Sunday, November 30, 2014

Believe In Yourself

Today I'm going to talk about self-efficacy, self-confidence, positive thinking, believing in yourself and how this leads to success in all areas of life, on and off the squash court. Can you really fake it till you make it? Do you believe you can win each tournament you play? If you've lost to someone previously, how can you go in believing you can win? How can you learn to see yourself as a winner? Besides winning what other ways can you build a person's confidence? When in a challenging situation do you give up or get up?

Let's take an example here. Two players are at the same level, perhaps identical technically, tactically and physically. One of these players completely believes they can win, they expect and know they will, while the other just hopes they do and will see how it goes. Who would you bet on? When the player who is confident in their ability gets into a challenging situation they will pick it up and stay positive because they have an unwavering self-efficacy that they will be successful. Clearly the person that believes they be successful has a much higher probability of actually doing this. If you're the one that lack self-confidence in your ability to be successful how can you change this? How can you hold yourself to a higher standard and be tougher psychologically? How can you play every point, game and match to win regardless of your opponent?

Quickly, I should mention what self-efficacy is. Self-efficacy is the confidence that you can accomplish a task or a goal. Dr. Albert Bandura built a self-efficacy model many years ago that divides it into 3 core components: vicarious learning, mastery experiences and social persuasions. Vicarious learning is gained by using someone similar as a model.

Let's look as some examples of these core components. If nobody thought they could beat Ramy Ashour and then all of the sudden James Wilstrop beat him, other guys on the tour would have a bit more belief that they could do this as well. They may look at how Wilstrop beat Ramy and build their gameplay around this. So even though this person has never beaten Ramy before, if they are similar to Wilstrop's level they will have gained some confidence in their peers result. In a similar example, let's say Ramy was playing Wilstrop. Wilstrop gets a good start and a lead in the first game, and maybe even wins the first game. This gives James some believe that he can beat Ramy. Of course if Wilstrop beaten Ramy in a full match previously he would be much more confident that he could do it again. Social persuasion is reassurance and belief from people around you that you can accomplish your goal. A lot of players need to hear this because they lack self-efficacy. If you keep hearing that people believe in your ability and that you can be successful, this can have a positive influence on your self-confidence.

So how can you believe in your ability to be successful if you haven't been? How do you stay positive and upbeat regardless of what happens? I believe that you should always play to win, but to improve your chances of winning your focus should not be solely on the outcome. If you believe you can win you won't get discouraged when you face obstacles such as a bad call, or a injury timeout, the ball breaking, or losing a few straight points or even the first 2 games. Look at these as challenges; the tougher the challenge the more meaningful it would be to overcome. If you don't win, well you have to believe that they next time you will. This unwavering confidence is an attitude that extends beyond the squash court. If you believe you'll get that job or that the girl will say 'yes' when you ask her out, you will probably be right. And even if you're incorrect, that doesn't mean you won't be right next time.

I had a lesson this weekend with someone that is very talented. This person has great racquet skill, but doesn't believe that he will be successful. I asked him to repeat after me, 'I will win the Canadian Junior Open.' Let's just say he didn't convince me. The point was not that I think he can win, just in the way he says I can do this and achieve something great. This got me thinking, how many of the kids going to the Canadian Junior Open actually believe they can win? There are only 8 divisions and just 8 winners. But surely more than this believe they can win. If you believe you can win when you go to a tournament, even if you don't win you will be one tough out. This was the point I was trying to make. There are less talented kids going to this event and expecting to do well and win. Losing has damaged his confidence, so how do you rebuild it?

The first thing I recommended is believing that you can win this single point. Don't get ahead thinking about the whole tournament or match. Regardless of who you play, you can beat anyone in 1 rally, even Ramy! So play to win this point and believe you can. If you don't say something positive and tell yourself you can win this one. This is a good method for staying in the moment and not getting ahead of yourself. The tougher your opponent the more difficult this will be. But it is humanly possible, win this point and then the next. Maybe in the end you'll lose on paper, but you may just have played the best squash of your life by believing and fighting for every point. With this attitude you will begin to have more success and will eventually have a mastery experience that will bolster your self-efficacy. Never give an inch, even when you're down game or match ball. If you want to know more about that, read this previous post

If we look back to Bandura's model, social persuasion is another positive way we can believe in our ability. This is why I feel it's always important to tell people what they are doing well, not just the areas they need to correct. I believe in my athletes and let them know that I do. If we give them this support and they know we believe in them it will help. Be positive and if you need to give some constructive criticism, put a positive spin on it.

There is one area here that I should clarify. You can be successful every time you play. Although we normally define success as winning and losing, it's the process which leads to this. I don't expect people to play any better than their ability, but to play their game and try their best. If you can do this for an entire match you can never lose in my eyes. This is hard for most of us to see. Try and concentrate on playing the right shot and continually making good decisions. If you do this, but make a few mistakes on your shots, that's fine. Sometimes we all make a mistake in our execution, but continue playing the right shots and you will overall be more successful. So yes, I've just talked about believing in yourself and that you should play to win. But now I am saying focus on the process and don't think about the outcome. Which is it?

Believe you can win, play to win, but don't put the pressure on yourself that you have to win. All of us that play squash will lose matches every so often. If we don't we aren't playing healthy competition. So we all need to learn how to believe we can win even after we don't. Go out an expect to play well, don't wait to play well to believe that you will. Confidence should come first and you can see it in the knock up (as I discussed the other day here and in a person's body language.

Learning to focus on the process is an important trait for playing consistent squash and for continuing your development as a squash player. I like asking my athletes what their strategy is? How do they like playing? When are they most successful? To play your best you need to be in the zone. When you're in the zone you can't be thinking about the past or the future. To be in the zone means to be completely absorbed in the present task. You can imagine how challenging this is to do if you're not happy with how you're playing. This is when you have to give yourself a break and have a short memory; just move on to the next point.

If you're an attacking player you will likely make a few mistakes. Look at Ramy in the finals of the World Championships. In the first game he made about 6 unforced errors against the #1 ranked player in the world. Did Ramy stop playing his game, nope! And he someone won this game. I've heard Ramy talk about how he has to fight the negative thoughts, the demons when he plays. Because he knows for him to play his best and be successful he has to keep the attack on, even after a few mistakes. You need to have a short memory, especially after you make some unforced errors or lose a match. If Ramy got tense he wouldn't have such soft hands and immaculate touch. Ramy needs to stay loose and confident no matter what or else he wouldn't play his game. If you want to play attacking squash you have to be able to stay confident and positive to play this style effectively.

I've covered a few interesting topics today. Self-efficacy and focusing on the process of the performance. Just because you haven't beaten someone before doesn't mean you won't in the future. I remember one match when I was in university and I was beating who I thought was a better player. I noticed in the 3rd game he wasn't moving right and seemed to be having some trouble with his back. I didn't keep the pressure on and let him back into he match. I eventually lost and he asked me after what happened. And I recall saying that I just didn't think I deserved to beat him yet. I didn't think I was good enough, but there I was in a winning position and I let it get away. I was in the zone and had him down and out. I can say that I did get my win a couple of years later. Although what happened at the previous tournament was disappointing it was a learning experience. I learned my lesson and it hasn't happened again since.

Last quick story. When I was a kid I remember being asked to visualize myself play. I was never able to see myself hitting good shots and winning. I don't know what it was, but I would see myself hitting loose shots and losing rallies. I don't know if this was because I had low self-confidence or that I just wasn't good at visualizing yet. I was pretty successful and a good junior but I couldn't visualize myself playing winning squash. Looking back this is something that I should have continued working on and trying to change. Instead I just didn't do it because I couldn't do it properly. I do believe that visualization is another method to improve your self-efficacy. If you can see yourself in your minds eye playing well you are more likely to go out and do so.

Do you always need to have success before you acquire confidence? Dr. Bandura and I don't believe so, but it certainly helps. Once upon a time the 4 minute mile was thought to be impossible until Roger Bannister broke it. The following year a bunch of people did. Seeing Bannister break this proved to others that it was possible. But how did Bannister do it in the first place? He proved that just because it hasn't been done, doesn't mean it won't. Play to win, focus on the process, believe in yourself no matter what and you will be more successful and a much tougher opponent.


  1. True! We should trust in our ability to handle what life gives us to face and to make the decisions on our own. When we lose the self trust, then we’ll be always walking around in a state of unstable fear.
    Make Your Own Luck

  2. “You should get help!” sounds like the right thing to say. But when you’re depressed, a lot of your energy and thoughts are consumed.
    You may not have the energy to get help or you may talk yourself out of needing help.
    When you want your friend to “get help” take the time to do your research and possibly recommend resources.
    If you can do some of the heavy lifting, like calling a therapist and making an appointment or even driving your friend there,
    it may help them on the road to recovery. Just be mindful that some friends may push back against this so it’s important to remember the next point.
    Johnny Blackburn Inspiration Story


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.