You may be asking “why in the world would he write an article that takes the onus off of an athlete’s coach?”
I have seen so many people and companies talk about why their product or service is “the answer” to what an athlete needs. “If you take this one supplement, you’ll reach your goals.” “If you follow this one plan, you’ll crush your competition.”
At your core, you know that there is no one answer for you are or are not reaching your highest goals. To move forward toward your goals, you must take action on things within your control. For each individual athlete, what she/he has in their control is a bit different, what she/he has genetically is a bit different, and what she/he has between their ears is a bit different. There simply can’t be 1 answer that fixes everything for everybody.
Trust In Yourself
In the end, you need to trust yourself more than anybody. When the chips are down, you need to believe that you have what it takes, that you are better than the competition, and that you will win. On the competition floor, you’re all that you have. Sure, the crowd can help get you fired up, but if you’re the athlete who requires a crowd to be at your best, I already know that you’re not the “best” - or most consistent - athlete on the floor.
Self reliance and belief need to be deeply ingrained inside of you. You need to practice them each day you train. You need to get kicked in the teeth in training every once in awhile so that you can learn and grow from it so that when it the points matter you fire at 100%.
Ask yourself what your real tendencies are when you’re in a competition. Do you need a crowd? Do you need your coach to tell you you’re a winner? Do you need your family to give you a hug before an event? Please know that those things are great and they can help a little here and there, but if you can’t win without them, you’re leaving potential and wins on the table.
I’m sure you’ve seen this in all numerous sports. The best athletes have both inner drive and inner belief. For some, it’s purely innate. For others, it takes years of honing their self-reliance. For the best, they have both an innate belief + reliance in themselves, and they work on it daily in both their training as well as their competitions.
Working on self-reliance
This begins with the little things:
Are you taking responsibility for your lifestyle?
Do you set yourself up to go to sleep at the right time? Do you actively remove stress from things that do not directly help you achieve your goals? You are (most of the time) fully in control of these things, and it’s up to you to dial them in
Are you responsible for your nutrition?
I am all for you having a nutrition plan and working with a coach to zone it in. That’s smart. What I am not for is you putting the onus on that coach to execute on the diet prescription daily. Yes, great coaches will check in with you on those things, but it’s up to you to implement
Are you responsible for your training schedule?
Are you setting up your day to get the most from your training. Do you leave a few extra minutes on the front and back end of your training so that you can properly warm up and cool down before you go back out in the world? Do you give yourself enough time in your training to hit warm up sets (not thousands of them haha) vs jumping right to the working sets? Set your schedule up for success; that’s on you
Are you putting intent into your training each day?
This can look like getting yourself into the right state of mind for very aggressive training, or this can look like calming yourself way down for easy aerobic work or even stretching. Setting yourself up to know when you’re “going for it” will help you greatly when it comes time to burn your system to the ground in the competition workout that really counts.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. It’s merely meant as questions you can ask yourself as you train over months of time. The awareness in yourself of whether or not you’re optimizing what you’re in control of each and every day will make you a stronger athlete.
Working on Self-Belief
I am anything but a psychologist, and I intend to stay in my lane here. I will merely give you a few thoughts as to what I have seen work for myself, coaches, and athletes around the world. At the end of the day, you need to know what gives you real belief down in your belly. And, you need to know when it’s there and when it’s not so that you can snap yourself into it because you’ve put the time and work into building real belief over months and years.
They say that the best shooters in the NBA “just need to keep shooting” if they are struggling a bit. There may be something slightly wrong in their setup or release; who knows. Because they have put decades of work in, they just need to “feel” the setup and release a few extra times to re-find it and own the floor. On the flip side, if they “just keep shooting” they may also re-find an inner confidence that they need to make the shot when it counts.
In fitness, the “just keep shooting” reference comes into play in training in my opinion. Because your training volume will generally increase as you improve in the sport (age etc dependent), with each rep you do, you need to allow yourself to feel stronger, faster, more enduring. Every rep allows you a moment to build yourself up or tear yourself down. The more you build yourself up (with a base foundation of reality, of course), the more that feeling will easily emerge in big competition moments.
Some of the great things that I’ve done/felt and that I have seen coaches and other athletes do to improve self-belief are:
Practice confidence every day
Like above, you choose whether you tell yourself that you can or you can’t. The more you tell yourself can’t, the more your body and mind will believe it. Practice moving forward
Surround yourself with confident people
If your friends, family, coach(es), training partners, etc are Debbie Downers, it often either costs you your own confidence or it makes you expend more energy pulling them out of the gutter which costs your training
Practice game day confidence
Every once in awhile, in training, you need to test. When you do, you need to make this a real game day situation. Put some real stress into the day and see how you feel and react. After the day, digest what went down and what you need to work on and actually work on it
Visualize success off and on the floor
Some of the work that you can do that doesn’t impact your body is to visualize both training and competitive situations. Walk through the feelings that you’ll get when you need to hit a big lift to win, when you need to put your body through hell to outlast the others, or when you need to go longer in brutal weather to stand atop the podium. Take this just as seriously as you do your own training
Recognize that everybody on Earth has moments of confidence loss
You can’t control the initial loss in confidence (outside of your ongoing work to improve it), but what you can control is noticing that it’s there, changing your state of mind, changing your physiology around it, and working to get back to the right state of mind. In the beginning, you may feel these tough moments somewhat often. No problem, you’re simply noticing it. If you commit to improving yourself, and if you execute on daily improvements, those negative moments not only will be fewer and farther between, they will also be easier to come out of.
Learn who you need to be to perform at your best
In the Instagram age, we’re very often tempted to be somebody we’re not. I get it, followers! I also get it, sponsors! However, when it comes time to stand on the competition floor, all you have is yourself. Who will you need to be to perform at your best. Will you need to be a “loner” who stays away from interactions with others on a competition weekend? Will you need to be super cool, relaxed, funny? Will you need to be inwardly cocky? I can’t tell you who you’ll need to be. What I can tell you is that the more you get to your true nature of confidence, the more real it will be and the stronger your confidence will manifest itself
Like the self-reliance section, this isn’t exhaustive by any means. It’s just important for me to hit on some of these ideas because this is so often the major limiter for great athletes. Anybody can do a bunch of volume (ok not everybody haha), but it’s special to stand on the competition floor and be in a zen state because you know that you’ve done the work, are at your peak belief in yourself, and you don’t need anybody else to pull you across the finish line.
Back to the beginning, what can a coach do to help you with self-reliance and self-belief. They can help guide you as to what you can do each and every day to build up these tendencies. Over time, they will need to say less while you execute more. That is forward progress. If you need a coach to hound you every day, are you actually progressing?
The rest, as they say, is up to you.
For more on the mindset topic, check out this article - Preparing Your Mindset