When it comes to confidence, sometimes you just have to fake it, says Steve Trew


Sometimes we forget just how nerve-wracking it can be to enter and then race your first triathlon. Everyone around you seems to know everyone else, everyone seems happy.

In particular, everyone seems to have amazing self-confidence. But things aren’t always what they seem. How many entrants really feel that confident? Or are they, like so many athletes, just faking it?

When you move into any new activity, whether it’s a sport or a job, the feeling of being under-qualified, be it in fitness or academic qualifi cations, leads to a feeling of uncertainty, of not quite being up to the task, or that somebody else should really be doing what you’re doing.

This is known as impostor syndrome, a hidden form of low self-confidence where you feel like your abilities have been overestimated by others, and that you will be found out as being not as good an athlete
as you seem.

This impostor syndrome explains the feelings of anxiety, lack of self-confidence, depression, frustration, and importantly not performing to the best of your abilities at big events. Many athletes have these feelings, but don’t have a method for dealing with them.

It’s such a relief when we find out that successful athletes also have these feelings too. The difference is how these successful athletes overcome their feelings of doubt. With experience, successful athletes have learnt to edit out and ignore these negative messages.

Inside they may still feel like impostors, but they have created a strategy to overcome these feelings. Their trick is to carry on in spite of these feelings – not wait for them to go away.

The realisation that other athletes feel like this is great. There is nothing wrong with pretending to be more at ease in a situation than you really are. In a funny way, your mind can’t quite tell the difference. Importantly nor can your race rivals.

Increased self-confidence leads to better performance in both training and racing. A lack of self-confi dence is one of the biggest reasons why athletes fail to go on to the next level.

So how do we go about starting to create that self-confidence, to overcome the impostor syndrome and break down the advantages of other athletes that you’ve built up in your mind?

There are lots of ways, and although some might seem a bit far-fetched, they work. Try thinking about the fact that every athlete on the start line used to have their nappy changed by their mum and dad, think that each has had at least one pathetic performance and that each of them has had one of those races where everything has gone wrong.

Another tactic is to ask yourself what is the worst thing that can happen. It’s not the end of the world if you drop out on the swim, crash or puncture on the bike, tie up completely and have to walk on the run. Say to yourself: “I will still survive.

Nothing will have changed in me.” Another trick is to compare like with like. Don’t compare how you feel with how a fit and tanned, mean and lean athlete wearing the newest and latest race clothing looks.

What you are doing is comparing your inside feelings with their outside appearance. You are making the assumption that because someone looks good, they are good. What these athletes are good at is promoting a positive image and there is no reason why you shouldn’t do the same.

Slow down your speech, use a lower tone of voice, make eye contact and breathe deeply and slowly. The message you are sending both to yourself and others is that you are in control.

Maintain a good posture, stand tall and walk tall. If you look good, you’ll feel good. Don’t worry what other people think of you. It’s not your job to make everyone happy.

Somebody will always think that you’re doing it wrong, so make sure you do what you think is best for you. Most of all, avoid self-criticism and focus on a positive mental attitude.

The strongest and most important muscle is the mind.

Steve Trew – Coach and Commentator

Steve is wondering if he’s faked this article okay or has some imposter syndromed into it?

Steve is an advisory coach for Speedo, he can be contacted for all things triathlon on trew@personalbest.demon.co.uk