmer, boxer, musician, surgeon etc.. it still works. When a journalist asks a world-class athletes how they're feeling before an important event, they often says they feel "prepared". That means they are backing themselves through their training.
So for me, knowing that you've been putting the work day in day out over a extended period of time, worked on your fitness, your game, your consistency, your strength and weaknesses is the biggest booster of confidence.
2- Self-talk & Self-image.
Self-image and self-talk is the #2 most important ingredient to the confidence recipe. Do you know many negative people who are confident? I don't. Confident people do lots of positive self-talk. No one is born confident. They've learnt to develop their confidence through their self-image. It is an everyday habit. To become confident, you need to develop a positive image of yourself, We often say "trust yourself" and that happens by developing some good habits:
- Learn to self-talk positively when you're facing a challenge or doubting yourself. Develop a routine like closing your eyes and tell yourself you are ready for this.
- Catch yourself when you're being negative and learn to fight your negative behaviour with positive self-talk.
For example, you hear athletes say: "pressure is a privilege". Basically they are telling themselves to focus on being grateful for the opportunity instead of letting the pressure get to them. It is not easy and natural and that's why we need to learn it through conscious habits.
People often mention that your winning history is important for confidence. You are confident you can beat that player because you beat him before. It's true and for me it comes back to positive self-talk. If you have beaten a player before, that last win is a great "anchor" for positive self-talk, You are telling yourself that you beat him last time so you can do it again.
Side note: There is a big difference between positive self-talk and cockiness. Positive self-talk is getting you in the right mindset to deliver what you are capable of, it is very much focusing on yourself while cockiness is that feeling of underestimating your opponent, that you have already won before you played and that you can't lose that match.
So, how do you practice positive self-talk, particularly if you face a player that beat you last time or even worse, someone who always beat you before. Well, this is where it gets interesting. You need to find positive anchors elsewhere. For example, depending on the situation and what resonates with you, you can tell yourself that you lost 6 months ago but you have trained hard since and that you're now a better player or that you lost but you didn't even played well and if you play your proper game you have a good chance. You may also focus on your mindset, tell yourself you're working hard to build a champion mindset and in consequence, being challenged by good players is great for you and you can't wait to get out there and test your mental toughness. You basically need to find something positive to focus on in order to build your self-belief and you need to keep practising positive self-talk during your match, between points and between games. Of course, those positive anchors need to be true, You need to believe in it. Like in any situations where you are under pressure, against the wall, you need to find positive things you can rely on. You have to learn to do this, through your training and through everyday life.
People wrote me off, but I believed in myself. I got the confidence back, and it grew and grew. I won my first major and my last at the place that changed my life.
~ Pete Sampras, former ATP world #1, 14 Grand Slam winner.
3- Learn to deal with challenges and be out of comfort zone.
Learning to be out of your comfort zone will not only reinforce your confidence in your ability to deal with adversity but most importantly being challenged is the biggest confidence breaker.
Many players do very well when the situation is under control but then melt down when things don't go their way. (That panic feeling). Instead, world-class performers learn to deal with the unexpected.
Short story: Michael Phelps, the best swimmer in history learnt to use the technique of visualisation in training. While visualisation techniques are often use to see yourself swim the perfect race or play the perfect game, Phelps use the visualisation to visualise anything that could go wrong in the race. False start, loud crowd, missing his start, anything he could think of. Then in the final of the 200m butterfly at the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing, a disaster struck. As soon as he dove in, his goggles moved and then started to fill up with water very quickly. By the time, he reached 100m, he could not see anything and he swam the last 75m of the race completely blind, not knowing what position he was nor even how far was the wall. Guess what? He still won. Through his training and life, Phelps learned to deal with challenge and adapt to the unexpected.
If you are not able to do that, then you are exposed to losing confidence at anytime. Even if you arrive at your match full of confidence, something unexpected (such as having a bad start) may completely through you out of your game and you will know you can't deal with it.
Experience plays a big part in confidence and is directly linked to the previous point, the idea of being comfortable with the uncomfortable,
How do you think Djokovic won so many matches even when he was against the wall, like during the recent 2021 French Open Final, being 2 sets down against Tsitsipas. He stayed focused, he knew he's done before ( being behind and still winning), that he can do it again and he won.
How does someone develop confidence in public speaking? By doing public speaking. It feels uncomfortable at first, then less uncomfortable. If you do it again, it become normal or even comfortable. Building Experience (by putting yourself in similar situations with some level of pressure) is important for confidence.
So as a tennis player, if you want to feel confident in matches, you have to play more matches and get yourself in those uncomfortable situations, when the match is close and learn to become comfortable with it. The best performers have learnt to look for challenges so they thrives when they face one (See Blog article about the 6 levels of competitive mindsets).
5- Momentum (recent performance)
Momentum is, according to me, the last brick to building your confidence wall. Momentum has the ability to bring you a big boost of confidence in a short time. Momentum is all about recent experiences and results. For example, you may arrive at a tournament full of confidence because you just came back from another tournament and you did very well. You accumulated confidence over there through your results and you are able to carry that confidence to the next round/tournament/event. Momentum can allow you to surf on a wave of successive positive results in order to get even better results. This is that feeling that things seem to come together. So, momentum is partly something you build through results but you can also find momentum elsewhere" ("confidence anchors"). For example, my game keeps getting better and better (even if I am not winning yet), I am getting stronger/fitter/better/smarter with every game i play.
The more you believe in yourself, the faster you’re going to get.
Adam Peaty, Olympic Champion, Men's 100M breaststroke, 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In Summary, confidence is very important for performance and building your confidence is something you can work on through:
1- Your Training & preparation
2- Your every day positive attitude, practice positive self-talk
3- Your mindset towards challenges
4- building your experience in similar situations
5- Momentum (in training and in competition)
Here is a checklist for you in building your confidence as a player and as person!
( it is does not have to be yes or no, the answer can a scale out of 10. for example, 5/10 " a little bit but I can get better"
Do i work hard in my training with consistency, develop my skills under pressure and prepare for my matches properly so I can really back myself up in matches?
Am I learning to develop a positive self-talk in training so i can do in pressured situation
Am I building a mindset that allow me to react positively when i am challenged?
Am I putting myself in similar pressured situations such as matches, practice matches so i can learn to perform in those situations.
Do I feel i am building some momentum in one or several areas (getting fitter, smarter on the courts, training harder etc..)
With preparation comes confidence, and with confidence comes a commitment to excellence. (Unknown author)
I hope you found the article helpful.
I'd love to hear your comments, questions or challenges in the comments section below.