Last week I was talking to a coaching friend of mine about training and life. In the middle of our conversation about training for the throws, this coach asked me if I thought you could fake confidence. An interesting question that I had never been asked before. I had a take a brief pause in our conversation to think about my response.
To provide some context of our conversation, we were discussing training leading up to an upcoming competition. Coach confided in me that training had not been going well the past month and was concerned about the upcoming competition. This coach has competed at some of the most prominent track & field meets in the country, both as a collegiate thrower and post-collegiate thrower. They are no stranger to competing at the highest level, yet in this particular instance they felt some hesitation and concern about their upcoming meet.
My response to the question was this:
Our thoughts control our emotions. Our emotions then in turn have an effect on our physical response(s) to the situation we are placed in. That physical response, good or bad, will ultimately have an effect on our performance.
Let’s use a throwing example to explain my response.
In our example, a thrower is qualified for the Division III Atlantic Regional Championships. This track meet is this thrower’s last chance to move up the Division III throwing list and earn themselves a spot at DIII Indoor Nationals the following weekend. The week leading up to this meet has been very stressful on the athlete. They continue to think about all the negative outcomes that have occurred throughout the course of the season. They have had lack luster practices leading up to the competition and feel distraught, lost, and afraid that they will perform poorly at this last chance meet.
This thrower’s thoughts are negative and focused on outcomes and situations from the past. Those thoughts, in turn, have caused this thrower to feel anxious, concerned, and self-conscious about how poorly they have been throwing. These emotions cause us to have physical responses. We may hang our head, slouch our shoulders, and have a look of concern and fear written across their face. With all this going on, when this thrower’s name is called for their first throw of the competition, one would expect it (the throw) to go terribly bad. Maybe the thrower will foul. Their mind may be racing with thoughts of hopelessness, fear, anxiety, concern, etc. You get the idea, but I would expect a pretty poor outcome from this series of conscious thought.
Webster’s dictionary defines confidence as a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances. In this situation, our thrower probably isn’t feeling very confident in their power to throw well. Can this confidence be faked?
I don’t believe confidence can be faked. If the thrower has consistent negative thoughts going through their minds, it will be difficult to fake the physical appearance of having confidence. Remember, our thoughts control our emotions. Our emotions then have an effect on how one would physically respond. Think about a time when you were concerned or felt anxious about an upcoming performance. Were you able to trick yourself into faking confidence? Think of it like this.
Let’s say we are scheduled to take the SAT. In one scenario, person A buys all the study materials possible, hires a tutor, and preps 3 months for this test. They perform well on the practice tests and feel good about their ability to perform well on this test. Person B on the other hand doesn’t buy any materials, doesn’t study, and walks into the test without having prepared at all. Let’s say both person A and B both have a 95gpa and take a course load of all AP classes in high school. They have a similar background, and for the sake of argument are equally gifted when it comes to academics. I would venture to guess that Person A probably feels more confident in their ability to score well on the test because they prepared. Person B may not feel as confident. They may be thinking to themselves that they should have studied and better prepared for the SAT. Now they are walking into the text with negative thoughts, which in turn may cause them to have a negative physical response. They may second guess themselves throughout the test because they didn’t study or prepare. Person A feels good about themselves. They feel as though they prepared as best they could, performed well on the practice SAT tests, and feel confident they will perform well when it matters most. Who do you think might score better, person A or person B?
These may sound like far-fetched examples, but if you think about it, you may have been in a situation like this at one time or another in your life. You knew you had a big test to take, or had an important presentation to make in front of your boss and colleagues. If you prepared for that moment, you probably felt good about walking into that situation and the potential positive outcome that could be the result of your preparation. However, if you did not prepare and tried to wing it, you may not perform as well if you didn’t prepare for potential questions you may be asked, or if the technology you were using didn’t work, etc. I think you get the idea.
In these three different examples I presented, it seems as though it may be difficult to fake your confidence. I guess it might be like registering for a powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting competition. You register 16 weeks out from the competition. If you don’t train for the meet, you probably won’t feel confident in your ability to perform well. Now if you train 4-7 days a week and prepare the best you are physically able to, you will probably feel more confident walking into that meet knowing that you have trained, taken care of your body, and ensured that you did everything you possibly could have to prepare for the competition. Faking confidence without training and walking into that meet with a sense of confidence can lead to a multitude of more negative outcomes than positive ones.
If you are still reading, I have a question for you—do YOU think someone can fake confidence and still perform at a relatively high level (however you define that level)? Sure, you might be able to hit a squat, bench, and deadlift at the powerlifting meet, but you probably won’t be able to hit personal best lifts without training for 16 weeks. Sure you may feel confident, but what might that fake confidence cost you in the long run?
Dr. Charles Infurna
Charles Infurna, Ed.D., is the owner and lead coach of Forza Athletics Track Club. Dr. Infurna has coached National Record Holders, National Champions, All-Americans, and Conference Champions at the Post-Collegiate, Collegiate, and High School level.