The Insecure Paddler’s Guide to Confidence

Let’s talk about confidence. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and so I decided to look into the relationship between confidence and performance. Why? Because I am frequently doubting my own abilities and I am always intrigued by other paddlers I see who seem to be incredibly confident. I really began to wonder not only how this affected my abilities, but also how I could get some of that self-assuredness.

I truly hesitated publishing this post. In fact, I’ve been stewing on it for over a month. Examining this side of myself meant being brutally honest about my shortcomings, and who really wants to do that? But because this has been on my mind so much, I figured it was time to face my fears and dive right in. So, here goes.

confidence in dragon boating

Photo: Jeff Holubeshen

My Own Personal Struggles With Confidence

When I was younger, I suffered from a serious lack of confidence in sports. I played baseball most of my life and I didn’t deal well with the pressure of a game. I was fine in the more casual setting of a practice, but the minute we were in a game and I was up to bat, I often got so nervous that I couldn’t execute what I had been trained to do. I was always worse in the extreme pressure situations: 2 outs, runners on second and third, we’re down by one run and it’s the last inning. I would inevitably strike out. Or fly out. I couldn’t handle the pressure. Why? Because I had serious self-doubts. It didn’t matter that I could hit amazingly accurate long line drives during practice. But somehow, stepping up to the plate with all eyes on me, knowing that I held the fate of the team in my hands…well, I couldn’t handle it.

The same thing happened in my brief stint at gymnastics. While I loved flipping around the bars and on the mat, I couldn’t execute the skills necessary during testing to progress to the next level in gymnastics and so I was stuck in a class with younger kids, all because of my extreme self-doubt.

confidence in dragon boating

Photo: Jeff Holubeshen

How Confidence Levels Can Affect Performance

So can it ever be productive to be under-confident? In terms of athletics, apparently it can be, but only in SMALL doses. Being under-confident or having small self-doubts often makes a person work harder. And working harder in one’s athletic training isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Of course there is a fine line between working harder and experiencing what one teammate said to me was “paralysis by analysis” – overanalyzing everything to the point of being completely unproductive. That’s what I do to myself all too often. My obsession with the areas I struggle in has caused me a lot of frustration. And, as I can attest to, when we are not confident our anxiety often interferes with our ability to perform.

On the other end of the spectrum, an excessive level of confidence can actually be detrimental to one’s progress. If a paddler believes that they are fabulous, incredible, or amazing at what they do, they aren’t as likely to work hard to make improvements. Instead, they are content to remain as they are, believing that they already have the necessary skills. Quite often these are the highly uncoachable paddlers. (Read more about what makes a coachable paddler here).

The funny thing about confidence is that it seems to be more innate than achieved. I can attest to that. No matter how hard I train, I don’t seem to be increasing my confidence level. No matter what I see in terms of my own development or progress, I still focus on the areas where I am lacking. In fact, I often obsess over them.

I feel like I have become highly skilled at being skeptical about my abilities. Why not put those efforts towards my training and focus on the gains I’ve made? Much like the muscle memory of my outside shoulder being all wonky and having to retrain it, I realized that I needed to retrain my self-talk.

confidence in dragon boating

Photo: Jeff Holubeshen

So how do we find the balance we need to be confident enough to not let our self-doubts impede our progress, yet be humble enough to work harder to further develop our talents? Good question.

Trust in Your Training

Most of us have doubts about our abilities. It’s normal. In dragon boating, the key is trusting in your training. Have you done everything you can do to get better? Have you done the gym workouts, and attended most, if not all, of the practices? And when you are at the gym, are you really focusing on getting stronger and beating your own personal bests? Or are you just showing up and going through the motions, keeping the same weight for all of your workouts, content to be “doing” it rather than “crushing” it?

When you go to practice, are you focused on the aspects of your technique that you know need improving and are you really pushing yourself to work at maximum cardio capacity? Or are you there for the social aspect of the sport, enjoying being out on the water and letting your mind wander to your grocery list, or the laundry you forgot to transfer to the dryer?

If you’ve put in the time and effort to develop yourself as a paddler both on and off the water, you’ve got every reason in the world to trust in your training and believe that you can do it. Though there is a big difference between believing you CAN do it and assuming you WILL do it.

React Appropriately to Failure

Failure can understandably cause you to lose confidence, but how you deal with the failure is actually what matters. You essentially have two choices: examine what went wrong and re-focus your efforts, or give up and assume it’s always going to go wrong. The best athletes are able to maintain their confidence even when they are not at the top of their game. Everyone has an “off” day of training or a disappointing race result. Don’t let those setbacks define you.

Retrain Your Self-Talk

When self-talk is full of doubt and negativity, these things bleed through to your performance. It’s as if you have brainwashed your muscles into believing that they cannot do what is required of them, despite the many hours of training they have undergone; you are giving them permission to give up. So, much like you train your muscles, it is important to train your inner voice. You know, that little one that mouths off every so often and tells you to go ahead and eat that donut, or sleep in instead of going to practice? That’s the same one that tells you “Maybe you can’t do that” or “Maybe you’re just not good enough” or “Maybe you’ll just never rotate enough”. Instead of letting that voice take over, give it a positive spin: “I’m rotating more now than I was last week/month/year” and “I AM doing it!” Retraining that self-talk can go a long way towards developing confidence. Of course, there is a vast difference between confidence and arrogance, but perhaps we’ll save that for a future post.

So, consider these ways to avoid obsessing over your shortcomings and ward off the “paralysis-by-analysis” or overall anxiety which aren’t productive to your training.

What do you do to keep your self-doubts at bay? How do you fight your insecurities?


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6 Discussion to this post

  1. Anne Konowal says:

    Hello Kristin,

    I want you to know how much I appreciate your work with these posts. Each one has helped me think, refocus and work to incorporate the qualities you outline and the introspection you encourage. They seem to come at just the right times. Thank you, Anne

    • Paddlechica says:

      Thanks for reading, Anne, and for your kind words. I am so glad to hear that the posts have been timely and beneficial for you!

  2. Chynna says:

    I LOVE this post!! It’s something I personally struggle with continuously. I have been swinging all over the place with my confidence as a paddler and have literally been mentally “aching” at times wanting to feel like I am accomplishing something! And even though there is a part of me that can acknowledge I am better then last season, it still feels like its not enough. It’s weird how you still continue to beat yourself up. That inner voice is relentless and continues to be ruthless in it’s criticism.

    • Paddlechica says:

      Thanks for reading, Chynna. I’m so glad that you found the post relevant. I think if we all look deep down inside us, we can recognize our own personal struggles with confidence in whatever area we might find difficult. Don’t forget to let that inner voice be positive, too!

  3. Melinda Bradway says:

    Excellent!!! You continue to amaze me!

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