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Overcoming Doubt: Three approaches for developing confidence

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

A few weeks ago, while discussing an athlete’s program, Brett Sutton said something to me in his typically unvarnished and straightforward style. Our conversation was about the psychological impact when athletes are exposed to different thoughts on training and racing. He said, “Doubt is the poison of coaches.”

Different perspectives or approaches themselves aren’t inherently damaging, however, when they provoke doubt, then the troubles begin.

When doubt enters the mind of an athlete, it’s a poison that can unhinge even the most formidable competitor. By contrast, confidence is one of the defining features of mental toughness. Fortunately, confidence is something that we can deliberately build and strengthen. There are a number of practical approaches that can develop confidence in athletes. This article highlights three.

1) Consistency The first is consistency. Consistency and progressive development are at the heart of my coaching method and the Trisutto methodology. If you’re not consistent, then you can’t build progressively over time. If you don’t build progressively over time, then your chances of having consistent top results aren’t very high.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see both age-groupers and pros make is bouncing around from one training session to another rather than following a single unified program. They’ll do masters swims (often with different coaches), group rides, club runs, their friends’ key sessions, weekly time trials and swim/run events, and call that a plan. This approach may help with motivation and it may keep training social, but it won’t optimize race results.

Bouncing between groups has many problems. For one, the training program is not cohesive. For example, the masters group may be doing sprints on a day that you’d be better served with a strength-endurance session. Similarly, this approach isn’t targeted: it isn’t likely that the local group ride, or your friend’s session, will provide the specificity of structure that you need to get ready for your goal event.

If group sessions get you out the door and staying fit and healthy, then use them! However, if your goals include racing at your best, then following a well-structured plan is what it will take.

Having a single unified training program builds confidence because it allows for consistency and progressive development. It also limits potential sources of bad or conflicting information that you’re likely to encounter when interacting with a range of coaches and athletes. Most importantly, having a single, unified training program keeps things focused on your plan and your training needs.

2) Communication and trust A positive coach-athlete relationship with strong communication and trust is another factor that builds confidence. A secure coach-athlete relationship provides enormous advantages and works both daily and in the long term to reduce doubt and build an athlete’s internal sense of confidence, motivation, focus, resilience, and composure under pressure.

3) Structured Plan The third element that can help build confidence is having a plan for your season and your races. Having a well-structured plan can help keep you focused and on track. A sound plan can keep you from making an impulsive decision in the heat of competition. Similarly, a clear training plan can also keep you from getting carried away when friends invite you for a session that might seem fun but would be counterproductive to your goals. A thorough and detailed plan builds confidence by alleviating anxiety as well as providing a valuable record to review.

As Sutto said, “Doubt is the poison of coaches.” Consistency, confidence, and communication are the antidotes. Having a cohesive plan that is tailored to your goals and allows for progressive development over time, is one of the best ways to build confidence and counter doubt. And, if doubt does creep in, talk it over with your coach. Your coach will be able to give you perspective, help you focus, and get you motivated and ready to crush!

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