The first two Bouldering World Cups of the season have taken place and it's just a few days until the next one kicks off in China. So while I've been passionately watching the live streams throughout the competition series, I've taken the time to collect quotes from commentators, climbers and trainers. Quotes that somehow emphasized why mental strength mattered. Originally, I was just interested to see whether mental strength or training was even mentioned once or twice, or instead whether it was still considered as something too personal, not for the public to be shared with. However, it turned out that both climbers, commentators and coaches were mentioning mental strength  (some even several times) - and that was the point I started collecting these quotes to share with you. This time I'll focus on a statement about self-confidence by Sean McColl when he was commentating finals in Kazo, second Bouldering World Cup 2016:

"Shauna Coxsey is confident in every boulder, and in World Cups confidence really is the key. Sometimes you see it when a newcomer comes in the World Cup Series - they know they're strong and they make a couple of finals and they do really well. After that, maybe mid season or next season, they're almost expected to do well, and they know they can. There's a little bit of pressure - maybe from others, maybe from them and it makes everything harder. Every World Cup climber I have ever seen, goes through it. I went through it. They go in the final, the go on the podium, maybe they win - and then they struggle. It's generally the best of the best that can win multiple World Cups, multiple podiums and keep going."

Sean has a point here. In the late 70s, science had already shown us that athletes who are convinced of their abilities have a significant higher chance to recall them in competitions than athletes who have doubts.

I can almost guarantee that most trainers have been confronted with this phenomenon at least once in their career, when one of their athletes couldn't realize their training performance in competitions. Reasons can be very different. Instead of dismissing these athletes as "training champions" it would be smart for both trainer and athletes to work on a "healthy" self-confidence and realistic self-assessment which consequently leads to more stability in their competition performance.

Little self-confidence commonly leads to irrational fear, insecurity and the feeling of inferiority. The reasons for the lack of self-confidence can be diverse. Often, very early childhood experiences have manifested insecurities. Messages from parents (or trainers!), such as "don't do this, you won't be able to do this anyway!", "that's obviously your weakness" or "what will you become one day?", influence us and our personality. Moreover, single experiences like failing in certain situations or being left by an important person can lead to poor self-confidence. In many cases, being insecure about our self-esteem and not accepting ourselves plays a big role, too.

On the other hand, one can also have too much self-confidence. Athletes who overrate their performance tend to react aggressively to criticism which doesn't do them any good. Typical accompanying symptoms are arrogance, pride, contempt of others' performance or blaming others for one's own failure. Luckily, I must say that I have hardly ever met any climber with these attributes... (By the way, also trainers can be too convinced of themselves. You might know the one or the other yourself - those who react upset or even aggressively to criticism, don't want to be told anything against their beliefs... I guess the truth is no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. It's a skill though to learn to accept feedback and transform it into a better behaviour). 

Reaching the right amount of self-confidence is closely related to having a good self-image or self-concept. This includes how we see ourselves and rate ourselves in comparison to others, which goals we pursue and which values are important to us. We know what matters plus why and how we fail or succeed. One step to a better self-confidence is to question our self-image, to get to know ourselves better. Very often, this self-image is very much distorted. We see ourselves e.g. as heavier, weaker, clumsier, etc. than we actually are. But every one of us has so many upsides - abilities, traits, states, behaviours that make us precious and unique.

Here are some tips that might help you gain a better self-image and subsequently, a higher self-confidence:

  • We focus on our weaknesses and failures way too much. So instead, focus on what you did well - at training, in competitions, etc.! Write down your 5 best shots after every training and competition!
  • Start making prognosis of upcoming competitions and trainings. What will you be able to achieve and why? The better you will be able to assess your performance the better your self-image will get - and therefore also your self-confidence as you will know what to expect of yourself.
  • Test yourself in realistic "trial-competitions". 

Note that self-diagnostics has its limits as everyone of us has their blind spot. If you find that this is a really big weakness of yours and you don't improve, professional help might be recommended. 

madeleine eppensteiner