Why You Shouldn’t Doubt Yourself When You’re In The Game

Do you ever feel like you’re not good enough when you make a mistake on the pitch? Like you’re always second guessing yourself and doubting your abilities? If so, read on.

This article is not about giving you a pep talk. It’s not about telling you to work harder, or that you will have confidence 24 hours of your life. It’s about why you shouldn’t doubt yourself when you’re in the game.

Self-doubt is biologically ingrained in every single one of us. The amygdala (the part of the brain that deals with the fight, flight or freeze response) is there to protect us, however where it was initially activated to save us from dangerous animals and ancient threats, it can now be misguided in the modern day and age. On the football pitch you are not in a life or death situation, but when you make a mistake and are self-doubting yourself, it could be due to an amygdala hijack. For this reason you might be feeling rigid from muscle tension, also known as ‘paralyses by analyses’ by sport psychologists, this is when you freeze and everything feels like its going too quick for you and you can’t keep up. 

Athletes are often told to ‘fake it until you make it.’ And there is actually some truth in this because the act and practice of faking confidence can help to build that confidence. For example, if you feel like you’re about to give a speech, you can practice the speech in your head, and that will help you feel prepared and positive. So how can players utilise this to play with confidence on the field? 

Tips for Players

It’s very easy for us to get into a ‘poor me’ loop after we make a mistake. Highly regarded Sport Psychologist Ceri Evans put it this way: 

We start to feel sorry for ourselves, seeing ourselves as the victim of circumstance. Life is unfair; we don’t deserve this. This swirl of feelings and thoughts makes us uptight, frustrated, angry. We get stuck on the injustice, feeling more and more self-righteous. And the situation just keeps compounding itself.

The ‘poor me’ loop, and other negative content loops, are a deadly attention trap for performance. So how do we stop this loop? 

  1. Ask yourself “am I a victim? or, am I a fighter”, this will help you break the cycle when you inevitably say “Im a fighter”
  2. Devise a personal trigger to make the transition from victim to fighter:

One of the greatest sporting teams of all time ‘The All Blacks’, created a way in which each player found their own trigger that worked for them. “One player stamps his feet into the grass, to ground himself. Another uses mental imagery, picturing himself from the highest seat in the stadium, to help put the moment in perspective. Whatever  tool you use doesn’t matter — what matters is realizing you’re in the wrong emotional zone, and finding ways to cool yourself off and get back in a high-performing head space”. (Coyle, 2014)

    3. Find your inner arrogance:

Brian Levenson in his book “Shift your Mind” says: “When the lights are on, choose arrogance, but when the arena empties, bring back the humility. The key is to learn when and how to shift from one to the other.” You might wonder why Levenson is using ‘arrogance’ instead of ‘confidence’. You can be confident and arrogant, and also confident & humble, but ‘to perform well, you may not need to believe that you’re the greatest of all time, but you do need an unwavering, even exaggerated belief that you are the absolute best person for the job in the moment’.  

“Believing in yourself more than depending on others to believe in you is essential, even if that belief is exaggerated. You can’t build that genuine belief within yourself, however, if you aren’t humble enough the rest of the time to tackle your weaknesses, stay coachable, and continue to improve.”

Levenson, 2020

How Coaches Can Help Players Play with More Confidence

  1. Sport Psychologist Dan Abraham says “So how do you, the soccer coach, do this? You do it by using the words confident and confidence time and again as the drills you set down are played out before you ‘Show me confidence – I want to see confident passes – drill it into your mate’s feet.’”
  2. A player who has lost self-belief may need an injection of fun into their game. You can use this to break the seriousness of a match and remind players that having fun is what the game is all about.
  3. Scaling: Ask the player this: “On a scale of 0-10 with zero being no self-belief and 10 being full of self-belief, where are you now?” Given that the player has reported a loss of belief it’s likely they’ll say a pretty low number. Perhaps they might report back 4 out of 10. Now is your chance to re-frame their mindset. Instead of feedback such as “Well 4 is pretty low” I suggest you respond by being positive and enthused at such a high number: “4? Really? That’s great. Why as high as 4? What have you done to get it this high? What’s been going well enough to edge your mark up to 4 instead of 1 or 2?” (Abrahams, 2010) 

In conclusion, learn to talk to yourself more than you listen to yourself. There may be part of you that will automatically tell you that ‘you’re not good enough’, change that story, talk back and ask yourself ‘am I a victim? or am I a fighter?’

Don’t let doubt get in your way. You’ve been chosen to be in the game, so believe in yourself. 

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Author: coachphilp

Masters Degree in Fútbol with Real Madrid Universidad Europea (Voted #1 Football Masters Degree in the World) 16 years coaching over 3 nations. “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have laboured hard for.” - Socrates

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