What does it take to build and sustain football confidence? Regular PDP contributor and President of New Edge Performance, John Haime provides some practical advice for this crucial element of player development and performance.
Every week in the top leagues in the world, you’ll see fantastic displays of skill – players trying things in the middle of games, taking calculated risk and using their great abilities. Recently, I watched Marcelo of Real Madrid put on a confidence clinic – trying things in the game that other players may not think about. And, it often pays off as Marcelo looks after his third of the pitch but can dominate the game from the back and bring fans out of their seats. On one play, Marcelo pushed forward with a burst of speed from the back, created a 1-2 with a winger to gain more space for himself and then set-up Cristiano Ronaldo for a great scoring chance. It was an impressive display of talent and the belief in the talent to dominate the ball and use his abilities to help his team create scoring opportunities.
How can you learn from Marcelo’s confidence and make yourself a better player?
One of the key areas I work on with any athlete including soccer players at all levels – is confidence. Understanding it and building it. Confidence is a player’s bullet-proof vest. It is for Marcelo and it can be for you.
What is Confidence?
Well … it’s a feeling. It’s about trust and belief in your abilities and decisions and expressing those beliefs and decisions in challenging circumstances.
You know the feeling of confidence. You’re playing great and everything is going right for you. There is an easy belief in what you are doing and you KNOW you can do it.
You also know the other feeling … you just don’t have it and nothing is going right. There’s little faith in what you are doing and you’re not quite sure.
“I’ve Lost My Confidence”
When my phone rings, players or agents on the other end, voice panicked, it’s often them telling me the player has “lost their confidence”. If it’s a football player, the player is struggling to perform when it counts, has lost the scoring touch or can’t get in the starting line-up.
I always ask these players where they think their confidence has gone. Most are in elite leagues in the world and have risen to the top in football. It’s funny that these players don’t really know where the belief has gone. Something small has triggered some little doubts and the downward spiral begins from there.
And, this is where players get confused. Confidence requires some understanding – and some work. Sports and life is about patterns and cycles. Sometimes you “have it” and other times you don’t. No exceptions. So you must work on important areas like confidence and understand how to build it and how to find it. The mental/emotional game is like your physical practice (dribbling, passing, shooting, decision-making etc.) – do the work and it will pay off.
Is Your Confidence Proactive or Reactive?
So here’s a perspective of confidence I work on with leading players helping them understand that maintaining confidence is within their control; and confidence is more of a choice than they know. They must take responsibility for their own confidence.
And this perspective can help you.
Great players are proactive with their confidence. When Marcelo or other dominant players are playing well, you can be sure they remind themselves that they have done it before and they have built the foundation at all levels since they were young players to handle any situation at the level they are playing at – including professional football. Proactive confidence is a decision that you will be sustainably confident from all of the great, positive experiences you have had in the game (and there will be many), all the work you have done on your game and the coaching and support from others. This is the foundation of your belief in yourself as a football player. Proactive confidence is a choice that you are relying on a solid foundation and are sustainably confident. Your confidence will not be shaken by small, unavoidable cycles of not your best play.
On the other hand …
Some players insist on sabotaging their own belief in themselves. Reactive Confidence is a decision that one small collection of challenging circumstances/difficulties will overcome your successes/support and crack your football “foundation”. In this scenario, you declare that your confidence is shaken by small failures. I don’t know how many times I have heard a great athlete declare after a stretch of poor play that their confidence is gone. Really? Where does it go? Football players also allow others to have an impact on their confidence in a negative way – coaches, parents, other players. Reactive confidence is essentially a choice to lower your confidence and allow challenges and other distractions to penetrate your foundation.
Does this sound familiar to you?
I see this everyday – even among the best athletes in the world. For some reason, they aren’t playing well and the foundation of confidence they have built over years suddenly disappears and a few mistakes become the basis for their confidence. After some reminders that their confidence is about everything they have achieved and all the work they’ve done – there is an “ah ha” moment and confidence mysteriously returns! The decision is made by the player to recover it. They take full responsibility for their confidence – knowing they have control over it.
This is important for you to know. If you can feel confidence slipping away, you have the choice to reel it in and not allow emotions to run the show.
Building Your Confidence
It’s important to continually build the foundation so small, short-term failures will not penetrate your long-term foundation.
What can you do to work on your confidence and build it?
Here are a few key ideas that you can use to build the foundation and create belief in your game:
- Preparation – “build it and it will come” – it is a secure feeling in the warm-up knowing you’ve put the work and effort in – in each part of your game – to deal with the situations you’ll have on the pitch. Make your practice functional – related to the situations you’ll need on the pitch. Have a plan. Keep it simple.
- Be proactive and allow all the great experiences you’ve had in the game to be the foundation of your confidence. Decide that temporary low points in your game will pass quickly and will not have any impact on your “foundation”.
- Understand your strengths, limitations and triggers very well. It’s easier to win believing in something you understand vs. something you don’t. Know yourself well in order to understand what you can and can’t do when it counts.
- Get great coaching matched up to your values and needs. The greatest thing a coach can do for a player is believe in them and believe in their abilities bolstering their own confidence. A great coach’s belief in you can matter.
- Create a clear and defined goal plan. If you know where you are going and have the steps in place to get there – there is a sense of security that you are on the right track. Knowing exactly where you are going and how you are going to get there builds confidence.
- Create a positive, supportive internal voice. Your own voice should be the most supportive and create a positive internal environment. A negative voice can erode confidence in your abilities and create doubt in your capabilities. Be your own best friend and speak to yourself like you would if you were supporting your best friend.
- Focus on your good moments, not the bad ones. You’ll have good moments and not so good ones in a game. Evaluate why poor moments don’t go well after the game – but focus on your great moments during the game and build on the energy from the good moments.
- Focus on your development as a player and the process to reach the next level. Get a little better each day through disciplined work in training. Focusing on a very solid process will inevitably lead to great results.
- Be careful of the drama around the game. There is often so much going on around the game (teammates, coaches, fans, parents, media etc.) that you get distracted and lose perspective of why you are there … to play!
- Finally – have fun! Great players enjoy themselves on the pitch and love the game. When you enjoy something, you usually do it well.
What is one of the key things you can do to be a better football player?
Build your confidence.
Working on your confidence is an investment in you as a player, but, this skillset is transferable to everything you do in life – business, career, relationships and any other “performance” activity you engage in. Consider it an investment in your future. Confidence may be the single greatest asset for you as a football player.
About the Author
John Haime is President of New Edge Performance. A former professional athlete and current bestselling author of “You are a Contender! Build Emotional Muscle to Perform Better and Achieve more … in business, sports and life”, John understands how athletes think and feel … he’s been there – under the most intense pressures of amateur and professional sports. As a world-class specialist in the area of performance and one of the world’s leading voices in Emotional Intelligence, as it relates to performance in sport, John coaches top athletes in all sports, executives and artists in a variety of performance areas. He is trusted by some of the world’s leading athletes – professional and elite amateur.