I have been plagued by self doubt in the past, especially in my training/racing. Can I do it? Am I good enough? Strong enough? Fast enough? I laughed away my insecurities by making jokes about them. I'd make comments like "I'm sure the massage guys will be gone by the time I finish the race," and "I'll probably be out there drowning while you guys are swimming," or "The reason I didn't win will be because (insert silly phrase)".
Somewhere in the past few weeks I have found that I am refusing to give in to what I used to rely on to excuse my pre-conceived performance. Lately, if I catch the negative words coming out of my mouth I have actually slapped myself in the face to stop them! And I think the self-abuse is working. I am only allowing myself to think positive thoughts about my training and racing these days. That's not to say I don't struggle with the challenges before me, or still fight the fear of failure or of new situations. It's just that now I seem to give pause to the negativity that I have always covered with humor and I am trying to turn it around in my mind before it claims a spot in the abyss of my brain.
All of this self-reflection got me wondering about why I was no longer joking my way through my training. I suddenly realized that I was beginning to develop something I have never had... self-confidence. So, in true over-analytical fashion, I decided to research self-confidence as it relates to sports performance, and I found studies that actually showed a significant correlation between how one views oneself and how one performs in sports. I learned that the key to acquiring self-confidence was learning to accept all of the possible consequences to a particular situation, good or bad.
Self-confidence comes from knowing that you will cope with whatever scenario arises, and you will not be bothered by what other people may say about it. This confidence is not built up overnight, but comes with years of successes in practice and competition.
As I continued to read, I learned ways to help build my self-confidence. Interestingly enough, these techniques were already being utilized in my training, I just didn't realize it.
Physically, there was emphasis placed on improving the skills required in a particular sport through repetition of the same skills over and over. This "blocked" style of practice is especially good for beginners as once an activity is learned, a new, more challenging skill is added. A year ago when I was first learning to swim, my initial instruction was more about getting me across one lap of the pool without panicking. I repeated over and over the same skills and only the most glaring mistakes were being corrected. This allowed me to grow a sense of confidence in my ability to just get across the pool in an acceptable style. As my basic skills improved, my instruction morphed into more technical training and fine tuning of my freestyle. My confidence continues to grow with each new skill I master.
"Random" practice is about challenging an athlete with more difficult tasks in which improvement may not seem apparent at first, but may become noticeable later in a competition. Brickwork, for example, teaches us how to put the disciplines together so that come competition time we are a smooth oiled machine.
Besides the impact of positive self talk, there is also the use of visualization and imagery to improve confidence. If you picture yourself performing a task well you are more likely to do so.
I have been trying hard to think about my upcoming race only from a positive angle: How will the swim feel this year? I will be strong, and fast, and will not be afraid. I will feel the water and not fight it.
I try to imagine how good I will feel when I get out of the water within my goal time. If anything, this year I am more worried about controlling my emotion of my impending excitement over an awesome swim than I am of controlling the feeling of panic. I am working hard on remembering to just stay focused on the task of swimming and not to let any form of emotion creep in at all... until I am at a place where I can safely let out a "Woop Woop!" without it affecting my ability to breath.
Focus is an important tool in confidence building. Focus should be on the here and now, not on the entire event ~ but on what is at hand at the moment. In a race, past mistakes need to be forgotten. If the swim is not up to potential then move on and focus on the bike.
Reflect. Think about the hours of training that got you to where you are. Think about how you have overcome challenges successfully in training many times. Fall back on your past experiences to push you forward.
Another way to improve self-confidence is through goal setting. I had a taste of this with my swim test this week. I went into the test with a goal pace in mind and was confident about achieving it. When I gave my time to my coach, she felt I could do better than my goal and we dropped it by another 12s/100yds. Initially I felt nervous about the challenge and had a wave of doubt, but then I let it go and focused on the task at hand. I missed my new goal pace by 2 seconds, but the fact that I had bettered my previous goal pace by 10 seconds boosted my confidence. And when I compared my results to my best test time last season and realized I had bettered that time by ten seconds I became even more confident about what the rest of training could do to make me even faster.
I found an article that offered up some exercises for building Self-Confidence in Sport that seemed worth incorporating into my training. I hope that my readers can find some useful tools to help them with tough points in their training.
Challenges for the Week:
- Letting myself recover. Although it was not a big challenge, there is a level of anxiety that seems to go along with recovery weeks. I had a few urges to go out and do unscheduled runs, but I overcame them...
- Testing. I find there are certain words that raise my level of anxiety in training. These words are "testing", "race pace", "sprint", and "to fatigue". Occasionally "Fartlek" will have the same effect. It's totally a mental thing. I associate these words with full effort, panicked breathing, discomfort. I wish we could rename them "establishing a baseline" or "goal challenge effort".
- Pacing. Kind of goes along with the struggle I have with the words "race pace". Finding that sweet spot of not too fast, not too slow. It does help to break it into more manageable bits on those long hauls. Setting my pace is getting easier the more I do it, and those long swims are paying off. Ugh.
- Fog. Safety first. Beautiful sunrise on River Road, but fog is not conducive to surviving on a bike.
|The Road to Nowhere...|
|Lizzard demonstrating her cloak of invisibility|
|Hot Air Balloon on River Road|
- Varsity Sports can hire me as a shoe box sorter if I ever lose my day job (thanks Varsity Challenge).
|Canada and Coug|
- Swim and Bike testing is definitely more fun in a group. Thanks Fitbirds!
|Koko, Grace, Ellen on Fog Assessment Ride|
|Captain Lizzard determining if it really IS a 10 mile loop...NOT!|
|Ellen, Lizzard, Coug, Koko, Grace ~ Post Testing!|
- That there are still SO many more lessons to be learned...
|Planned/Actual Time: 7:00||Still GREEN!|