By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, October 9, 2017
Every Monday, and in each issue of Splash Magazine, I answer questions from around the country. If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I started out as a bit of an underdog on my team. All my friends were faster than I was and I didn't really think I'd ever be as fast as them. But I've really prided myself in my mental toughness and confidence. I'm a hard worker and that has really set a standard for my swimming. Now, after a couple years, I am right up there with my teammates and I'm actually competitive with them and their times.
But recently we've had some new swimmers on the team and they ended up doing what I once did, started from below us all and have now come to beat me in my best events.
My confidence is shot. I'm used to being the one to pull ahead. These swimmers work really hard, and I feel like unintentionally, I have stopped working as hard. At my big championship meets, I stand behind the block and gain my confidence from remembering all of the good practices I've had in the past season. But I can't think of any. I lost confidence in my training, and therefore my racing. I have a huge mental block in my best events. I'm terrified going into this championship season to see what the results will be.
How do I regain the confidence to train my best and race my best?
If you want to regain your confidence, you have to really, truly understand what confidence means.
Confidence means trust. When you’re in a situation that raises your anxiety levels, you have to trust yourself. When a problem arises, you have to trust that you can solve the problem. When you’re facing difficulty, trust that you can get through it.
Trusting yourself does not mean, “Only if you can beat others.” Trusting yourself does not mean, “Only if you’re faster than everyone else.” Trusting yourself does not mean, “Only if you’re the best.”
Trust has nothing to do with ranking, comparing, contrasting, heat sheets, placements, or hierarchies. Trust has everything to do with how you interact with yourself, and with only yourself.
Other people’s success should not erode the trust you have in yourself. Other people’s journeys in a sport — or a job, or a career — should not erode the confidence you have in your own ability, in your own journey, in your own trust relationship with yourself.
Easier said than done, of course. We always compare, rank, and worry about other people. We want to be the best, and to be the best, one needs to be better than others. Swimming is a competition.
But swimming is mostly about self-competition. When you race, you race yourself. When you get a personal best time, it’s personal — it has nothing to do with anyone else in the pool, standing alongside the pool, or sitting up in the stands.
To regain that trust with yourself, Unconfident, you need to clearly define success as being self-defined. In other words: Don’t compare yourself to others. Compare yourself to yourself, in all aspects of the sport, from attitude and work ethic, to performance and best times.
When you define success as self-defined, it doesn’t matter what the new kids on the block do. It doesn’t matter how your teammates and competitors perform. It doesn’t matter what your coaches or your parents think. When success is defined from within, then you begin the long and arduous journey towards self-trust and self-confidence. You will get there by defining personal goals, designing a plan to achieve those goals, and putting everything you have into reaching those goals. Not to win — but to succeed, and to succeed by being the best version of you that you can be.
I know this is a lot of motivational talk. But it’s true. Swimming is just one chapter in your life where you can fall into the unhappy trap of comparing yourself to other people. Later in life, you will see similar situations, whether that be jobs, or homes, or property, or travel, or happiness.
Teach yourself now: Self-define your success. Look within, and do your best to achieve.
You can’t get confidence from other people.
You can only get confidence from yourself.
I hope this helps.