Bo Hanson, 4x Olympian and Coaching Consultant. 6th March 2015.

Coaches often have huge problems dealing with athlete confidence. In your experience, is confidence something that should be developed? Or something else?

I think it’s a really important concept to talk about, that is, confidence versus competence versus belief. And the three are in some ways linked and related to each other but what we prefer to talk about is that belief is something that is concrete. When you believe in yourself it’s usually based on some very specific evidence that you’ve collected from the past. That could be a previous performance, great statistics that you’ve able to create on the field or on the court at any given time.

What’s happened in the past can’t be changed. So when you think about what you believe in, it’s normally something based on tangible evidence. When we talk about something like confidence; confidence is an emotion. Everybody knows that his or her emotions can change and fluctuate throughout the day. Perhaps part of the challenge is that if you believe that confidence is linked to a performance, is to create the right type of emotional state. If I think about my own athletics career – I got to the stage where I could create the right type of emotion but it had nothing to do with confidence, more a feeling of determination to perform at my best.

We focus on confidence a lot with clients we work with because they attribute it with being successful or not being successful. Obviously an athlete can be confident one day and not the next. That is a key reason why they create inconsistent results. So we try to get the word (confidence) eradicated from their vocabulary to the point where we can get them to focus on “why should they believe in themselves?”

 We do a very specific exercise with our clients to create this outcome. Like most of our work it’s based around a series of projects where we have to become a little bit more conscious about understanding what creates certain outcomes. It’s like the comparison of going to the gym with DISC, you have to ‘go the gym’ with your level of belief in yourself. It’s an activity and process that we have to visit often so that we can feel, with absolute certainty that we have critical and concrete reasons as to why to believe in our own ability or competencies.

 So the specific activity that we get our clients to do is to ask the athletes on the team to talk about why they believe in their team members. I remember doing the activity just this morning; one of the particular athletes was struggling with their self-belief. So I quickly threw it out to the rest of the team, “Can you give me some reasons as to why you believe in this particular person?” Very quickly they were able to list three, four, five and up to six different reasons that came from all different players as to why they absolutely believed in this particular athlete. The great thing that they talked about was that this belief came from evidence, events and behaviors that they’d seen that athlete perform only yesterday.

So when someone else believes in you, it’s a lot easier to believe in yourself. Once again, we’re eradicating the word confidence and talking about belief.

 We mentioned the word competence before. Competence is a skill level. We all have varying levels of competence in our ability to perform in our chosen tasks, activities and sport. Competence is something that develops over time. I think it’s more closely linked to belief because when you have a belief in your competence, that’s something can actually be improved upon because competence is linked to practice, making changes, becoming better at something and is something you have 100% control over.  

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