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Blog for Athletes and High Performers

Overcoming Self-Doubt in Sports: 3 Common Mistakes Athletes Make and How to Beat Them

Perspective from a Mental Performance Coach and Former Professional Athlete

Discover how to overcome self-doubt and improve your mental performance with our guide on the 3 common mistakes athletes make. Learn practical strategies for embracing your value beyond numbers, focusing on your unique process, and fostering a powerful mind-body connection for holistic success in sports. Perfect for athletes and coaches seeking to enhance performance and confidence

overcoming self-doubt in sports

1. Overvaluing Numbers: Know You Are Enough

The Post-Competition Reflection: You come home feeling somewhat satisfied with your day's performance, only to have that contentment eroded by a glance at the stats. Numbers flash before you, each seemingly underscoring a shortfall. "Was I really that off my game?" you wonder as disappointment creeps in, coloring your perception of the day.

This moment of doubt can overshadow the effort and progress you've made, turning what should be a moment of reflection into one of self-reproach.

The Weigh-In Day Dilemma: It’s the day of the dreaded weigh-in. In anticipation, you've perhaps skipped breakfast or cut back on hydration, all in the hopes of seeing a certain number. Yet, when the scale doesn't reflect your expectations, that initial disappointment can spiral into a deeper, more destructive self-criticism. "How can I let myself get to this point?"

​This line of thinking can lead to a harmful cycle of shame and self-doubt, undermining your confidence and self-esteem.

Contract Negotiations and Self-Worth: Then comes the moment you receive an offer for the next season. Instead of feeling valued, you find yourself comparing your offer to those of your peers, feeling undervalued and unappreciated. "This can't be right. I've put in more than this reflects."

​It's a situation that can leave you questioning your worth, not just as an athlete but as a person.

​What ties these experiences together? Numbers.

In each story, numbers become the yardstick by which success and self-worth are measured, often leaving a trail of doubt and diminished self-esteem. So, it's crucial to remember:

​Learning from numbers is different than trying to find proof from the stats that you are “good enough”.

2. The Comparison Conundrum: Know Your Process

Jealousy and envy can sneak up on you, especially when teammates or rivals seem to be getting all the praise. It's natural to wonder, "What are they doing that I'm not?" This mindset, however, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and diminish your own achievements.

Embrace Your Unique Journey: Remember, there will always be someone with more accolades, a better contract, or more natural talent. But that doesn't detract from your abilities or your potential. Your sports journey is uniquely yours - it's about self-improvement, not outshining everyone else.

Celebrate Others' Successes: Instead of viewing others' achievements as a benchmark for your own worth, see them as inspiration. If they can achieve greatness, so can you. Focus on your training, your growth, and your process. That's where true fulfillment is hiding.

​And when you do that, you will also succeed more than using your energy worrying about other people. Run your own race and you'll see how many people you will start beating in every round around the track because they are focused on staring at others instead of focus on their own run and what helps them personally to pick up the pace sustainably.

3. Misusing Your Body: Find the Mind-Body Connection

You treat your body as something that does things for you. It is your tool to access success or things you desire. So you train. You train a lot. You push through. You want to get better and it does not come easy.

Maybe your body tries to tell you that it is hurt. But you have learned to quiet down the noise. You are stronger than this. You want to succeed, so you keep going. Your body aches but you feel like that is just how it is supposed to be.

Or... Maybe you see your body as something that needs to be trained because you don’t simply like or value how it looks. Maybe sports and training are something you use when you want to almost punish yourself because what you ate previously.

Maybe training is your way trying to make you like yourself more. “If only my body would be like hers, I would be happier and more successful”. Maybe you think that if you would have or achieve that body, you could be proud of yourself and you would like yourself more.

Your body is your working tool in sports, that is true. But it does not work without your brain. It does not work nearly as good as it could if it would be connected with your mind.

Your brain is tuned to listen to your body, that is the skill we are born with. Then we learn somewhere on the way to switch it off especially if our thoughts are linked to the negative aspects of the body and we want to disconnect from it, thinking that is the solution to feel better. You start treating your body as a means to an end. As if it is something separate.

But the thing is… It should be other way round.

The more you want to succeed and get better, the better it will be if you can combine your mind with your body and utilize the whole synergy like it was created for.

Imagine the difference in your performance if you can connect and trust instead of fight and force.

​That’s where the next level will wait for you.

Moving Forward: Embracing Your True Worth

The journey to recognizing your worth beyond numbers, comparisons, and physical capabilities is both challenging AND rewarding. It's about understanding that self-doubt, while common, doesn't have to define your experience as an athlete.

By focusing on your values, embracing your unique path, and fostering a healthy mind-body connection, you can transcend these common pitfalls.

I know that once we take a look at what hurts us and solve that even partially, the power we can release inside is the thing that takes us further in a more sustainable way. The number game, self-blame, self-doubt – those things are not sustainable in the long run. I can guarantee that, they will wear anyone out eventually.

The search for approval should be directed towards ourselves more than others. No amount of approval from others is enough if you haven’t found and realized your own value, your own approval.

So getting lost in this competitive jungle is so understandable but in order to thrive in the jungle again, we need to find the tools that help us. We want to find the path that takes us where we want to go. Other people might be able to give us a map. Which might work.

But the map needs to fit you.
If it doesn’t, we need to be brave enough to make our own path.

You need to see that map taking you somewhere valuable in a way that is aligned with you.

If you're looking to delve deeper into your mental and emotional strengths and how they can enhance your athletic performance, I invite you to reach out. Together, we can explore strategies and practices that align with your goals and values, paving the way for a fulfilling AND successful athletic career.

Thank you for reading, and remember, your worth as an individual and athlete is not defined by external measures. Your strength, dedication, and passion etc. you bring to your sport is more what you will be remembered of.

​With warmth and encouragement,

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Saana Koljonen

​​P.S. Join my email community for more insights and stories from the world of high-performance. Click [here] to subscribe and let's connect our journeys of personal growth and professional excellence!

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Hi, I Am Saana Koljonen

CEO Of Authentic Excellence LLC

As a mental performance coach/consultant and a certified breathwork facilitator, I specialize in helping athletes and high performers overcome mental barriers and achieve greater success with better speed, joy and confidence.

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