How do I handle self doubt as a sportsperson?

Most people before writing an exam or before performing on stage or if they have to compete in an important sporting event are tormented by ‘mental demons ‘.

Such as fear, angst, nervousness and self doubt .Before the actual performance even if there is an iota of self doubt somewhere in the corner of the mind, then it acts as a thorn in the path of success.

In sports most mistakes happen perhaps due to self doubt, in other words, the opposition to self confidence.

Self doubt is an indecisive state of mind. It is quite acceptable that we may all experience some amount of self doubt before an event, but the success of our efforts depend on how well we overcome our self doubt.

If someone passes a negative comment about us we express denial, but we accept the inner voice of self doubt innocently and submissively.

Usually players who are bothered by self doubt lose their focus, intrinsic motivation and confidence, resulting in unsatisfactory performance. As   a result of all this the player indulges in self pity and blame .The ensuing condition deteriorates further.

Coaches and well wishers advice the player to work hard and, increase effort .Even though it is a wise suggestion trying harder will always be a conscious effort and we are always with the conscious mind. This leads to mental stress.

So the important thing is to know the root cause of self doubt and take action by increasing self awareness. By doing so, instead of being self conscious one can take  the awareness to the all powerful subconscious level.

The action plan for increasing self awareness

  1. Tune into your feelings and emotions on a daily basis.
  2. Ask yourself ‘’where am I? What am I doing? How am I feeling?
  3. Pay attention to the negative feelings and emotions like defensiveness and insecurity.
  4. Trace any hurt to its source.
  5. Identify your emotional needs.
  6. Express real feelings openly and honestly. For the sake of confidentiality you may do so before a sports counsellor.

How to deal with self doubt before and during a tournament

  1. When the inner voice of self doubt is heard it must be replaced with positive self talk.
  2. When there is self doubt over execution of a skill or technique one should imagine carrying out an easy and confident skill successfully. This can fool the conscious mind to clear the self doubt.
  3. When there is self doubt the muscles of the body over tightens unawares resulting in flaws .It is then important to use relaxation techniques. Humming your favorite tune or song can help relieve muscular tightness.

Many years ago during my playing days I was representing my club in the KSCA division league match. It was a top team and I had my own self doubts. As I went in to bat I could hear songs from a loud speaker coming from a festive celebration taking place nearby. I started to hum to the tune of my favorite songs .There was a relaxed feeling in the muscles, I went in to full flow and before long I had a quick fire 80 odd runs on the board.

Recently, a promising talented 1st div cricketer was referred to me.

After I sat in conversation, he told me ‘’sir! I have lost my confidence and all the hope of becoming a top cricketer. I am a big failure.’’

I helped him vent out and share his experiences. I found out that he had a lot of self doubt and used to get excited quickly. As result he was losing his focus. I helped him become more self aware and taught him a few relaxation exercises. He is now a consistent batsman.

The French open 2011 tournament, saw 114 seed Arantxa Rus of Netherlands upset 2nd seed Kim Clijsters  of Belgium. After the match Kim Clijsters said during the press conference that she had her own self doubt about winning as a result lost her confidence and ultimately the match.


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About Viswanath M N

M.N Viswanath, is a sports psychology coach and counsellor. He has a Diploma in Counselling Skills, and is a certified ‘sport psychology coach.’ A former division 1 club level cricketer and father of a national level table tennis player, he feels that every aspiring sportsman needs a mind coach to achieve excellence. With his background experience, he shares that most sportspeople have psychological issues and need emotional counselling from time to time, and the best person to do this is a sports counsellor. He regularly writes columns in news papers on different aspects of ‘sport psychology’.