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

Justifiably Confident?

So often, when I ask students, especially in whitewater kayaking, what they want to achieve from our coaching session 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 can be a fragile, transitional thing.  One minute you can be full of it, 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, and, as a pure emotion, 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 emotion is not always built on solid foundations and thus can be inconsistent, fluctuating in a manner that is often 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 it is an emotional response much better constrained to a role within an evidence based approach to your sporting capability.


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.

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 instruction, 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 a strong process to ensure the emotion itself only plays a part in each subsequent decision that feeling grows as success becomes routine and critically, confidence is linked to an understanding of why we are achieving success.

It is great to see people become more ‘confident’ through a process that they understand and can control; given this stronger foundation and a few tools to manage it, hopefully it is here to stay this time.

Live2Flow is available for low ratio personal coaching, Whitewater Improver courses and bespoke BC Star Awards.  Contact him using any of the options here.

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