Confidence: Keep improving

Jack McInerney is a 19-year-old forward who has been playing for three seasons now with the Philadelphia Union. However, he has had trouble breaking through into the starting line-up this season. Things changed for the better when John Hackworth was appointed coach in the middle of the season. Since the Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City game on June 23rd, McInerney has shown how dangerous he can really be in the final third of the field.

On June 23rd against Sporting Kansas City, McInerney scored a quick goal in the beginning of the first half of the game, the quickest goal in Union history, with not even a minute on the clock. That goal gave him a boost of confidence to keep fighting and score another goal in the first half. The game ended 4 to 0, with the Union getting the decisive win over Sporting. Then, on June 26th , the Union faced the Harrisburg City Islanders in the Quarterfinals of the US Open Cup. McInerney scored another goal to add to his tally of 3 goals in 2 games. Again, on July 4th, the Union played the LA Galaxy away and McInerney scored the first goal of the game. On July 29th, McInerney scored the game winning goal in the 90th minute against the New England Revolution on a cross by Sheanon Williams. After these games McInerney has begun to prove himself as a starting forward for the Union, and stated, “The staff has shown confidence and trust in me, and I want to keep proving myself.”

In the beginning of the season McInerney was not getting as much time on the pitch, but when John Hackworth took over in the middle of the season, McInerney soon found his place in the line-up. The support from Hackworth helped to give McInerney his confidence, which has helped him to score goals, and earned him the right to be a starting player for the Union. So even though McInerney may have a lot of talent, it is quite obvious that he did not get where he is on his own. His sense of confidence came from himself, but also from the support that he is receiving from his coach. This shows that just the slightest bit of belief and a chance to succeed can be all that anyone ever needs.

Even though McInerney is young, he is still performing under pressure, and the coaching staff has a lot of trust in him to keep performing. McInerney has proven to players across the world that confidence is a key to a good performance, but a good performance doesn’t hurt confidence, either.

Perseverance and confidence

Michael Phelps holds the world record for the most Olympic gold medals ever won in swimming. He accomplished this in the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he beat Mark Spitz’s record of 7 gold medals. In June, the U.S. held the Olympic Swimming Trials to advance to the 2012 summer Olympic Games in London. Now, one might expect non-stop winning from an eight-time gold medalist, but this year that was not the case.

This year another successful USA veteran swimmer has taken the spotlight from Phelps again: Ryan Lochte, who won 5 gold medals in the World Championships of swimming last summer. He also competed in the Beijing and Athens Olympics and won 6 medals. He has now qualified for the London Olympics.

Ryan Lochte beating Michael Phelps has been a surprising turn of events in the past few years, due to of all of the hype that Michael Phelps has received in the past. It is clear that Lochte has trained extremely hard to get to where he is now. Lochte’s confidence is quite impressive, including a “never give up” attitude. Even though Michael Phelps has been in the spotlight for quite some time, Lochte has been proving he has the potential to be the best swimmer in the world. Lochte stated, “I’m definitely ready to tear it up in London.” This quote allows us to understand just how confident he is.

Lochte’s determination to be the best is something we can all admire and work on in our lives. It may come down to sports, academics, or simply goals that you want to accomplish. Pushing yourself to set goals and to try your best to accomplish these goals is the key to succeeding. Not only is Lochte someone who challenges himself, he is also extremely confident. He believes in himself and knows that he can be one of the best swimmers in the world. He has been able to build this confidence through his hard work and success, and with such belief in himself, there is no one who will stop him from trying to become the best. This is something that everyone can work toward. When you put in the effort and practice every day for what you want to do, there is no reason why you won’t get better and build your own confidence so that you can accomplish something great someday, too.

Sewing the seeds of success

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”William James

This quote above, from psychologist and philosopher William James, not only applies to his own generation, but also to a self-discovery of your own life that can be profound. Would you like to know the secret? Each day when you wake up you have the opportunity and power within yourself to change your life for the better on and off the field. You don’t need fancy shoes to make yourself faster or special drinks or pills that will dramatically change your athletic ability. The one thing you need to take you to the optimal level of performance already comes intrinsically free: your attitude.

Whether you have realized this or not, no matter what the circumstances are or will be (i.e. having a losing season, becoming injured, making minor mistakes on the field, or failing a pop quiz at school) you always have control over your attitude and how you will act or respond to these situations. So what can you do as an athlete and student to find success in every situation? Keep a positive attitude by focusing your thoughts on the positive outcomes. This can be done by setting concrete, process goals each day regarding what you want to achieve and focusing on the task at hand rather than looking at the past. Let your thoughts stay positive and remain in the present moment. The key is realizing that attitudes and thoughts are what make or break a successful player. This is because what you think about, your overall attitude on the inside, forms the player and person you become on the outside.

Think of your mind as a garden. Your mind does not care whether you plant something fertile (i.e., a worthwhile goal, a positive attitude, or a confident mindset) or something poisonous (i.e., a negative attitude, stubbornness, guilt, or regret). It will always grow what you plant and what you nurture. So, if you want to reach optimum performance in your sport, school, or job, plant the seeds of success: process goals, positive attitude, patience, effort, and pride! When you change your attitude by planting positive seeds in your mind and nurturing these seeds, you shall reap the rewards of a successful athletic, academic, and/or home life. Remember, you have the control to alter your life by altering your attitude!

Making and improving decisions

Decision-making is an important aspect of play for any athlete. Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide, discusses the importance of decision-making by focusing on two aspects of the brain that assist in it: the rational brain and the emotional brain. Early philosophers focused on the importance of being rational and ignoring our emotions when making a decision. The rational brain focuses on assimilating information from various sources and analyzing it to make the best decision. On the other hand, the role of the emotional brain, though an active one, is one that often occurs without us being aware of it. While each of these is important in its own right, neither can exist without the other. Without our emotions we are unable to make use of reason. Lehrer states that, “a brain that can’t feel can’t make up its mind” (p. 15).

The good thing about decision-making is that it can be improved with continual work. The more you use your decision-making skills, the more you can refine and sharpen them. Below are guidelines to help you improve your decision-making abilities:

  • Learn from your mistakes – everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is to turn these mistakes into a learning opportunity; analyze what went wrong, how it went wrong, and what you can do differently next time. Success can’t be achieved without first experiencing failure.
  • Simple problems require reason – decisions that are less important can focus predominantly on the use of rationality over emotions. Fewer variables involved means that the rational brain will not get overwhelmed with all of the possible options. Complex problems on the other hand benefit more from the use of the emotional brain; too many variables causes the rational brain to get overwhelmed and make poor choices.
  • Novel problems also require reason – before you decide to use your rational brain or your emotional brain you must first determine if the situation is one you have experienced before, or if it is entirely novel. If the situation is new, your emotions are likely to be less useful as there is nothing to base them on. According to Lehrer, “the only way out of a unique mess is to come up with a creative solution” (p. 246).
  • Embrace uncertainty – often, there are multiple possibilities to consider when making a decision. We tend to avoid possibilities that aren’t in line with our beliefs or common approaches. However, for decision-making to be most effective, you have to be willing to consider every possibility, even if it is one you are less familiar or comfortable with.
  • You know more than you know – we are often unaware of the different processes that take place in our brain when we are making decisions. Our emotions are very effective at turning feelings that we process, but don’t perceive, into visceral representations. While we do not always rely on our emotions for decision-making, it is always important to consider your emotions: why are you feeling what you feel?
  • Think about thinking – self-awareness is an important aspect of decision-making. Be aware of the type of decision you are making and the process you are using to make it. According to Lehrer, “the best way to make sure that you are using your brain properly is to study your brain at work, to listen to the argument in your head” (p. 250). However, being aware of your thinking doesn’t mean mistakes won’t happen. Remember to turn these mistakes into educational opportunities to help you in the future.

Lehrer, J. (2009). How We Decide. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Dealing with obstacles

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”Muhammad Ali

On the road to athletic success, there are many obstacles that you will likely encounter. These can include making a new team, winning a game or championship, or playing for a new coach. As you approach these obstacles, you can set goals to help yourself achieve them. Setting appropriate process, performance, and outcome goals helps you set your sights on exactly what you want to achieve and what you need to do to get there. Having this plan laid out gives you something to refer back to and provides a sense of comfort and confidence in your ability to achieve your goal.

Even with obstacles and goals set that help you feel comfortable with what you are working to achieve, there is still the chance that other factors may influence your performance. For example, many times when athletes are competing they have different people expecting them to perform a certain way. Some of these include coaches, parents, teammates, scouts, and even themselves. Having all of these expectations to try to live up to can be sort of like having a rock in your shoe; just like a rock in your shoe causes slight irritation, these expectations can be enough to distract you from your goal and cause pressure that may affect your performance. When it comes to competition, it’s important to remember to focus on what you can control. You can’t control what other people expect of you, and that’s not your burden to bare. What you can control is the amount of effort you put in. As long as you are giving 100% effort, then you will have a successful day regardless of the outcome and expectations you have (or the number of rocks in your shoe). Leave these rocks off the field when you step on and focus on what you can do in that moment. The rest stays off the field and can be dealt with when the game is over.

The value of self-reflection

Players often make mistakes both on and off the field. Sometimes mistakes result from trying new things in training, from getting angry or frustrated during a game, or from losing focus on the task at hand. No matter the cause of the mistake, mistakes are a normal aspect of developing as a player and can be great learning experiences. However, simply making mistakes does not make players better; learning from those mistakes is how players improve.

In order to learn from the mistakes you make in training and to grow as a player, learn how to develop the skill of self-reflection. Self-reflection is exactly what it sounds like: reflecting on yourself—your thoughts, words, and actions. Self-reflection is what drives your “current” self to grow into your “ideal” self—the player you aspire to be.

Picture a recent training session. Think of a time during that training session when you made a mistake. Reflect upon your initial reaction to that mistake and think about whether or not that reaction matches how you view your “Ideal” self’s reaction. Would your ideal self have done the things you did? Said the things you said? If your answer is no, or partly no, that’s normal. You have some work to do, but you’re not alone—everyone has room to improve. If your answer is yes, you might need to be more honest with yourself! Very infrequently do we respond to situations how we would really like to. It can be tough to make a mistake and take a deep breath and tell yourself to learn from it. But, that’s when self-reflection becomes your biggest ally.

To practice self-reflection, remind yourself before training and games that you will try to keep your mind focused on the present and be fully aware of your responses to situations. This enhanced awareness will set you up to use self-reflection to evaluate your behavior. Make note of the behaviors you are proud of as well as the behaviors you would like to improve. Take this one step further, and make plans for how to continue with your productive behaviors and ways in which you will create change in the behaviors that do not match your “ideal” self. Remember, simply making mistakes will not help you grow; you must be aware of the mistakes and your responses and plan your best responses.

Dare to dream

“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.”Muhammad Ali

On Thursday, June 28th 2012, Hayward field in Eugene, Oregon hosted yet another day of Olympic qualifying trials for Track and Field. Throughout the day, dreams were both realized and crushed for athletes who have been training for years for this opportunity. One athlete, Kim Conley, raced the 5000m run like a true Olympian as she shocked the crowd, and herself, by qualifying for the Olympic team.

At the start of the race, Kim Conley knew she needed to achieve two different goals to earn a spot on the Olympic team: she needed to place in the top three and she needed to run faster than 15:20.00 to earn the A standard necessary for Olympic qualification. She started the run off strong and led the pack for several laps. However, toward the end of the race, she seemed to be running out of speed as other runners, like Molly Huddle and Julia Lucas, surged ahead. During a post-race interview on the infield, she told reporters that two-thirds into the race, she thought she simply could no longer keep up with the pace the pack was running. Yet, that’s when the drive and passion within her ignited. She explained that she simply could not give up on her dreams so easily. With this new-found motivation, she exceeded her own expectations and pushed her way from 8th place through a pack of runners and exploded in the last 150 meters to earn herself a third place photo finish, a 15:19.79 A standard time, and ultimately a spot on the Olympic team.

Conley’s story is an inspiration. Although she had doubts about her ability to compete with the best America has to offer, she never gave up; she persevered and showed incredible resilience and she found the inner drive that pushed her across that finish line. She had been dreaming of competing in the Olympic trials for years. She showed tremendous heart on the track and showed the importance of daring to dream. Conley joins Julie Culley and Molly Huddle to compete in the 5000m race for the United States. She says it’s a dream come true.