Imagine stepping out onto the field, the court, or the mat with a complete sense of certainty that you were going to perform your best. Picture how incredible it would be, to consistently compete at the highest level of your ability, in the toughest competitive environments. How quickly would you achieve your goals if you were totally confident, more mentally tough, and had complete conviction that you could? Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?
You absolutely can. No matter what you’ve heard or been told up to this point, you must absolutely know that…
Just like any other technique you practice, refine, improve, and practice again, you can become the most confident athlete in your sport if you:
- Make a decision and commit to learning the right skills
- Put in the time and effort that confidence-building requires.
If you understand what it takes to be confident, and train those practices, you can learn to harness the power of your mind so that it serves your performance instead of detracts from it.
Who Is Learned Confidence For?
The content and resources on the Learned Confidence site are targeted at “Dedicated Athletes” over the age of 16. My definition of a Dedicated Athlete is a person who has made a decision to pursue a higher-level athletic career, is training full-time, and is striving to improve in all areas that impact their competitive abilities.
Why 16 years of age? Because you’ll have the maturity and ability to understand what I’m talking about and take action. I also use “colorful” language at times.
If your sport is Judo, BJJ, wrestling, or soccer, I have direct experience with those sports and can deliver more specific value to you. The content on this site, however, can help any athlete.
Why This Guy? Who Is He Anyway?
I spent the better part of my life pursuing a career in the Olympic sport of Judo. My lifetime goal was to earn a spot on the Olympic Team and win a medal. Since we’ve only had a handful of American athletes become medalists after Judo was admitted to the Olympics in 1964, this was a stretch goal for sure.
As a teenager, I knew Judo was my calling. So just after turning 18, I moved to Colorado Springs to participate in a fledgling national Judo program and be closer to the Olympic Training Center (OTC), where most of the best athletes in the country trained at the time.
I was always a hard-working, thinking athlete. It was my belief from a young age that the best way for me to succeed was to outwork my competition. If I could work harder and longer and stay the course, I believed I would improve and eventually be the best in my weight class.
It was a simple enough formula. Almost every high-level athlete I had ever listened to, always commented that hard work was a key part of his/her winning strategy. I was already highly motivated and very self-disciplined.
For a period of time, the strategy worked. It even seemed like it might be all I needed.
Quick Flashback To My Start
I started Judo at age twelve, a local dojo (training center)–Byakko Judo Club–in San Diego, CA. We practiced three times a week, all year long. We had a small team of competitors who attended tournaments, first in the Southern California area, and eventually all over the West and across the U.S.
In the summers, when we were preparing for the Junior National Championships, we would train five days a week or more–every practice scheduled down to a five minute block. We also lifted weights, ran sprints, did agility drills, and cross-trained by playing soccer, hiking, or doing some other physical activity.
I worked hard in my club. We had some really tough and successful competitors. You had to improve to avoid taking beatings every practice.
While I made improvements and progressed through the belt ranks, I was never able to “place”–earn a top three finish at Junior Nationals–my most important goal at the time. Technically, I got 3rd one year. But that year, there were only eight competitors in my division and none of the best guys showed. My division regularly drew 30-50 competitors. I didn’t count this performance as placing.
The kids who were winning in my age and weight division we stronger, tougher, and better Judoplayers. At the time, I didn’t understand how they could be so far ahead.
Rising Through The Senior Ranks
Within a year of moving to Colorado Springs, my Judo career started to takeoff. I placed third at the Senior Nationals, a tough achievement at the time. I also started to train and compete overseas. Within three years, I won my first senior National Championship, had placed in several international tournaments, and qualified for the Olympic Trials in 1992.
In my mind, I was the up-and-coming kid who was in the perfect position to knock off one of the best competitors who ever fought for the U.S., Mike Swain. Swain was the first male to ever win the World Championships from our country. He was a brilliant Judoplayer, super technical on his feet and on the ground, always in excellent shape, and experienced. He was exceptionally confident and consistently won tournaments all over the world.
In 1991, I made it to the finals of our international tournament, the U.S. Open. It was my first time fighting Swain and even though I was nervous, I couldn’t wait to compete. I was finally going to get a shot at “the Major.”
It was a battle. He was stronger than I expected, very skilled, and hard to throw. I pressed him hard the entire match and he only won by two minor scores. He was exhausted at the end.
I lost but I was proud of my performance. Most people thought I’d get blown out. I didn’t. I did everything I could do during the match to win…he was just better. The match was close enough, however, that I believed with a little more focused work, I could beat him.
At the Olympic Trials, I never even made it to the finals to fight Swain. I lost a close match to a tough, scrappy fighter named Dan Hatano, and just like that, my five year Olympic run was over. Swain went on to win the Trials and make his fourth Olympic Team. I spent the next several months, sad, depressed, and pissed…trying to figure out why my foolproof formula had failed.
During your athletic career, you’ll experience really tough moments that can break you mentally and emotionally. It’s often during these same times that a door of hope can appear, if you’re paying attention and open to it.
That happened for me after the 1992 Olympic Trials. One of my best friends, Michael Cruz, who was also my training partner when we were kids, posed a question that I couldn’t get out of my head, and I couldn’t run away from.
He kindly asked, “Todd, how is it that you can work so hard and train so much and not beat everyone?” The first smart aleck response that popped into my head was, “If I knew that, I’d be in Barcelona right now getting a shot at a medal.”
Houston, We Have A Serious Problem
I knew what he was getting at and I didn’t like it. He was questioning my confidence and my mentality. This was a real problem because at the time, I believed confidence, like raw speed or physical height, was something you were born with.
I could easily review past performances and remember how nervous I felt before and during many competitions. Sometimes, I’d perform at a high level. Other times, I would, as one of my teammates routinely joked, “shit the bed.”
If confidence was a genetic trait, and I didn’t have it, what then?
Imagine for a moment putting everything on hold in your life to chase your Olympic dream. You’re training 40-60 hours per week. You’re beat up all the time. Fatigue, injuries, and setbacks are a daily experience. You’re sacrificing and missing out on all kinds of fun activities that your peers, who don’t train full-time, were doing.
Right in the middle of this journey, you start to nervously wonder if you might not have the one trait, in the quantity you need, to actualize your goal.
When I said I was running away from the question Michael asked me, that’s exactly why.
Leap And The Net Will Appear
Michael’s question turned out to be life-changing for me. I had to muster up the courage to answer it. I had to find the courage to face it. It was going to take getting past that unsettling worry that creeps into your mind when you doubt if you have the right stuff to achieve your dreams.
It wasn’t easy. But my goal of being a world class athlete was just too important to me. I figured, win or lose, I’m heading down that path. Whatever’s lurking there, I’m going to face it and tackle my weaknesses, head-on.
It forced me to reevaluate my “winning” formula. Practicing Judo, disciplined physical training, and simply trying to outwork others was not enough to compete and beat the best in the world in my sport.
Michael did me another great favor. He gave me a personal development tape where I heard some words I’d never heard before. Confidence is learned!
I had to play it a couple times. Then I had to get some proof that the speaker knew what the hell he was talking about.
He provided that proof and simultaneously renewed my waning hope. In some ways it was more than that. I got my dream back because I have a core belief that with persistence and effort, I can learn anything.
The Confidence Opportunity
As it turns out, for most athletes, the area you can make the greatest gains, are mental. Learning how to manage your attitude, practicing mental toughness, and training to operate from a level of total certainty, can have as much or more impact on your competitive results as physical training, technical practice, coaching, and competition opportunities.
Ideally, you need to improve and compete in all these areas. But mental practice is the frontier that most athletes leave unexplored.
It’s not uncommon to hear a commentator or writer covering professional sports–football, basketball, hockey, tennis, and especially golf–say something like, “sports is 90% mental.”
Statements like that, while true, are so general as to be stupid.
The championship team is of course the players who first believed they could win, trained the right way, and then brought that winning mindset to the big game.
It’s one thing to say that winning in sports is a mental pursuit. It’s another to actually know how to teach the mental skills that make this true.
In your own career, when was the last time you went to practice and your coach gave you specific lessons on building confidence?
Especially in combat sports like Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), wrestling, boxing, etc., the majority of practice time is dedicated to physical training, skill acquisition, technical practice, or sparring. Less time is spent on the mental aspects of the game because so few coaches know what to do in this area.
You Absolutely Can Do This!
I believe we teach what we most need to learn. For me, confidence and mental toughness, are these subjects. It’s my intention with Learned Confidence to help dedicated athletes avoid some of the pitfalls I experienced.
Learning confidence won’t make you immune to doubt and uncertainty. It will, however, teach you how to access a champion’s mindset under the toughest competitive conditions.
Your need to exercise personal confidence never goes away. When your athletic career ends, as they all do, life will continue to test your self-belief. The more time and effort you spend mastering these practices for sport, the more you’ll be preparing for a rich and rewarding life afterwards.
Confident people are more likely to try new things. They’re more likely to wade into the unknown. They’re more likely to start a business, pursue a new field or apply for that out-or-reach job. When the man or woman of their dreams comes around, they’re more likely to walk across the room and make an introduction. They’re more likely to attract amazing people into their sphere because true inner strength is magnetic.
I hope you enjoy this blog and show your approval by putting these ideas into action for yourself!