By Christopher Cudworth
Fitness and confidence go hand in hand. When you’re fit and prepared for a race or event, you are naturally more confident. But what does it mean to be confident? How do you get there? What do you do with confidence once you have it?
To understand confidence it is first important to understand that it is not a permanent state of mind. Confidence must be earned in yourself and in the eyes of others. Often those two principles go together.
We earn confidence through several factors.
1. Consistency. Learning to perform with consistency is key to developing and keeping confidence. If you learn through practice to maintain a pace or good form through repetition, it gives you confidence that you can replicate that level of performance in competition.
2. Rehearsal. Getting ready for competition is much like preparing for the lead role in a play. You must learn your “lines” in order to give it your all in terms of performance. That means it is important to “rehearse” everything in your preparation from running, riding and swimming form to how you organize your equipment for daily workouts and races. For cyclists, rehearsing high cadence leads to efficiency. For runners, rehearsing good form leads to better pacing. For swimmers, rehearsing proper stroke eliminates resistance. Then comes applications such as transition zones in triathlons where rehearsal leads to confidence when changing equipment.
3. Measurement. As mentioned, keeping track of your efforts in training and races, even to the point of making graphs of your achievements or mileage totals along the way is an effective confidence-builder. Nothing builds confidence like seeing your progress. Whatever methods you use from Strava or other digital measurement tools to handwritten journals, be sure to be consistent and thorough. It is often the small details that really stand out in building your confidence.
4. Mental notes. Recording your thoughts about your training is an important aspect of building your confidence. But be advised: there is nothing wrong with writing down negative experiences such as bonking on the bike or hitting the wall during a run. Just be sure to place these events in context with your greater efforts to improve. Even the worst negative can be a positive if you learn from it. In fact we need to push ourselves to the limit in some ways to improve. That won’t always breed happy results in the short term, but it can build confidence over the long term if you see improvement in your ability to deal with stress or challenging circumstances.
5. Improvement. Practicing or training your way to improvement is a prime confidence builder. If your fitness shows measurable progress from week to week and month to month, you naturally gain confidence. Look at your improvement from all angles to be sure you are giving yourself credit where credit is due.
6. Overcoming setbacks. Even if a workout does not go as planned, or you come down with a cold or flu from overtraining, you must learn to calculate the effects of a setback and what you need to do to get back on the track to improvement. All athletes face these challenges. Maintaining improvement is a question of not letting minor setbacks turn into major problems. For example, it is better to have the confidence to miss a day or two of training rather than blow through and wind up even sicker. Be wise enough to recognize as well that big jumps in improvement can lend you a false sense of confidence. Always give your body time to recover after hard training or a race. Having confidence to rest during a racing or training season is the athlete’s best tool for long term success.
7. Set Interim goals. It’s great to have a big goal or two to achieve each year in training. But in order to achieve that big goal you need steps along the way to help you build and maintain confidence for the ultimate event. Setting a 10K personal record during a year in which you hope to set a new half-marathon or marathon PR can be a great way to focus your training on increased speed. That confidence can help you to run a faster pace at your target distance.
8. Vary your routine. Yes, it’s nice to have your training program all mapped out for you. That gives you confidence that you are on the right path to success. Many people hire coaches to map out their training in hopes of achieving a goal. Yet too much routine can result in stagnancy and a resultant loss of interest and confidence. There’s nothing that undercuts confidence more than the feeling that you can’t complete your training because it’s simply too boring and unimaginable to go out for another 80-mile ride on the same repetitive course. You’re human. Change it up. Take a small risk and change your routine now and then. It will help your confidence.
9. Kick your own ass. There will be times when you lose interest and lose confidence. No one can make the difference in you better than you. If you’ve been lacking confidence or focus there is nothing better than choosing a training day to go out and kick your own ass during a workout. Set the bar a little higher and run that 10 X 400 workout two seconds faster per workout than you’ve been doing. Hold yourself accountable. Set up the conditions the best way you know how and then go do it. Make no excuses. Kick your own ass.
10. Kick someone else’s ass. Listen, this thing you do? Running? Cycling? Swimming? These are competitive sports. So quit lying to yourself. It feels good to kick someone else’s ass. That doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole about it. But if you’re fit and you take off with the A Group on the weekend ride or the faster group on the run, make no apologies for your fitness and performance. You’ve earned the right to test yourself. Feel no need to brag about it however. Accept with thanks any encouragement or congratulations you receive. Take note of its context. Then record it all for your betterment in the method you choose. Hold that confidence inside you instead of spending or wasting it on others.
11. Don’t jinx it. Let’s face it we’re all a little superstitious when it comes to confidence. We have our rituals and routines when it comes to confidence about our performance in endurance sports. These may involve pre-race meals that are tested for gastric success. We might do a set amount of mileage the night before or during a warmup. All these “inputs” give us confidence that the legs and body are feeling good and ready to go. So don’t mess around with strange diets because you’re out of town and out of context. Don’t let pre-race frivolity crash months of training and preparation. Have courage to say “no” to these things and gather your confidence in all the right ways. You’ll be grateful you didn’t jinx it by going out of your well-trained head.
Just the same, we gain confidence in strange ways sometimes. We enjoy a late night burrito at some small race on our schedule and go faster than we ever imagined the next day. We learn from these small experiences that our confidence sometimes exceeds even our failings. That’s a great place to be, and a great way to live.
In other words, have confidence but not so much that you become an arrogant or uptight athlete who refuse to experience anything interesting in life. Because nothing breeds confidence like having fun now and then.