Confidence is king when it comes to performance enhancement, and it is confidence that is at the heart of athletes who over-achieve and play beyond their perceived potential. Similarly, it is a lack of confidence — often driven by fear — that allows anxiety to steal athletic potential away from an otherwise talented athlete. Confidence and anxiety are inversely related, meaning that as one increases the other decreases, and how an athlete deals with anxiety will often be the most critical piece to athletic development.
When we experience confidence in life, our focus, motivation, and resiliency all increase and strengthen. When these things happen, anxiety decreases, allowing for more synchronized mind-body movements. The challenge, however, is developing and keeping confidence high, even in times of frustration and failure. In fact, it is in the moments of insecurity where athletes often experience a dip in confidence, self-doubt in their abilities, and increased anxiety. While all of this is part of a normal human response pattern, it also makes a lot of sense to learn how to identify warning signs for confidence dips, as well as skills that can be used to quickly reintegrate confidence for the future.
Managing anxiety driven by fear
When we feel threatened in life, be it from a dangerous life situation or just the fear of making a bad play on the field, our bodies respond by triggering anxiety as a means of providing a “heads up” to what’s happening. Interestingly, most athletes deal with anxiety in one form or another, and their anxiety is driven by fear — but it’s irrational fear, or fear associated with the human ego. Real fear is when we are in harms way, like what you might experience crossing a street with a speeding car heading in your direction. It makes perfect sense that you would experience fear and anxiety as a car heads your way. But what about athletes who aren’t in harms way, but instead struggle with irrational fear? For example, below are a few reasons why clients of mine have been bogged down by irrational fear:
- Fear of looking bad
- Fear of missing a shot
- Fear of disappointing the coach, crowd, teammates, or parents
- Fear of not playing perfectly
- Fear of losing a potential college scholarship
In all of these examples self-confidence was replaced by anxiety, and the anxiety was driven by irrational fear. It is for these reasons that athletes should pay close attention to the fear they experience, the source of their fear, and ideas for controlling their fear in the future. By successfully managing fear, anxiety decreases and confidence increases – and consistent peak performances are the eventual result.
Performing your best relies on maximum confidence development. Similarly, an otherwise talented athlete can quickly lose his or her abilities by allowing anxiety — often driven by irrational fear — to diminish confidence. Accordingly, it makes a lot of sense for athletes to examine their level of confidence, as well as the sources of their anxiety if the goal is to maximize athletic potential.