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Is Your Confidence Reactive or Pro-Active?

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

Confidence. We all want it. As athletes we crave it. But it ebbs and flows, rises and falls, dips and dives and goes everywhere in between.

Most of the time, confidence is reactive. We gain confidence after we hit that first tee shot onto the fairway. We get through the first inning on the mound, then that we have that swagger.

What happens when we wait for confidence, is just that, sometimes we wait and we wait and we wait. We wait for something good to happen, or at least what we perceive as good, and it’s not until that “good” golf shot or three, a well pitched inning, or couple of baskets drained do we get that confidence.

What happens here is the waiting is reactive, not proactive. There are many times that we are playing our sport that our play is not where we want it, or we are not playing the way in which we feel are capable. What we need to learn is to stay “in the moment” and be proactive with our confidence, rather than waiting for something good to happen before we jump and feel good about our play.

What is your definition of confidence? What does that word mean to you? I ask that of my athletes to get a better feel for what they think confidence really is.

The way we look at confidence from a mental performance coaching perspective is the following:

Self confidence is your belief in your ability to execute, specifically to execute a specific task or a physical skill.

The key word to me in that definition is “belief.” “You gotta’ believe” in the words of the late Tug McGraw (see 1973 New York Mets). The word here is believe, not hope, wish, think.

For example, if you are on hole 15 in your gofl match, your confidence statements should graduate from “I hope I can hit this shot,” or “Maybe I can hit this shot,” to “I know I can hit this shot,” or “I believe I can hit this shot.” Easy to say, but difficult to do for many of us, right?

That is where the proactive confidence comes into play.

But, what is proactive confidence?

To me it is the ability to stay in the moment and believe you can execute that skill in that moment. But why would you have that belief if are in an 0 for 10 streak at the plate, or haven’t scored a goal (think hockey or futbol) in three games, or just lost the first three games of your tennis match?

Proactive confidence comes from a lot of sources, but here are my top five:

1. Confidence in yourself and your skills.

You have done it before, in practice and in competition. You know it. Deep down you know it, even if you have not seen it in a while. You are just letting that doubt and negative self talk creep too much into your mainstream thinking to believe it right now in the moment. Believe in yourself. You know it to be true.

2. Confident players focus on reasons to succeed.

To complete that sentence you can add, “and not on reasons to fail.” When we are hitting a tee shot on a narrow hole, our thoughts should be on target, pre-shot routine, commitment to the club and shot and belief in your ability to hit that club, shot and target in that moment. It should not be on the thought of “I hit it in the woods the last narrow fairway hole. Let’s not do it again.” It should be on tracking the pitch, looking to drive the ball, and focus on the pitcher’s release point and not on “I struck out against this guy last at bat. I hope I don’t strike out again.”

3. Positive Self-Talk

Are negative thoughts coming to your mind? Are you buying into them? If you are, step back, take a breath, and get back into the game with a positive, in the moment mindset. Ask yourself this question - "Are my thoughts right now helping me be more confident."

4. Seeing is believing

Can you see yourself being successful? Can you visualize yourself making good plays on the pitch or on the tennis court? Visualization and imagery can help you rehearse your play, helping you practice with a positive and successful mindset.

5. Preparation

Like a student who is well prepared for an exam, an athlete can be well prepared for performance. Being prepared allows one to trust their skills in competition rather than trying too hard (steer their golf swing, for example). You know you have put in the work, both physically and mentally, to be ready for game day. Now, just go out, trust your prep and your skill set, and have fun playing.

Confidence. Everyone wants it. Athletes crave it. Let’s be proactive with it, rather than waiting for it to come to us.

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