Adventures, Coaching, Kayak, MTB, SUP, Thinking, Training

Justifiably Confident?

So often, when I ask students what they want to achieve from our coaching session, especially in whitewater kayaking, they say they want to ‘build confidence’.  Regardless of where they are on their sporting journey, they often recognise themselves as lacking confidence which manifests itself in their performance and, more importantly to them, how they feel when out on the river or trail.

Confidence is a belief and this means it can be a fragile, transitional thing that we often try to process as an emotion.  If we do this we find that one minute we can ‘feel’ full of confidence, the next it has slipped away completely leaving nothing but doubt.  Either of these extremes can lead to poor decision making and subsequently, poor outcomes, so if we allow confidence to become emotional, relying on it to perform is troublesome.  I have certainly experienced both ends of the confidence spectrum over the years but during this time have developed coping techniques that now help me remain grounded in the middle between these outer limits.

The problem with confidence related performance is that the belief is not always built on solid foundations and thus can be inconsistent, fluctuating in a manner that can feel outside the control of the performer.  This is worrying as high confidence can lead to pushing beyond your capability, resulting in failure and often injury, whereas low confidence can see the unwarranted shrinking of your comfort zone until it reflects only a fraction of your actual capabilities.  There is of course a place for confidence, but not as an emotional response. It must instead be constrained to a way of thinking within an evidence based approach to your sporting capability.

What we need to do is to develop strategies to stop trying to ‘feel’ confident and instead consistently ‘think’ confidently. To do this we must take ownership of our confidence and understand where it comes from; it is a belief so we need to strengthen the foundations of this belief. In practice this means a true understanding of your technical ability, of your strengths and weaknesses, of your past successes and the factors behind those and accepting and processing praise from others. It helps to have a framework to give structure to these thoughts and apply them to future challenges.


Many coaches will be familiar with breaking down a performance into the four components often referred to as TTPP, which can be summarized in brief as;

Tactical – How can I go about achieving my aim? What is the plan?

Technical – Do I have the skillset to complete the plan? Am I competent enough?

Physical – Is this within my physical capabilities? Have I the strength/stamina/energy?

Psychological – Do I believe I can do it? Am I focused?

I firmly believe that in sporting performance, and in fact all walks of life, the first and the last of these can have the most critical of interactions; having a plan that you can believe in is enormously settling on your mental state in virtually all scenarios, and is the backbone of reliable confidence. The TTPP structure, if used with a positive, challenge mindset, frames your beliefs and acts as a strong foundation for confident thinking

I discuss these aspects and encourage students to put them into practice whenever they can, particularly concentrating on breaking challenges down, understanding action and reaction, forming a plan and identifying the key moves required to execute that plan.  When an obstacle has been assessed, a line has been selected, discussed and agreed as achievable all that is left is to perform.  In time, this process is conducted dynamically, making the same calculations but without stopping to assess and eventually without slowing at all.  These planning exercises are complimented with some plain old traditional skills development, but this technical input is rarely as important as mostly these students are capable, they simply needed to find a way to believe this and so perform consistently.

Proof is in the pudding, but it is noteworthy that students report being happier and more at ease when approaching challenges in this way.  Completing an analysis, making a plan and executing that plan successfully builds solid evidence based confidence that can no longer easily fluctuate.  Supported by this strong process, confidence becomes less emotional and instead a way of thinking linked to an understanding of why we are achieving success.

Live2Flow runs Whitewater Kayak Coaching Weekends in the UK, organises a number of Whitewater Kayak Holidays and is available for low ratio Whitewater Coaching Days. Contact him using any of the these options.

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