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A Conversation about Confidence and Trust in Competition?

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Most athletes perform well in practice. But when they venture out onto the field or the court, it's a different story.


Ask yourself a few questions


1. Do you (or athletes' you coach) excel in practice, but end up freezing or tightening up in competition?


2. Do you have a hard time just being free or flow in competition?


3. Do you have a feeling of something not quite right when you compete?


(Note that it's a very natural and normal thing to go through)


It's a common feeling for athletes to have – this thing called freezing up is a sub-conscious lack of trust in competition. It's okay to have this feeling and is a common challenge for many athletes, young and old.


It doesn't discriminate it, and it can come in waves or not come at all. There are a variety of factors that contribute to an athlete freezing up or playing scared.


However, better more experienced athletes have this feeling less intensely and less frequently. If you always tighten up and control your performance in competition, you subconsciously lack trust in your skills.


If you read our blogs often – you know that confidence is king. So, if it is common that you frequently lose confidence in your abilities when you enter a competition, and this causes you to freeze up and lose trust? Then something needs to change – it is your responsibility as an athlete (or if you are a coach reading this) to address it and become educated on it.


Once confidence is gone when you compete, it is very hard to get back. But knowing The Difference Between Confidence and Trust can be useful in you tackling the problem you or your athletes face.


So - what is the difference between confidence and trust?


Athletes and coaches use them interchangeably.


When they are used in a sport and or performance psychology context, they are very different concepts and they provide a framework for most critical mental game and fitness skills.


Once an athlete learns to decipher the difference between the two – they can distinguish if they have a confidence problem or a trust problem. This is vital as one may have deeper problems that are linked to other lifestyle or upbringing and environment factors.


This is why it's so important to engage a mental health professional as in 'discovery', there could be underlying traumas that need to be dealt with that removes barriers to performance in this space.


Confidence is the degree of how strongly you believe you can perform well, which typically precedes your execution of a shot, pass, or routine. However – at the elite level, the sophistication develops and entirely moves into confidence is the degree of how strongly you believe you can perform well UNDER PRESSURE and or FATIGUE.


Know that you must have confidence as a fundamental ingredient first to have 'trust' in your skills...this applies to technical skills, movement skills, and mental skills.


Trust in your skills is relying on your practice or motor memory (not muscle memory) to execute a motor skill; you are on autopilot as we say. You can play on instinct without thinking too much. The motor skills are entrenched.


Performance is a Recital in movement and thinking: Why is it Important to Trust Your Physical Skills and Abilities?


Performing is effectively reciting a routine. Thus, if you deeply believe in your ability to execute a skill successfully in any condition or under any circumstance, you'll have more trust. The better you can perform in easier moments or the tougher more challenging moments become more normal.


Confidence is built up through winning and also failing. Failing gives you opportunities to be exposed to this recital and knowing where to improve and 'plugging the holes' in your armoury – the athlete needs to keep playing and performing well under pressure, fatigue, stress and in sub-optimal conditions as much as possible.


Importantly - both confidence and trust together working harmoniously in the subconscious and conscious are must-have for Performance Optimisation in Sports.


Fundamentally, you can perform in any conditions consistently, spontaneously and intuitively and problem solve at speed - by using your training or practice as the means to an end. This is where you need to look at your training – is it exposing you to push limits.


Sound training methods instill both confidence and trust, and together with powerful language, can be developed to a point that it is mostly maintained under any situation or circumstance. That is the key – where if it is lost easily, it takes longer to get back.


The same principle applies to having confidence in your body and movement patterns and trusting your body to athletically achieve a task or a skill or to 'get through' or maintain what the competition requires physically. Sport brings out all facets of the human psyche and thus, the athletes who are the best in the world, have put a lot of time into their body so;

a) the body doesn't break down

b) it enables them to perform past what is normally required

c) prevents injury

d) supports recovery (the fitter you are, the quicker your recover (mentally and physically)

e) upholds general health and wellbeing


So – this article, in summary, looks at two things: Know what you can do to prevent losing confidence and trust and know what you can do to develop and maintain confidence and trust


Athletes Who Lack Trust in their Skillset


--Focus too much on the outcome and focus to much on proper or perfect form/technique during a game/competition

--Try to perform perfectly when competing

-- Worry about the score and get distracted by little things (subconscious self-sabotage)

--Over-coach and over analyse themselves after they make a mistake

--Over-control and over analyse their game because of the fear of making mistakes

--Worry too much about how others perceive them

- worry too much about the outcome


Athletes with a High Level of Trust in their Skillset


--Do a great job of leaving practice on the practice field and learn to trust in what they practice.

-- They can forget a mistake and move on quickly and focus on the present

-They understand the importance of training well and training with purpose: that if they train well – they can transfer training form into match form

-- They focus on themselves and what they can control

--They have the right mindset

-- They learn to become a serious 'competitive animals – they exude great body language

-- The become serious gamer/competitor in competition yet "let it happen.". They know that losing is part of the process.

-- They can react intuitively and instinctively with quick and decisive decision making and know that they need to keep it simple: Eg. See the ball and hit it.

- They are great at compartmentalization skills and hyper-focus (not easily distracted)

-- They have sound concentration skills (they know when to switch on and off)

-- They know that the key to performance in reciting movement and decision making at the moment. They do this consistently well and focus on the here-and-now.

--They characteristically move on well from mistakes and use self-imagery, self-talk and visualisation to help maintain composure.

--They don't fear the outcome -they just simply think about getting the job done. They don't worry or think about worrying about or analysing how to get the job done.


If you want to perform your best in a competition you have to master these mental skills! Concentration and mental toughness are at the elite level, the margins of victory.


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