How to Build Confidence—Two Lessons from Athletes

build confidence

Clients and friends continually ask me about confidence and how it relates to one’s performance. How do you build and gain confidence and then how do you keep it?

Your level of confidence can make you or break you. Whether you are a small business owner, CEO, coach, manager, athlete or anything in between, we all have our own self-talk we are battling with, and different levels of confidence.  We question ourselves from time to time, doubting our abilities and skills.

In this article, I’m going to share with you two key tips from my experience as a former basketball coach for how you can get and keep your confidence so you can perform at a high level consistently. There’s no difference in coaching elite athletes and coaching high-level executives. In either situation, we need a heavy dose of confidence.

Here are two things I teach elite college athletes to master in order to build and maintain confidence

1) Be Prepared

be prepared

We all have different skill levels. I would tell my athletes, your performance is 20% from your neck on down and 80% from the neck up. You are already in your position for a reason — you have been successful, you’ve paid your dues, and you’ve reached a certain skill competency — or you wouldn’t be sitting in that chair. You already have what it takes to do the job. Now it’s time to focus on the neck up.

In getting ready for a speaking engagement, a high-level meeting, or an important game, being prepared is critical. Have you prepared well, done your research and practiced adequately? Do you have a structured message that’s easy to communicate and get buy-in on? Have you focused on what needs to happen and what you need to accomplish? We’ve all gone into situations where we are flying by the seat of our pants, unorganized, expecting to knock it out of the park. That rarely happens. Feeling prepared provides the confidence you need to present or perform on a big stage.

2) Have a Routine

le bron james pre game routine

If you’ve played or watched sports, you know that all athletes have a routine before practice or the actual game. Whether you put your left shoe on first, tie your right laces first, put your shirt on a particular way, get to the field or court at a certain time, or any of the other myriad things an athlete does, this pre-game routine is a great lesson for business leaders.

Do you have a routine before a big meeting, speaking engagement, or an interview? As I tell my athletes, 80% of what we do is mental, and being prepared and having a routine helps build confidence. By establishing a routine, you will learn how to maintain the mental and emotional edge that builds confidence. It allows you to move on quickly from mistakes and apply constructive feedback to course correct.

In addition to these keys, understand there’s only one person who can take away your confidence. It’s not your coach, your peers, or any other human being. You are the only person who can take away your confidence, by giving it away. Don’t ever give your confidence away.

Believe in yourself, be true to yourself, and remain a life-long learner and you will maintain your confidence. Will you make mistakes and fail? Absolutely! We are all going to make mistakes and screw up many times. The key is to learn to move on and focus on “the next play.” If you focus on the mistake you just made, you will make another mistake, and then another. And then you will find yourself sitting next to your coach on the bench.

As a leader, encourage people to make mistakes and take risks. No one is perfect. Reaching for perfection is a dangerous thing, especially for kids. This is the only way we can take our game, leadership skills, and careers to the next level. Whether you wear a rubber band on your wrist to help control unwanted thoughts and feelings, have an accountability partner, or hire a coach, they can help you move on and get out of your own way.

Be strong and keep your head high when you make a mistake. The pace of change in our environment moves at rapid speed and chances are if it takes you too long to move on, someone has already run by you.  Move on quickly, “move on to the next play” and never let anyone take your confidence away from you.

Preparation + Routine = Confidence


pam bortonWith 27 years coaching Division I basketball, including 12 years in the Big Ten, Pam Borton led her teams to a Final Four, three Sweet Sixteen’s, and numerous NCAA tournament appearances. She has received numerous coaching and leadership awards and is now a senior executive coach at International Coaches Federation (ICF). Her new book, On Point: A Coach’s Game Plan for Life, Leadership, and Performing with Grace Under Fire, is available on Amazon and other booksellers.



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