Road to #London2012: Preparation Breeds Confidence

Preparation Breeds Confidence: Lessons from Canada’s Men’s Eight Crew

by: Russell Hunter

The energy in the Olympic village is amazing right now. In less than 24 hours the opening ceremonies will begin, and the potential of each athlete will be put to the test.
For many, the waiting can be excruciating. Inner conversations with themselves occur as athlete’s size up their competition, meet with members of the media, and explore their event venues. How each athlete deals with the content of those inner conversations and doubts will impact their self-confidence positively or negatively. For some, success in their event is determined by what they tell themselves in the next 24 hours to set themselves up for success.
Self-confidence, not to be confused with self-worth, is how strongly you believe in our ability to execute a skill or perform a task. Did you catch that? How strongly YOU believe in your ability. Many people allow the perceptions of others to inhibit and tear down their self-confidence. Confidence is derived from a baseline of past performances, practice and preparation. Today I want to focus on the preparation element.
Canada’s men’s eight rowing crew is a great example of systemic preparation. Together they make up the big guns of the Canadian Olympic rowing roster in a sport steeped in Canadian Olympic pride and history. This short video shares a piece of what it toke to prepare them for the opportunity to defend the Olympic gold medal they won in Beijing:

Preparation for world class performance requires a systems perspective. There are many interconnected elements that need to be managed and built to create the ideal level of confidence in an athlete on race day. I call this your performance metabolism™. Briefly, this includes:

1. Core Mindset

This consists of the psychological needs, beliefs, and values of the individual and team. Although this can be the most challenging aspect of athlete development, it is the driver of motivation. The Canadian women’s soccer team’s opening loss to Japan in the preliminary round of the Games yesterday was disappointing, but their belief in what they are capable of was not shaken. This confidence is grounded in the individual beliefs of the players and shared values they exhibit as a team.

2. Capacity

Our physical, mental and emotional capacity varies from moment to moment, day to day. I

t determines how well we are able to execute any of the skills and competencies we’ve learned. As mentioned in the previous post, if a gymnast is running low on mental willpower (their ability to self-regulate and focus), their ability to perform a difficult sequence on a balance beam is compromised. Having the skills alone is not enough. You have to be able to execute them, often in pressure filled context. This is a capacity challenge to prepare for.

3. Competency

Every sport, or role at work for that matter, has specific skills, tactics, and technologies to master. The seemingly effortless grace of a synchronized swimming team required years of monotonous practice to provide that illusion. Eventually this results in a largely non-conscious ability to execute a complex set of muscle movements. But there is still another key element…
The environment(s) we need to perform in, the people we surround ourselves with, and the structures we put in place lead to high performance. Different contexts require different preparation. Knowing what you have control over, what you influence, and what you don’t control can provide a huge advantage over your competition. A great example of this occurred at the national swim trails where one athlete was able to find out who the starter would be for his race. After reviewing footage of other races that official had started he saw a pattern. They had a short period between their “ready” command and the starter tone. With this in mind he was able to prime his reaction time, and anticipate the start, without false starting. In a race where the difference between qualifying and not qualifying can be hundreds of a second, this kind of preparation is invaluable.
In a few short days the men’s eight crew consisting of coxswain Brian Price, Andrew Byrnes, Malcolm Howard, Gabe Bergen, Jeremiah Brown, Will Crothers, Douglas Csima, Robert Gibson, and Conlin McCabe will face their moment of truth. Were they serious about performance? Confidence comes from preparation.
How about you? Are you serious about performance? If you are, especially in dynamic environments, all four of these elements need to be built and maintained over the course of months and years. What aspects of your work are pivotal to your success? What times of the year is it important for you to be at your best? Who do you want to get your best energy?
Whatever it is for you, preparation is vital to ensure you are confident. How could you use a more systemic approach to preparation based on any of the four elements outlines in this post? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
See you at the opening ceremonies!