Cocky on the Inside, Humble on the Outside

I recently shared an article about a controversial and outspoken local athlete on my Facebook. The responding comments were somewhat polarizing – some felt that he should be more respectful towards authority and his rivals, yet many felt that his arrogance was justified.

Even though I really wanted to join in the discussion, I hesitated because the thread seemed to be spinning out of control. Hence this post to share my thoughts about the underlying tension between arrogance and humility and also some suggestions on how to develop confidence without being outwardly arrogant.

Confident or Cocky?

One of my friends on Facebook commented…

“A truly competitive athlete usually display arrogance. In order to be the best, you have to believe you are the best…”

It’s a valid comment and confident athletes often envision themselves as a great athlete. These athletes will not hesitate to make use of positive self-labels to play up their own skills, and may at times play down or undermine their opponent’s abilities.


However, in a country like Singapore which has been described by Michele Gelfand -author of ‘Rule Makers and Rule Breakers’, as having a tight culture*, athletes who are overtly confident and outspoken are likely to run into trouble with the gatekeepers, since they are likely to be perceived as being disrespectful rather than confident.

Hence, if you are a coach or athlete, it would probably be in your best interest to learn how to develop a healthy self-concept that supports strong self-confidence without coming across as being arrogant.

How to feel cocky on the inside while being humble on the outside

Here are three quick strategies that will not only help boost your confidence in sport but in other pursuits as well…

1. Write down three positive self-labels that positively describe you in your sport, which you can truly believe, e.g., “I’m a winner” or “I am fast!” If you do not know where to begin, you could start by using positive labels or comment that others have given you. Post these statements somewhere that you will see them every day.

2. Identify and discard any negative labels that you have made up for yourself, or that others have given you. Write them on a piece of paper, crumple it, and throw it away with authority (or flush them into the toilet bowl).

3. Start speaking to others about yourself and your abilities, use the positive self-labels you have formulated with confidence but avoid deliberate displays of outward cockiness, because people who lack confidence will resent it and feel that you are being arrogant.

Finally, I think it’s worth mentioning that many Singaporeans and coaches prefer athletes to behave in a humble and kowtow manner. I’ve termed this “slavish humility” and such behaviour is often enforced and encouraged especially in certain sports, often in the guise of Respect or even “Asian values”. I do not reckon this is healthy either and it may have harmful implications on an athlete’s confidence and mental game.

Self-confidence is an important key to success. Email me at to learn how my coaching programs can help you overcome self-doubt and boost your confidence.

Coach Hansen


*In the book ‘Rule Makers and Rule Breakers’ the author Michele Gelfand places cultures and countries between a spectrum of tight or loose. Tight cultures have strict social norms and everyone is expected to march to the beat of the same drum. Loose cultures are where people tend to live and let live and disorder is not just tolerated by accepted. Singapore has been described as having a really tight culture only slightly behind India, Pakistan and Malaysia.

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