Mike's Mailbag: Finding Confidence

Mike's Mailbag: Finding Confidence

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, May 1, 2017

Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com.

Dear Mike,

Ever since I've been with my new coach, she's said that I have a problem with confidence and that I need it to succeed. What should I do?

"Low Confidence”


Hey Low Confidence,

I’m not sure how your coach came up with that assumption. Maybe your coach saw your racing style and made a sweeping declaration. I’m wary of any new coaches who put such labels on people — especially if you two haven’t spent much time together.

“Confidence” to your coach may mean a number of things. Maybe your coach wants you to be more vocal in practice. Maybe take on a new leadership role. Maybe your coach wants you to race with a “fly and die” approach — go out fast and hope to hang on. Maybe your coach wants you to set higher personal best time goals. I’m just not sure.

The more important question is: How do you feel? Do you feel confident?

I remember once a coach told me I wasn’t confident. Which surprised me, because I felt confident. Then, when the coach told me that, I began to second-guess my own confidence labels. Coaches often have good intentions, but their actions can get misguided. Telling a swimmer he or she has “low confidence” will often be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your coach didn’t even ask you,
“How’s your confidence levels?” before making this declaration, well, that’s a problem.

That said, in sports, confidence can always use boosting. Here are a few of my own tricks for boosting confidence levels:

1. Positive self-talk.
Be your own fan club. Use positive words. “I can do this” — even when you don’t think you can. “This is fun” — even when it’s not. “I love swimming” — even when you don’t. “I will win this race” — even when you’re not sure. Over time, if you actively and intentionally use this kind of positive self-talk, you’ll improve your confidence. You’ll believe your own words.


2. Acknowledge when you feel low confidence levels.

Just acknowledging those times you feel low confidence will help improve confidence.  In my opinion, acknowledging these feelings is the first step. Don’t try to fight it. Not yet. Just sit there with that feeling. Ask why you feel low confidence.


3. Talk to your coach.

Follow up with your coach. Ask your coach why he or she believes you have low confidence. Then ask them what they think you should do, in terms of swimming, to practice and race with more self-confidence.


4. Know that there’s nothing wrong with being soft-spoken.

Sometimes, especially growing up, the loudest mouths in the room are often associated as having “high confidence” and the quieter kids are seen as having “low confidence.” I think back to growing up, and I often resided in both worlds. Sometimes when I was very loud, I had low confidence; sometimes when I was very soft-spoken, I had a lot of confidence.


5. Believe in how you feel, not how others perceive you.

Whether it’s a swim coach, parent, teammate, peer, or anyone else in this world, everyone’s got opinions into “who you are” as a person. It’s great to hear some helpful feedback about yourself (sometimes). Listen. But always take it with a grain of salt, too. Only you know who you are. Knowing yourself gives you confidence. So if you feel perfectly fine with who you are, and someone else comes around and says, “You have low confidence,” having confidence is thinking, “Well, no, I’m perfectly fine.” That’s true self-confidence. 



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