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Self Confidence - You Got This

Many college coaches would rank self-confidence as one of the most important traits they look for in a recruit. But if we try to put a number or a ranking on a self-confidence scale, it's virtually impossible to do. So how do you demonstrate such an important trait that is so hard to measure?

Damon Valentino of FlowSport
For starters, let's get a handle on just what exactly self-confidence is - and isn't. I asked some tournament players their thoughts on self-confidence and the three responses I heard most were:
  • Winning matches when the pressure is on
  • Going for big shots when the match is close
  • Not showing any emotion on the court

I want you to take a minute and think about what self-confidence means to you.

The answer is ... none of the above. Sure, it may feel great to win a big match when you were feeling a lot of pressure, but it doesn't necessarily cultivate your self-confidence. Actually, it may add even more pressure because now you may feel like you need to be able to repeat your performance the next time! Going for big shots when the match is close may look good from the outside, but it may mean the player just wants to get the point over with. Finally, looking calm and cool is one thing, but do we really know what's going on inside of that player? Are they thinking self-confidently - or are they doubting their performance? I'm not suggesting that these examples are wrong, but they don't necessarily suggest the player is full of self-confidence.

In reality, being self-confident is less about what you do and more about what you say to yourself. And that is assuming you even know what you're saying to yourself. Let me tell you a quick story about why this may not be so easy.

Two fish are swimming along in a lake and a third fish swims up and says, "how's the water?" The two look at one another and ask, "what's water?" The third says, "let's swim up as fast as we can." The three fish swim up and up and up, breaking the surface of the water and leaping two feet out of the water. When they are in the air, the third fish points down and says, "that is water!" The fish couldn't identify the water, because it has been with them their whole lives and they naturally took it for granted.

This is typical for most of us. Our thoughts are always there, but most of the time, we aren't aware of how frequent they occur or how powerful of an effect they have on our behavior. To make it more challenging, our brains have a natural tendency to look for what could go wrong in a situation. This means that the dialogue we don't know we are having is often a negative one. So, how do we take all of this and turn it into a strength? Here is a step by step guide for making our thoughts work in our favor and thus, building our own self-confidence.

(1) Become aware of what we are thinking. Just as you would gather research for a paper, start to recognize the types of thoughts that you are having. For starters, notice what you are thinking as you are going to practice, during practice, and as you are going home from practice. This is a good way to start to have a better understanding of whether you are thinking positively or negatively.

(2) Be realistic about your goals. If your goal is to get a scholarship to a D-I school, but your ranking is more in line with a D-III school, you will have a hard time building self-confidence. Master the steps that are right in front of you, and your confidence will grow. And so will your ranking!

(3) Start to catch your negative thoughts (and add something positive). You will never get rid of negative thoughts, but the better you get at recognizing that it's just one thought, not something you have to defend, the quicker you can label it and insert a thought that works for you, not against you. A common sequence is, "I just had a thought about double faulting ... I've hit thousands of awesome serves. I've got this!" You take the power away from the negative thought and in its place, you remember all the great work you've done and finish it off with a confident thought.

(4) Practice, practice, practice. You wouldn't expect to have a great serve without hitting thousands of them, so treat this the same way. The better you get at creating productive self-talk, the more in control you will feel. The more in control you feel, the stronger your self-confidence. And this is what college coaches are looking for.

You got this!


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About Damon Valentino

Damon Valentino is the Director of Sidestreet Performance Coaching in the SF Bay Area. He holds a Master's Degree in Sport Psychology and was a former Division I full scholarship tennis player at Michigan State University. Damon works with competitive juniors as well as collegiate tennis players across the country.

To set up a free 20 minute strategy session with him in person or on skype, go to his website at SideStreetCoaching.com - or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Page updated on Monday, March 11, 2019
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