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.
I’ve recently started coaching a new group of athletes who are prepping for the Manila SEA Games, and one of the more “contentious” discussions we had relates to the Fear of Failure associated with Social Approval.
What’s the Fear of Failure associated with Social Approval?
Simply put, many athletes simply worry too much about what others think about them. I often refer to this as ‘Mind-Reading’.
Although they may not admit it readily, most athletes are driven by the respect and recognition associated with their sporting prowess, and their identity as an athlete. They might believe that they don’t care what others think about themselves or their performance but that’s seldom true.
Social Approval is part of human nature (The world works only when we care how people think! We are all social animals and a communal species that is interdependent) and all athletes are driven by it to a certain extent.
However, when taken to an extreme, it often turns into a source of fear. For example, athletes may be afraid of letting their teammates down or to disappoint their coaches and parents. They often feel tensed and anxious or are afraid to take risks when others are watching.
Two of the biggest influence on my approach to coaching – Process Focused Coaching, are Albert Ellis and Ken Ravizza. Both have passed on, and both were heavily influenced by the Stoic philosophy.
Ellis was described as a ‘Stoic Philosopher with a Sailor’s Mouth’. He was inspired by the writings of Stoic Philosophers to devise Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). REBT was the first form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy and is still my preferred technique for athlete counseling.
According to Ellis, “people are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.” This is a dead ringer to the quote below by Epictetus (one of the three most important Stoic philosophers along with Marcus Aurelius and Seneca).
“It isn’t the events themselves that disturb people, but only their judgments about them.” – Epictetus
Decided to write this post to share how I would help a player develop a pre-shot routine, as I was reflecting on the time spent over the past couple of weeks reviewing the pre-throw routines of my Goalball players, and helping the boys at Raffles Rugby with their pre-kick and throw routines.
“A pre-routine should be customized to suit the athlete’s sport, personal preference and dominant learning style.”
Most coaches recognize the importance of pre-shot routines (especially for self-paced sports), but not many know how best to help their athletes develop one, especially one that integrates mental strategies. Before we go into the step-by steps, do follow this link to learn about what pre-shot routines are, and why they are important…
I make use of a somewhat contrived sounding acronym – PRE-FA (Prepare -> Rehearse -> Focus -> Allow) to facilitate the teaching of pre-shot routine.
The Thai word bpàt-jù-ban means ‘Present’ or ‘Now’. I learnt this from the participants during the recent ‘IPC Intro to Para Coaching Course’ in Korat, Thailand.
While I was sharing with the Thai coaches why it was important for an athlete to refocus on the process goals whenever she “time traveled” to outcome goals or past mistakes. One of the coaches shared (through a translator) that this was similar to bpàt-jù-ban – a Buddhist notion familiar to the Thais about not dwelling on the past nor dream of the future, but to be in the present/ bpàt-jù-ban.
I got excited when I learnt of this as my main purpose for coaching mental skills has always been to help athletes see the relevance of these skills not only in sport, but in life.
So What Does it mean to be Present or Process Focused?
I would explain it as simply keeping things simple, and the best way to keep things simple is to be in the present – to be in the here and now by focusing on the process instead of the outcome. Sounds simple? Well, it’s simple but definitely not easy. In fact, it is even counter-intuitive!
When you relate this to training and goals…It simply means to shift away from your outcome goal (e.g., to move and react faster during games) to focusing on the training process (e.g., adding 10 minutes of quick feet and reaction drills before every practice session). Athletes who have the ability to let go of their “time” or outcome goals are usually the ones who achieve them.
If you think about it, success really depends on how effective we are in accomplishing a series of practice goals isn’t it? This requires consistent energy and focus and being constantly distracted by worries about not being able to achieve your end goal isn’t going to help.
What it means for skill development and competition…is to focus on the performance and mental cues (e.g., driving your legs, eyes on the ball, running into passing lanes) instead of the outcome (e.g., completing the practice session or winning the game).
You have probably experienced similar thoughts during competition – “I have to score in this game!” or “I’m two strokes down, this drive needs to be perfect.” Such thoughts often make you feel tensed or anxious. If you are a striker, you would probably be more hesitant to shoot, and if you are the golfer, you’d probably “over muscle” your swing.
This isn’t Just About Sport, its Life…
Observe these two former para-athletes who attended the IPC Intro to Para-Coaching Course below.
Would they be able to roll the ball if they focused on what they did NOT have?
When we learn how to focus on the process instead of the outcome, we are also learning one of the most common thinking routine associated with Resilience (i.e., the capacity to overcome challenges) – “Focus on what you CAN control instead of what you CAN’T…” What that means is that you can’t directly control the outcome, but you can give yourself the highest probability of success by focusing on the 50% that you can control, and use a 100% of this 50%!
So how can this approach or mindset help us to overcome challenges in our careers, relationships or any pursuits? As always, I would be delighted to hear from you!
By now, many athletes are familiar with Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset.
I had a psychology coaching session with a group of young soccer players from 2Touch Soccer last night. When asked what they had learnt in school regarding the Growth and Fixed Mindset, the familiar rhetoric that one mindset is “bad” while the other is “good” surfaced. When probed further, the boys weren’t really sure why the Fixed Mindset was bad, or how to apply the Growth Mindset in order to learn more effectively.
From what I gathered, most Mindset lessons consist of “Information download” where the learner learns about the two different mindsets, i.e., an athlete with the Fixed Mindset is more concerned about looking good rather vs a Growth Mindset who is more inclined towards effort and learning. The learner is often tested for his understanding of the topic through some written test or quiz.
Is this the most effective way to teach Mindset? So what if they know how an athlete with the Growth Mindset thinks? So what if they have been tested? Does it really help them become better athletes?
What’s the value in having the knowledge when you don’t know how to apply it (especially in Sport!)?
Wouldn’t it be more effective if these athletes physically and emotionally experienced how the growth mindset actually helps them learn more effectively?
Learning by Doing
I got the boys to learn and perform a rope-skipping skill known as the 360 . It was quite a challenging task since most of them have not skipped for a long time and none of them have learnt any rope skipping skills beyond the basic bounce.
The session was facilitated through a series of practice and reflection. The boys were able to observe how their thoughts changed from those associated with the Fixed Mindset (when they were first asked to perform the task) to those associated with the Growth Mindset as they began to experience more success (see picture above). Every one of them managed to perform the 360 in the end! The boys are leaving next week to practice with a soccer club in Europe, and they also discussed about how they could apply the same thinking skills to overcome challenges and to learn more effectively while they were there.
Now, let me know what you think about this…if i were to give the boys a written test to assess if they were able to remember the definitions or explain the constructs associated with the Growth Mindset, and they failed the test (which they most likely would!), does that mean that the lesson was any less effective and that little learning has taken place?
While we are at it, let’s also think about Coach Education and how coaches learn. Do we learn best by doing and coaching, or by sitting through lectures and being tested through written examinations?
A coach with a long list of certifications vs. one who spends most of his time actually coaching and learning from his peers…which do you reckon is the better coach?