It’s always a ‘good listen’ when you hear professional triathlete and 13x Ironman winner Lucy Gossage talking. She captures the essence of an enthusiastic athlete - hard-working, reflective and fun. Listening to her recent podcast reminded me of thought-provoking and lively discussions on the ‘fine line’ between self-confidence versus arrogance during our sport psychology sessions when she was a full-time triathlete. Lucy wanted belief and confidence, but never wanted to be arrogant. How can athletes make sure that high self-confidence is not confused with arrogance?
Self-confidence is the degree of certainty that you have in your ability to be successful in a situation. It is a belief that is the result of days, weeks or years of constant work and dedication to your sport and doing the basics well, Lucy certainly ticked that box. As a sport psychologist, I work with athletes to identify where their sources of confidence come from, learn what types of confidence they have, and develop ownership of this confidence. Once sources of confidence are identified, an athlete has a place to go to in their minds - a place to seek tangible sources of confidence, thereby building confidence from a solid foundation to use in performance settings. This work on developing ‘robust’ confidence can be trusted as it backs up reality, it backs up what you know to be true.
Arrogance, on the other hand, is often proven to be false by reality. Arrogant athletes can think they are too good to prepare for importance performances. This can lead to a reduction in effort levels, giving up more easily when facing challenges and setting more moderate levels of overall performance goals. Arrogance comes when athletes see their status or achievements as licence to believe or behave in ways that are superior to other people. This can make arrogant athletes talk constantly about themselves in conversation and rarely listen, unlike self-confident athletes who like to share themselves, listen and learn from others, qualities always demonstrated by Lucy.
John Lennon once said “..I believe in what I do, and I’ll say it.” This illustrates how sometimes high self-confidence may appear arrogant to others because belief is talked about. How other people think or react to what you say is not something you will ever really know or can control. A more helpful viewpoint is to know that how you think and behave as a confident athlete is within your control. As Lucy recognised in her pod cast and solid evidence from sport psychology research with athletes tells us, thinking and behaving confidently and having belief can and will help sporting performance. Working to improve self-belief and confidence by recognising the value it plays in performance and reflecting on how to do this, does not make you arrogant.
Like Lucy, you can learn to be a self-confident athlete by knowing that your confidence is secure because it’s based on reality. It can be quiet (you don’t have to shout about it), it doesn’t act morally superior and it remains humble (you acknowledge others in the process). It still has conviction built through evidence-based experiences and solid self-worth as you can evaluate your skills honestly. You realise that you have to put in the work and make sure your skills are the best they can be. Your opinions are well founded but you recognise that your skills could still be improved. And for those of us that know Lucy, she ticks all these boxes in abundance. No matter what kind of athlete you are or what sport you do, working on your ability to enhance your levels of confidence and maintaining those levels are key ingredients to success.