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Track & Field: 10 Ways to Build Your Self-Confidence

The best athletes exude self-confidence—maybe it’s the way they walk, how they warm up, their look on the start line, or just a certain charisma that shows the world they are ready to roll.

Each athlete has a different way of expressing their certainty and assurance. Jamaica’s Usain Bolt is playful and showy before the gun, while the United State’s Tyson Gay gets more serious and subdued. The World Champion in the high jump, Blanka Vlašić, leads the audience into loud, rhythmic clapping before each of her attempt. On the other hand, Germany high jump record holder Ariane Friedrich commands her audience to go completely silent until she gets over the bar.

Regardless of how it manifests, it is this self-confidence that propels athletes to extraordinary performances. It doesn’t always come easily—and athletes must train their minds much like they train their bodies. (Only this time, no intervals.)

Building your Self-Confidence and Mental Strength

There will always be factors that chip away at an athlete’s self-confidence. Injuries, scratches/fouls, and even just poor performances are part of the deal in this sport, but can also wreak havoc on even the most successful athletes. When those moments or seasons come, don’t lose hope! Re-evaluate and try some of these techniques to help you re-build and re-focus.

1. Take a Step Back & Gain Perspective

Try and see the big picture to remind yourself why you love the sport. Every career ebs and flows through good and bad times, so if you find yourself in a funk or injured, focus on the potential of the future instead of that specific setback.

2. Start Small

It is always a good idea to set goals, but try starting with smaller, more attainable objectives that can be attained in practice. For example, at the next interval workout try and run that last 200m rep one second faster than before; or focus on squatting ten pounds more than your previous best max the next time you are in the weight room. These small targets help build self-confidence as an athlete and in your training in the long term.

Self-Confidence vs. Arrogance

There is a difference between self-confidence and arrogance. Self-confidence means trusting your own abilities and talents; arrogance is a kind of artificial confidence that comes from feeling temporarily superior to those around you. The former comes from within and is therefore within your control—the latter relies on the poor performances of those around you to gain an edge.

As you make progress, start making goals for competition. Maybe it is a top ten finish, getting up on the board or kicking faster than before—just pick one thing per competition to use as an objective sign of improvement and progress. Finally, set an ultimate long-term goal that is attainable but challenging.

3. Say ‘I Can' Instead of ‘I Cannot'

Sometimes as an athlete, it feels like everything either has or is about to go wrong. The negative-energy cycle is tough to break, but sometimes it’s just a matter of playing a bit of a mind game and reevaluating every potentially bad situation around until it’s no longer a mental hindrance.

  • Instead of thinking, “I can’t beat the number one sprinter in the conference,” try “I’m going to run a personal record today.”
  • If it is raining outside, don’t think, “I’m going to run slow.” Tell yourself instead that is the perfect day to work on competing well instead of time goals.

If you are constantly telling yourself what you can do your mind won’t be able to process what you cannot do.

4. Do What You Dislike

It is always a good idea to move outside of your athletic comfort zone. Competing in what you consider your “main event” over and over can be mentally and physically draining and trying something new—whether in practice or a low-key meet—is a good opportunity to work on your weaknesses and have a little fun.

The confidence comes when you return to your main event as a more versatile, competitive athlete. It can be scary and hard but exhilarating—what do you have to lose?

5. Visualize Success

“I’m not as much moved by winning, especially winning things I’ve won before, as I am by a new challenge.”

Carl Lewis
World Champion and Olympian, as told to "Sports Illustrated" 1983.   

Work on recreating the perfect race, throw or jump in your mind. The best visualization focuses on different parts of the competition—soaking in the good times, but anticipating the rough patches—so that your body and mind are fully prepared for the upcoming task. Envisioning the race/throw/jump makes an athlete comfortable and therefore confident with the actual “game-time” situation and is the first step towards actually accomplishing the goal.

6. Involve Yourself in the Success of Others

Learn to feed off of others success and use it to your advantage. If a teammate does well, remember that you train the same way. If a competitor breaks a record, think back to the time you beat them and train harder. Because confidence comes from within, it is up to you to interpret the situation. Use the good performances of others to fuel, not extinguish, your competitive fire.

7. Remember the Times You Performed Well

When you perform well, you feel confident—it’s that simple. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that builds on itself, where a good performance leads to faith in one’s abilities, which in turn leads to more great accomplishments. The important thing is to think of your past endeavors as reason to perform well in the present or future, and not be weighed down by the expectations they may have produced.

8. Just Breathe

This is a technique used by a number of sports psychologists to help athletes focus and relax feelings of anxiety or stress. If you feel somewhat insecure in your abilities before a meet, shut off your mind and take a moment to just let your body figure things out. The more relaxed you are, the more confident you will be.

  • Take a deep breath. Allow your face and neck to relax as you breathe out.
  • Take a second deep breath. Allow your shoulders and arms to relax as you breathe out.
  • Take a third deep breath. Allow your chest, stomach and back to relax as you breathe out.
  • Take a fourth deep breath. Allow your legs and feet to relax as you breathe out.
  • Take a fifth deep breath. Allow your whole body to relax as you breathe out.

Continue to breathe deeply for as long as you need to, and each time you breathe out say the word ‘relax’ either out loud or in your mind.

9. Listen to Music

Music generates positive thoughts and can distract you from the mental and physical demands of track and field. If all else fails, put on some headphones and jam to your favorite song—maybe the lyrics are encouraging, the beat inspiring, or maybe it just puts you in a good frame of mind. And that is the kind of positive energy that makes an athlete feel invincible.

10. Enjoy It!

The most important thing you can be told to maintain your self-confidence is to enjoy the sport. Track and field can be an incredibly demanding sport—but don’t forget to have a good time throughout the process, because if you are happy, chances are your performances will reflect favorably as well. Do something in the sport each day that you both enjoy and find rewarding to help lead you on a path towards confidence and success.

Amazingly True Story

Great Britain’s Kelly Holmes is one of only three women in history to pull off the 1500/800m double Olympic gold. For years, Holmes suffered injuries. She also admitted to cutting herself during her darkest hours and was diagnosed with clinical depression.

But the 34-year-old hung on and finally broke through at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens where she won both the 800m and 1500m races. She ran against the best in the world and in the final stretch for both races, Holmes grabbed the gold and the hearts of spectators worldwide. She now holds every record in Great Britain from the 600 to the 1500.


Success Takes Time

No athlete in the history of track and field won a gold medal the first time they raced. Stay positive and train hard, and you will see the benefits of your effort.  The harder you work, the more successful you'll be!

Confidence is in many ways a prerequisite to good performance in track and field. Use this guide to improve your self-confidence and better your marks.
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