Friday, June 26, 2020

Fearlessness vs. Recklessness (Unwavering Confidence)

About a month ago I had the idea to design a sport psychology workbook. I've always been interested in this topic and I've enjoyed reading about and coaching it. I'm done my first draft and today I'm going to post a section from it. The goal of this workbook is to make a simple, effective and practical tool that any athlete could benefit from. An athlete could pick a section that interests them and in 5-10 minutes have a new idea or redesigned mental tool for their sport.

The sections I'm sharing today is titled 'Fearlessness vs. Recklessness (Unwavering Confidence).' It's basically about how some elite athletes are able to maintain their high level of self-belief regardless of recent struggles. I discuss examples from various sports and provide insights into how I have improved in this area over the years.

As of now the workbook is 21 sections and each section begins with my persona experience as an athlete and coach and an overview of the topic and then I conclude with a practical implication. These implication areas will guide you through developing or modifying that specific tool for your game.

The workbook is designed for athletes of any sport, even though my expertise is squash. Feedback is appreciated. It's just the first draft so I know there are still some parts missing. Even though incomplete I thought it would still be useful to post a section form it. I'm still unsure how I'm going to publish/post this workbook, so I will share this information when it's complete. Without further ado, here is section 8.

Section 8: Fearlessness vs. Recklessness (Unwavering Confidence)
An area that has to do with playing in the zone that’s worth mentioning is playing with unwavering confidence. How does a baseball batter go up to the plate and expect to get a hit if they’ve struck out their last few at bats, or if they are hitless over a number of games? How does a basketball player take a big shot when they’re having an off night and make it? The best athletes in the world have this unwavering confidence that most amateurs and even many professionals don’t possess. If an amatuer player with far less skill takes a big shot in a team sport after struggling all game do they, their teammates and coaches have the confidence that they will make it and that it was a right shot to take? Taking a shot without confidence will most likely be tentative and result in a missed shot. 

How does one gain this level of self-efficacy regardless of recent struggles? As they say, winning breeds confidence and as your skill increases your self-belief increases too. There also must be a correlation with making big shots and having the increased confidence to do it again, regardless of what has happened previously that day. I fully believe that the best athletes in the world have days and times where they’re low on confidence, but for the most part they have rehearsed certain plays and shots so frequently that they can execute more times than not in the clutch when the game is on the line. The main point from that last sentence is the mind, that they are not experiencing any self-doubt and that they continue to have positive self-talk and belief that the next thing they do is going to work, period. 

Clearly a lot of training must take place to reach this point as an athlete, but it’s also how you’ve been coached and how you practice. As already mentioned you need to have a lot of success and experience with winning. I’m mostly interested in how that athlete was able to attain the mental skills necessary to get to this winning mindset. When this athlete was younger and developing they must have made many mistakes trying to, for example take a difficult fade away jump shot. A more conservative and conventional player would always want to be set properly to take a higher percentage set-shot; this is what most coaches encourage and like to see; look for the highest percentage play that will yield the best outcome. Somewhere along the line that athletes must have practiced that difficult play over and over to make it higher percentage and to be able to execute it even when they’re having an offday. When you see someone struggling, but they execute in the clutch is a big reason why I love sports. Certainly there are other athletes that can make that same play, but fail to do so when the pressure is on and even more so when they've been struggling. 

I attempt to demonstrate a good balance as a coach between trying to get someone to play smart and technically sound, but also letting the athlete experiment and play around with what they can do. This is why in squash, as other sports too there are cultural differences in styles of play. Squash is actually a terrific example of this because most Egyptians are known as being creative and attacking while players from a country like England are known for being more attrional and structured. Egyptain squash has ruled the game at all levels recently yet somehow other countries aren’t able to adapt their style to their own athletes. Is this style and mental trait something that was learned and fostered when the current players were young? Is it instilled by their culture or by their peers and role models and coaches? Either way it is a lot of fun watching these contrasts in styles and I really appreciate the fearlessness they play with. Egyptian players for the most part have a more relaxed swing which I believe also contributes to being able to play the way that they do. If someone is nervous about playing a shot they tend to get tense and automatically think, ‘don’t mess up.’ When someone is thinking such a negative thought they are severely impacting their chance of executing a difficult skill under pressure. This is the outlook I try to have when playing now, play with confidence and expect the shot to go where I want it too. 

I understand that excess tension when performing a skill can have a detrimental impact on my performance and because of this I have designed a simple routine for when I notice this happening. If I play a shot that I am a bit too tense I simply shake out my hand afterwards as a reminder to relax and to stay loose. I have found this routine extremely beneficial to me, but again this is something that each athlete has to design for themselves. Another way to ease tension is simply by breathing. As mentioned earlier, focusing on your breath brings your attention back to the present, but a conscious deep breath can also physically relax you if you’re nervous or tense. 

I have one more point about this fearless unwavering confidence. As an athlete and coach I’ve always been analyzing my technique. It’s normal to always want to improve, but after playing a sport for 30 years my swing is pretty much my swing. A few years back I asked a mentor of mine for some feedback on my forehand swing and he told me that I should not be worried or even thinking about my swing anymore. Once he said this I started playing more free flowing and with a lot more confidence. Instead of thinking about how I was preparing and swinging for my shots I began simply thinking about where I want the ball to go. This was one of those moments that really improved my skill level and it was all between the ears once again. Now don’t misinterpret the value of technique, it’s just sometimes it’s overrated and being too overly conscious of it might just be what is holding you back. 

Questions to consider…
  1. Are you afraid of making errors?
  2. Do you tense up during pressure times of a match? 
  3. Do you play to win or not to lose?
  4. How does your most recent success impact your current confidence? 
  5. What is your self-talk like when things aren’t going their best? Is it helpful or damaging? 
  6. Do you use a conscious deep breath as a part of any of your routines?

Time To Make Some Notes About How To Play More Confident, Free Flowing and Positively 
  • In the space below write out a detailed (it can be short and precise) routine that will help you relax and remove unwanted tension during competition.
My Removing Unwanted Tension Routine

I hope you enjoyed this section. I'd appreciate any feedback you may have. My email is

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