Any guesses about why you can perform like a superstar one day, yet be totally mediocre the next?
You got it. It’s because of your confidence. If you’re like most athletes, it goes up and down like a yo-yo, yet you have no idea why.
In my research and personal experience, I’ve found that this is because most athletes are making 3 deadly mistakes:
Did you know that there is one “stressor” that makes you lose your confidence more quickly than anything else—and that this stressor is completely unique to you?
When I say “stressor,” I’m talking about anything that bothers you in competition – a mistake, a bad start, a negative comment from a coach – you name it.
Here’s how it works. You are competing and then out of the blue, something happens:
I can’t believe I missed that shot!
Getting a bad start really throws me off.
My coach never gives me compliments.
My line-mates won’t pass to me.
Taken alone, none of these events is a problem. None of them actually mean anything. They are merely neutral events that happen as you go about your day.
Such events only become a “stressor” if they trigger STRESS (fear) in you.
Fear that you’ll fail. Fear that you are not good enough. Fear of embarrassing or humiliating yourself. Fear of being criticized or shamed by parents and coaches. Fear of being stuck on the bench and forgotten. Fear of letting your teammates down and being an outcast on the team. Fear of never reaching your true potential, even after years of hard work.
The list of what athletes fear is endless.
Think of these fears as an invisible wound. Whenever a Demon Stressor shows up, it scratches your invisible wound – your fear – and creates stress in you.
That’s why, if you’re not mentally prepared, your Demon Stressors will cause you to lose your confidence and perform horribly…without you even knowing what happened.
If you are like most athletes, you are obsessed with winning. You’re thinking about how to perform well and look good. You’re especially obsessed with not choking.
Maybe you’ve been there yourself. I know I have. Many, many times.
Therefore, when you become stressed out, you have a strong impulse to try and CONTROL everything: your confidence, your performance, and winning.
This leads to PRESSING.
When you press, you over-try. In an effort to get back in control, you force it. You forget to let the game or performance come to you.
Instead of trusting your body’s natural genius, you interfere with (and sabotage) your performance.
Here are some of the signs of an athlete pressing:
He interferes with his technique rather than letting his body lead.
If he’s a basketball player, he’ll try to ‘do it all himself’ and drive to the basket every time instead of reading the defense.
If she’s a swimmer, she’ll focus on her opponent instead of executing her own race plan.
He pressures himself to be emotionally perfect. He wants himself to be calm, cool, and collected at all times, even when it’s natural for him to be a little nervous or frustrated.
Anytime he isn’t feeling 100% confident, he becomes unglued about his mental game. He pressures his teammates to play better, he pressures his coach to make changes, and he pressures officials to shape up. He takes his focus off the event and puts it on stuff he can’t control.
Before I started doing mental toughness training I was notorious for PRESSING, especially when it came to scoring goals.
I wanted to score goals because they allayed my fear, at least temporarily.
So I’d shoot all the time; I’d only use my best shot; and I’d force shots from bad angles. I didn’t pass much, either. If I did, it was usually when I was tired instead of when my teammates were open.
PRESSING made me super-predictable. Defenders and goalies could figure me out and shut me down pretty quickly. The only reason I still scored was because my raw skills were good.
I also missed trends in the opposition’s defense – trends that would have told me how to beat them.
One game I recall vividly. I was in the middle of a scoring slump, so I was repeating positive affirmations on the bench to try and get my confidence back…but it wasn’t working.
I finally turned to a good friend of mine, who played on my team. I said, “How do you get your confidence back when you’re in a scoring slump?”
She paused and said, “I study the defense and goalie to see what they are doing to stop me. Then I use a better shooting strategy to beat them.”
Why hadn’t I thought of that?
I hadn’t thought of that because I was PRESSING.
The problem with PRESSING is that the more you try to control an outcome, the more it slips from your grasp. The more you PRESS, the worse you perform, and more you lose confidence.
Athletes don’t always react to fear by PRESSING. Sometimes we go into flight mode and FOLD instead.
FOLDING is an attempt to flee stress by under-trying. You become passive and flat. Rather than attack your event aggressively, you lay back.
You stay inside your comfort zone; you stick to shots, moves, and strategies you “know” you can execute.
FOLDING is another classic human response to fear. It’s basically a giving up response. Since we’ve tried and failed in the past, we decide there is no point in trying again.
This is called pessimism, or the tendency to think the worst will happen.
Psychologists have actually proven that most of us are pessimistic most of the time.
You think I exaggerate? Even superstar athletes FOLD sometimes. In 1992, Pete Sampras lost the U.S. Open to Stefan Edberg and started to question whether he had the perseverance to win.
“Throughout the fall, I kept harkening back to the loss at the Open to Edberg. It was eating away at my guts…I kept thinking, “If he didn’t play well, and I didn’t play that well, why did he win?”
And the answer dawned on me, slowly, over a matter of weeks. For the first time, I understood and could articulate the truth: I lost because I had packed it in. And it was part of a pattern.”1
The truth is human beings are not built to persist. We are built for instant gratification. If we try to succeed but encounter setbacks, we tend to give up and FOLD.
FOLDING sabotages you because to excel and win, you need to be aggressive. You cannot coast over the finish line if you expect to win. The more you lay back, the less you succeed, and the harder it is to believe in yourself.
Sadly, even superstar athletes can fall victim to PRESSING or FOLDING when their Demon Stressor shows up, which in turn causes them to lose their confidence. If you want to perform your best in big events, figuring out what your Demon Stressor is and defeating it is a MUST.
Here’s a great tip to get you started…
One of the biggest “Demon Stressors” for most athletes is when their competitors shine.
The way to defeat this particular stressor is to use the Why Not Me? mindset.
Why Not Me? comes from Mark Tewksbury, one of the finest swimmers in the history of the sport, who used this mindset to win an Olympic gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics.
Mark says: “The world had become more competitive. The medals, which used to be shared by 8 countries, were now finding their way to over 25 countries. Even swimmers like MattBiondi, the world record holder, were leaving the pool without going to the podium.
I thought, “Even silver would be good. I was not giving up, but there were no guarantees.”2
The first thing Mark did was refuse to PRESS.
He set his sights on winning and being aggressive in the pool, but he did not try and control it.
Before the race, he said to himself, “Someone has to win this race. Why not me?”
“Why not me?” is a beautiful thought. It is optimistic, confident, and relaxed. There is no PRESSING in this thought.
When you stop pressing, you relax and have fun, and let your body lead.
This puts you back in control, because you are not trying to control something (winning) that cannot be controlled.
You are merely trying to encourage yourself, without pressure.
Want to learn how to be a mentally tough, superstar, champion athlete under pressure? You can learn what you need to know simply by subscribing to my free newsletter here. I’ll also send you a copy of my free guide, “7 Mental Toughness Secrets of Superstar, Winning Athletes.” Grab it here.
Check it out, and let me know what you think.
Lisa Brown is the founder of the Courage to Win and is considered the world's leading expert on deep mental toughness for success in career, love, and sport. She has personally coached over 7,200 achievers to new heights and conducted over 1,300 live seminars on mental toughness across North America. She has been featured by major media including the New York Times and Entrepreneur Magazine, who called the Courage to Win “a straight-forward guide to success, highly recommended.”