How Self-Confidence Can Boost An Athlete’s Performance

Christen Shefchunas

How Self-Confidence Can Boost An Athlete’s Performance

“Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage and confidence in the doing.” -Teddy Roosevelt

Swimmers are some of the toughest competitors in the world. Even though they may look strong and muscular on the outside, often on the inside, many athletes struggle with confidence. The goal to being confident is when an athlete is able to match their mental toughness with their physical strength, they are more capable of reaching their full potential.

Everyone experiences fear. Everyone experiences doubt. Confidence is built on how one handles those fears and doubts.

Confidence coach Christen Shefchunas has studied the topic.

“When I am working with professional swimmers, they have done all of the physical work to get way up here (hands held up above her head), but they are still way back at the beginning because they have never taken the time to work on the mental aspect of training,” Shefchunas said. “When athletes start taking steps with the mental, and when the physical and the mental are finally at the same place, that is when athletes start to reach their greatest potential.”

Christen Shefchunas

Photo Courtesy: Christen Shefchunas

Shefchunas was an assistant swim coach at Michigan State and SMU before becoming the head coach at the University of Miami. After seeing so many athletes miss out on their dreams because of fear, doubt and a lack of confidence, she left her coaching career to start speaking to people about confidence. In other words, she became a confidence coach for athletes ranging from age group swimmers to some of the most elite athletes in the world.

As a confidence coach, Shefchunas wants to help athletes reach their full potential in and out of the pool by talking about their truths.

“Everyone experiences fear, but everyone also thinks that they are the only ones experiencing fear,” she said. “When someone feels like the only one, we wonder, ‘What is wrong with me?’ My message is that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you. I have never met anyone who does not have fears and doubts. It is about doing the work to handle those fears and doubts that is the most important.”

How does an athlete make sure that physical and mental strength are in line? According to Shefchunas, acknowledging and accepting one’s fears is the first step in gaining confidence and, in turn, improving one’s mental toughness.

“I think the most important thing is that you need to know what your fears are,” she said. “It is like having a big wound and trying to put a Band-Aid on it. We have to get real and get honest about what our fears are.”

A person also must be prepared for what is coming. When that person opens the flood gates of fears and doubts, a great deal of “what ifs” can come rolling out of the mind. These ominous “what ifs” can include, “What if I fail?,” “What if I lose?,” “What if I let my parents/coaches down?,” “What if I can’t do it?”. The goal is to acknowledge and be prepared for the “what ifs” to arise, but to not let them consume you.

“Be prepared for your fears,” Shefchunas said. “I have never met an athlete who isn’t afraid when staring competition in the face.”

When those “what ifs” do arise, it is about finding and accepting one’s truths that build the confidence that one needs to succeed. “What if I fail? But what if I succeed?” “What if I lose? What if I win?” “What if I let my parents/coaches down?” “What if I make them proud?” “What if I can’t do it? What if I find the strength to do it?” Turn the negative “what ifs” into a positive statement or a ‘truth’ statement.

“Confidence revolves around truth,” Shefchunas said. “Choose truth. Let us choose truth and be honest. Let us say, ‘I’m afraid and it’s okay.’ Flip it and focus on your truth.”

Building confidence takes time, but if one is able to accept one’s fear and turn it into a truth, then that person should be able to potentially reach full athletic potential.

I am prepared. I am ready. I can do hard things. I am a fighter. What is your ‘truth’? Find your ‘truth(s)’ and use your new confidence to be prepared for your swim season.

To learn more about Coach Christen Shefchunas and confidence check out her website: Coach Christen

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