A Question of Confidence

'I just need more Confidence'

This is probably one of the most common statements I've had from racers when we've explored what they think they need to improve their performance. But what does it mean?

We all have a sense of what it is like to have confidence in some area of our lives, and sometimes this is total confidence in the bike. Strangely enough though, confidence in one area of our lives doesn't necessarily translate to others. We don't have a magical confidence dust that spreads its joy throughout our entire lives. Shame.

Confidence as defined by Sport Psychology is basically a belief in one's ability to do something, which sounds pretty good. Surely if I believe in my ability to race my bike, or win, that's a good thing, right? That means I'm going to be confident and thus more likely to make it happen. This is quite a common way of thinking which is reflected in the wider definition where confidence means being sure about the correctness of a prediction or a decision and outcome of action.

Personally, I've always struggled with the concept - I actually don't really understand it from a practical perspective. Confidence and how it really helps, that is. Why?

If you have read Into the Unknown, you will already be familiar with the fact that we cannot predict the outcome of a race. Having confidence in this prediction then seems to be a bit of a waste of time. In fact, there are now many studies that show how terrible we are at predicting future events and even when we study historical outcomes and have confidence in the prediction, it makes no difference to the reality. What we actually do is tell ourselves that it is a good idea to be confident despite evidence to the contrary.

Next is the fact that confidence is based upon belief. This puts it on some very shaky ground. You only have to watch X Factor to know how wildly unreal some people's beliefs can be. I can also tell you that I have come across trackday riders who have more confidence in their riding ability than some MotoGP riders. I have also held conversations with club racers who, when we have talked about certain elements of riding, have simply replied that they're confident they're already doing it. I'm of the view that the last thing you want to do when you're doing something dangerous is try and convince yourself of some unverified belief.

I'll illustrate a little more. It was during one week where I had conversations with two different riders, both of whom said to me they needed more confidence. With both of them I asked if we could explore the notion a little bit further. With number 1, the concept of confidence came down to feel for the bike. With No.2 there was a little more to it. We'd been doing some work and he'd improved his results. He'd hit a barrier to getting into the top 10 which was quite curious. When we scratched the surface it turned out that he didn't feel like he belonged in the top 10 so he pretty much backed off when he got close. He couldn't allow himself into this group of riders.

With No.1 it is less complex. Confidence depends upon feel for the bike, which is not down to belief, and it is fairly straightforward to deal with.

With No. 2 it is more complex. It wasn't that he didn't believe that he was good enough to make the top 10, he could do that. It was an intricate social situation where he was essentially contained. This is an example of where wider enironmental situations can influence performance and results, which ultimately isn't about confidence either.

So when you get to the point you feel you need more confidence, it's time to look a little bit further. Perhaps by starting to ask yourself what confidence actually means to you.

(Image credit:Marco Simoncelli and Jorge Lorenzo Silverston GP 2011 by ALTOWN licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)