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Definitely, Maybe

Successful people in all contexts possess high levels of confidence. They believe in who they are, what they are doing, and what they can accomplish.

Unwavering belief is required to achieve what others believe is impossible. Accomplishments like winning an Olympic Gold Medal, becoming an Olympian, or winning an NCAA championship don’t happen by relying on hope.

Athletes quickly pick up on a lack of belief and this permeates into their own belief in what they can accomplish and what they are willing to commit to. Effort is ALWAYS better in conditions of greater certainty.

However, the path to accomplish any goal of significance will be littered with numerous challenges. Adjustments and changes will need to be made to continue to progress towards any stated goal. Unwavering confidence and belief in an ineffective path of action becomes counterproductive.

At this point, curiosity, humility, and a willingness to learn will be required for continued progress. This requires a suspension of belief and a willingness to consider alternative possibilities. Belief and confidence is required for effective action, whereas curiosity and humility are required for setting and adjusting the appropriate path of action.

This creates a paradox. Unwavering belief in the path you are taking is required for action, yet an openness to change is required to overcome the obstacles the path presents.

As coaches, how can we manage this paradox?

Behaviorally, there is a spectrum with a tendency towards belief at one end and curiosity at the other. Some individuals move through life with absolute certainly while others constantly reflect on their choices and actions.

Clearly, both mindsets have their unique strengths and weaknesses. Unwavering belief will get committed and enthusiastic action, but that action may not always be most effective if not directed properly. In contrast, a reflective perspective will result in the quick recognition of problems, yet there might be a lack of fully committed action if uncertainty is present.

We all have our own tendencies, which likely emerge from innate personality traits. Possessing an awareness of our own inclinations is the first step towards managing these tendencies effectively. Understanding your natural disposition, as well as how this disposition manifests itself in your coaching, will allow you to harness your ‘strengths’ while mitigating your ‘weaknesses’.

It is important to understand these two endpoints are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Successful individuals are able to shift their behaviors to their own advantage. Such coaches possess the ability to think and act with both of these frameworks in mind. The best coaches behave appropriately at the appropriate time.

So how can we make sure we are effectively shifting between commitment and searching for alternative solutions?

  • Be conscious of outwardly projecting confidence to your swimmers. Make sure that THEY believe in your belief. They need to know where they’re going and that a plan exists to get there.

  • Constantly evaluate progress, looking for evidence that the process is unfolding effectively or ineffectively. This will allow you to intervene appropriately in a timely manner.

  • If you have to change, make sure you BELIEVE it is the appropriate change, and then effectively communicate that belief to your swimmers.

  • Be aware. Do you believe in what you’re doing, truly? The answer is being communicated to your swimmers in subtle ways. Is the process moving forward effectively? If not, assess how you can change to move forward in a manner that inspires your own belief.

  • How do you react to pressure? Do you double down on commitment, or do you start to doubt and look for the alternative solution? How has this reaction served you in the past? When has it been effective and when has it failed?

An unwavering belief is required to accomplish anything of significance. At the same time, blind belief won’t be effective if the plan of action is poor. As coaches, we need to possess a terrific belief in what we’re doing while simultaneously adjusting our actions to ensure we’re continuing to move in the appropriate direction.

Those individuals who are best able to recognize and manage their innate tendencies, will find that they are able to consistently move forward with effective action that is carried out with unwavering commitment.


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