The first thing to understand is that confidence and doubt aren’t necessarily good or bad things, they are just forms of feedback. Take, for example, super high confidence what does that mean? In fact, it can be problematic because if you are going to a game with really high expectations like “I should score 5 goals.” Sounds highly confident but what is probably going to happen in the back of your mind is you start to doubt yourself. So instead – what we want is an accurate self-image.

A common situation is athletes are too hard on themselves, so their self-image gets negatively skewed. So obviously that’s not accurate either. We don’t want our self-image to be inflated or deflated, we want it to be accurate.  So that is an important concept to understand instead of it having yo-yo confidence of too high to too low. We want to have certainty, clarity, and consistency of who you are. When you have doubts or anxiety those are often just forms of feedback that you have inflated expectations.

WHY Do You have Yo-Yo Confidence?

One of the big reasons is because we are extremely externally focused and we allow external things to affect how we see, think, and feel about ourselves. Take, for example, coaches or playing time. If you are getting playing time, the coach is praising you, giving you all this recognition – you feel “I got confidence!” Then vice-versa happens and coach is not playing you, not getting recognition or praise, you might start doubting yourself and beating yourself up.  And the same is true for like external outcomes like points and results. For example, if you are on a scoring streak or you are getting all the results you want – confidence is high. But when you don’t score or maybe you are in a slump and not getting the results you want – confidence goes down.

However, the obvious point here is that you don’t really change from one game to the next, one day to the next, even one week to the next.  And just because you scored and got playing time or the coach gives you praise or some external things are happening doesn’t mean you become a better hockey player or a better athlete and then vice-versa if you don’t score or you’re in a big slump means you have gotten worse.

This is not true. What you are doing is allowing these external things to throw off your mindset and get you into your own head! And so what we want to do is get clarity on who we are and see that the external things are just forms of feedback. The things you do well and what you can work on – that’s who you are – and that really doesn’t change day today.

Stop Worrying About What Others Think

One of the big underlying reasons we get caught up in outcomes is because we worry about what others think. This throws a lot of athletes off – they think “oh what does everyone else think? what does the coach think?” They start worrying about playing time, worrying about doing well, so that other people think you are doing well.

We all want acceptance and we want to be recognized. To get that praise and get the approval from others. It’s very common but when it becomes a worry, that’s when we become overly outcome-focused, and it becomes a distraction. And we tense up and get nervous, we start to doubt ourselves and we get the yo-yo confidence. Instead of being worried about what everyone else thinks we want to have clarity and certainty in who you are, your opinion has to matter most. Take, for example, your playing well and one coach likes it and another coach doesn’t really like it. Then the next shift you play a little different way and this coach now likes it and the other coach now doesn’t like it as much. You can’t always please everybody, so we don’t have to be worried about what other people think.

We can care about what others think and we take that in as feedback, but you have to develop certainty and clarity in who you are and that becomes really important.  That allows us to filter out, what others think, what they say, the feedback, the outcomes, the external things. Because you know how you want to play, you are self-assessing, you have certainty on how you did play, and how you are going to keep learning and growing. And that becomes so important to confidence.

3 Specific Exercises to Stop Doubting Yourself and Start Playing with Confidence

Managing Expectations

So the first big one to get very clear on is managing expectations. So, if you’re going into a game with should’s and expectations that are too high or too low. Well, you’re going to hold on to them and it is going to be a lot harder to move past them and be focused.  So, you want to manage your expectations and get accurate with your expectations. It is an understanding that this could happen, and this could happen. I could make plays; I could make mistakes. And we could win; we could lose. And instead of having it skewed one way or another, too high or too low.

Letting Go of Expectations

By managing expectations it really helps us with accepting and letting go of those expectations.  Because if you are playing and focusing on outcomes you are likely distracted. That isn’t going to help you play well. That’s one of the reasons we go up and down. Why we might get anxious, nervous or doubt ourselves.

So, we want to use what I call your reset routine. Which is all about accepting and letting go that you could make mistakes, but you could also make plays. We let that go because we have calibrated and managed the expectations and then accepted it and let that expectation go. So now you can focus on the process. Now you get dialed in. Then you can play in the moment and present.

Accurate Self-Reflection

One of the reasons for the yo-yo confidence is being too hard on ourselves and then too easy on ourselves.  Or were not consistently reflecting, were worrying about what others think because we want their feedback on how we played instead of having your own. And so, we want to have is detailed, consistent, and accurate reflections. If you have a tough game. I don’t want you to be too hard on yourself, but I also don’t want you to be too easy. I want you to accurately fill out – what did I do well? What can I do differently? By consistently doing that your self-image becomes clear, it becomes certain. It doesn’t have these highs and lows and there is more certainty in it.

So those are three quick tips you can start doing right away to help you manage and deal with doubt and get some certainty and clarity in who you are as an athlete and as a person.

I’d love to hear your comments, questions, or feedback. Please share with anyone you think this would benefit.