This is one of the most common questions I get asked by athletes and performers when they first come to me. For some it’s just a question amongst many others. But for others it’s almost a plea for a magic solution. We psychologists often feel like clients believe we have a magic wand hidden somewhere. But sadly, we don’t, it comes down to hard work and understanding the situations involved and the athlete’s perceptions.

There are definitely gains to be made through visualisation techniques and positive self-talk. Even the old “fake it till you make it” has some value in trying to settle our doubts (the nemesis of confidence) in a moment. During these moments employing some relaxation techniques and adhering to a set routine also provide comfort and calmness that regularly lead to improved performance.

But the reality of confidence is that it is earned and developed over time.

I love the adage of: “Train hard, play easy”.

Bradman grew up hitting a golf ball against a corrugated iron tank with a stump – train hard play easy. Tiger Woods has the same putting drill every time, from 5ft with two golf tees each end of his putter head – train hard play easy. Confidence isn’t feeling you’re going to do something well, or even worse hoping. It is knowing you will do it well because you’ve done it before and regularly. Then even better if you know it’s been harder in training.

We all know the feeling of going into a familiar situation knowing that we have the skills to perform the task in front of us and have a long history of doing it very well and successfully in training previously.

So the best way to build confidence is by doing so, one piece at a time. One activity, one shot, one scenario at a time in training. Then repeat it over and over till it becomes easier and automatic. Increase the difficulty if you can (we all remember the scene in the movie Dodgeball – “if you can dodge a wrench..”) to the point where when you’re needing to do an action in your sport it’s actually easier in the game. Then, relax and let your training take over. Good luck never hurts, but good preparation is better.

This blog is written by Sports Psychologist, James Kneller.