It’s no secret that being confident helps you in competition. I remember a basketball coach I played for when I was younger saying during a time out: “We need to pull it together. Confidence! Get our confidence back”
Helpful (although obvious) words from the coach... but how do we actually do this? If there was a magic pill an athlete could take to have their highest level of confidence it would be used more than any other performance enhancing substance. While my C in college chemistry is not going to help me make that pill for you anytime soon, hopefully this blog can help you tap into your highest level of confidence more often.
Whether you are a fan of Russ or not. It’s hard to deny how confident and mentally tough the man is. Beyond his already impressive resume, the countless clutch performances and his Super Bowl ring, his mentality is on display every time he steps on the field. This is especially true in response to what was one of the biggest mistakes in NFL history.
Wilson’s confidence is what helps make Russell Wilson….well… Russell Wilson.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Focusing on Strengths
Confidence is more than just positive thinking. A lot of coaches will tell you to “think positively” or “be optimistic”, and while positive thinking can be helpful in combating negative (or other performance hindering) thoughts...it’s not always the best mental approach to take. This is because positive thinking is not always authentic. After all, if I tell myself for the next 10 years of my life “I’m going to the NBA”...it’s probably still not going to happen….probably….
More important than just thinking positive thoughts is not thinking negative thoughts...which is easiest through fact based thinking. A focus on what you do well, what is important in the moment, what separates you from your competition and the evidence for these factors.
When you look at Wilson, the first thing that you notice is that he’s 5’ 10. I'm willing to bet that when you picture an NFL quarterback you don’t think of someone the same height as the math teacher you had in high school. Oftentimes in sport, athletes think they have to be highly critical to accomplish anything great. It’s easy to think “If I was 6’1 I would be more confident. If I went to a bigger school I would be more confident. If I had more money and could have played for better travel teams growing up I would have a better career”.
While many of these factors are undoubtedly important. These are all aspects that are outside of your control. Do you think Russell Wilson was focused on being 5’10 as a young athlete? Do you think he thinks about what he doesn't have when he’s out on the field? Do you think the Malcom Butler interception is in the forefront of his mind when he’s in the Red Zone? I would guess not.
My guess is that his internal conversation is more along the lines of “This is the situation right now... You have one of the best WR’s in the league on the outside. They have a linebacker who can’t keep up with you if you need to scramble. We typically run X play really well against the defensive formation they are showing, let’s change the play”.
Negativity always works when it comes to hindering your performance. Do the hard thing. Focus on the fact based strengths.
Staying Present - Focused on The Moment
This internal dialog above is much different from the negativity many of us give in to. Why? It’s strength based, factual, and (perhaps more importantly) it's focused on the present situation.
The only moment we have control over is the moment we are in now. While it can be hard to move past mistakes, difficult life events, and negative outcomes, it is one of the strongest and most important mental muscles you can train as an athlete. But it's hard. We’re wired as human beings to do the opposite. In psychology, we call this the negativity bias.
From an evolutionary standpoint it was important for us to notice "what was wrong" in our environment or what did not go well. This way, our ancestors didn’t miss the jungle cat creeping up behind us ready to pounce. While we as a society have advanced past these dangers and live in a much safer world, this aspect of our nervous system has lasted through time. With proper training and effort we can learn to better understand this bias, and help ourselves to return our focus to what we can control in the moment.
Responding to Adversity and “Staying Neutral” Emotionally
It’s universal. We all have things that go really well in our lives and we all have things that go terribly wrong. This is true for everyone. What differs is how you respond to each scenario. In a video Russ made for TED (above) he describes the importance of “staying in neutral” which he has trained his mind to do with Mental Conditioning expert Trevor Moawad, and about how he is human just like the rest of us:
“We have emotions, we have real life situations, we have things to deal with…. but what you have to be able to do is to stay focused on the moment and not be super emotional. It’s okay to have emotions but don't be emotional”. - Russell Wilson
Russ’s ability to keep his emotions in check and focused on what is important in the moment gives him an advantage every time he steps on the field with someone who is unable to do so. As the quarterback of his team he knows that his attitude is contagious to each man who lines up on the field with him.
Pro Tip: Take the time to learn more about yourself. As a person. As a human. As an athlete. What brings out your emotions? What are your triggers? What skills can you use to get yourself back into neutral? Learning from Russ is a great first step.