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Anyone who has stood at a starting line knows how important confidence can be for athletes embarking on a difficult race. But, as a coach, how do you help instill that confidence in your athletes before race day?

Dr. Nicole Adams has wrestled with that question much of her career as an endurance coach, sports psychologist consultant, and an athlete. Adams recommends working with athletes to develop a healthy confidence, or self efficacy, based on training and preparation. Among other things, one of the tools discussed in this episode is a “confidence resume” or a list of all of the things an athlete has already accomplished in training that has prepared them for race day. 

Stand-out Quotes

“I prefer to think of confidence as a sense of calm, a sense of optimism, but most importantly, confidence is about focusing on the process.”“So instead of trying to have this undefined feeling and aura about you that’s, kind of, this puffed up chest beating, ego-driven confidence, [focus] on the process and [focus] on aspects of your race or your sport that you are in control of.”“As humans, we’re so results-oriented, we’re so outcome-oriented that sometimes we forget that we’re doing this as a hobby that’s something we love. It’s supposed to be fun. And, when you approach a race with the mindset that [you’ve] done the work [you] need to do, [you’re] going to execute to the best of [your] ability in every moment, you really open the door for enjoyment.”

Resources

Surviving the Extremes: What Happens to the Body and Mind at the Limits of Human Endurance by Kenneth KamlerWay of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives by Dan MillmanPeakSports.com with Dr. Patrick CohnTriathlonMentalCoach.comCSNAthlete.com

Episode Transcript

Introduction:               

On today’s episode of the TrainingPeaks CoachCast, your source for the latest information about the art, science and business of coaching. Are you pushing your athletes to develop their confidence just like their fitness? Maybe it’s time to help them build a confidence resume.

Dave Schell:                 

Hey guys, Dave Schell here. And, on this episode of the TrainingPeaks CoachCast, I sat down with Dr. Nicole Adams. Nicole is a sports psychologist and mental skills coach. We discussed how you can help your athletes build confidence through practice it in training, reflecting on past wins and building a confidence resume. Hope you enjoy.

Dave Schell:                 

Welcome to the TrainingPeaks CoachCast. I am your host Dave Schell and today I am joined by Nicole Adams. Nicole is a coach and a sport psychology consultant. And today we are going to talk about confidence. Nicole, thanks for joining us.

Nicole Adams:              

Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.

Dave Schell:                 

So before we get into talking about confidence and more specifically athlete confidence, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in sports psychology?

Nicole Adams:              

Yes, definitely. Um, well just to kind of start from the beginning. Um, I was born in South Africa and my family moved to Canada in 1988 where I completed most of my education, but actually came to the United States for my graduate degree and landed myself up in Texas, which is my home, which I very much love. Um, and so here I’m at Texas Tech, I completed a degree in sports psychology, um, under, educational psychology and began working as a coach about eight years ago. Um, so I both coach athletes and do sports psychology consulting and I’m really just, just absolutely love what I do. So, uh, that’s a little bit of a background as to how I got to where I am.

Dave Schell:                 

And so you have your doctorate in educational psychology?

Nicole Adams:              

Yes, that’s correct. So, um, the doctorate has a focus obviously on the educational side and since so much of the research in sports really came out of education, um, it’s really sort of the perfect marriage of the two. Um, you know, if the two sides of sports psychology, which is coming at it from the educational research side, which is where I came from, was very much from educational research and applying it to sport.

Dave Schell:                 

What was it that got you interested in studying psychology?

Nicole Adams:              

Yes. Well, um, you know, I, first of all, so do to give you a little bit of background. Um, I grew up with parents who are both runners. Um, they picked up running kind of in the mid-thirties when there was really a big running boom ind South Africa. And they quickly graduated from running, you know, 5 and 10ks up to ultra marathons. So I was always really fascinated by, um, my parents’ involvement in running and how they, uh, neither of them were very athletic as kids. In fact, they very unathletic and, um, my dad was a smoker, so, uh, you know, so that was sort of like coming from a very different background. Um, but you know, growing up with my parents being so involved in running and especially ultra marathoning, which is sort of a different sport, all its own, I’ve always had this interest in performance in sport and was always very, you know, just very into sport itself. And then, um, long story short, I picked up triathlon in my mid, early to mid twenties, and, um, I did short-distance triathlon for a few years and then really got bit by the IRONMAN bug. And so a friend that I was training with at the time. Um, she knew that I was going into my first IRONMAN. She was a seasoned veteran at IRONMAN and I really looked up to her. Um, I think she could sense that I was, I was really awed by IRONMAN and, and, and very nervous about it. Um, you know, you’re never really do the full distance in training, so there’s that massive unknown going into an IRONMAN or going into any sporting event of that magnitude. And so she kind of picked up on this, you know, Nicole’s really nervous about this race and she shared with me, um, uh, really kind of life changing, uh, article. It was written by Mark Allen. So this is, this is really some years ago because this is 2004. So I think that it was, you know, written for, uh, either XTri.com or InsideTriathlon one of the magazines at the time. And, um, it was five tips on being mentally prepared for IRONMAN. And I had never really seen IRONMAN or sporting event of that magnitude written about in a way that seemed manageable, that seemed, you know, that that just a regular old sort of age group athlete could, you know, could really, um, get, get into the sport and not be overcome by nerves and overtaken by this, you know, the magnitude of the event and really sort of some very practical tips on how to think about your race that wasn’t going to completely overwhelm you. And so reading that article, you know, that was shared by this friend of mine totally changed my perspective on what it means to go into an event like this and to feel a sense of confidence or a sense of calm that was very practical. And, and so it really kind of sparked my interest in studying sports psychology because I realized, you know, this is more than just sort of a more than just theory, there was something really practical behind this. And so from that, from that moment on, it really got the gears turning for me. At the time I was working, I was, I had left undergrad, I had been working for several years, but had always wanted to go back to graduate school and, and um, this really sparked a, you know, sparked my interest in and allowed me to find my calling.

Dave Schell:                 

That’s great. And I think you bring up such a good point. There’s, I mean, even today, like anytime I work with an athlete that’s doing a first IRONMAN, there is so much nerves. And I would say, especially for the swim, if you walk around the transition area the morning of a race, you just hear so many people saying, “if I survived the swim.” And so as a sports psychologist or a consultant with that or with your own athletes, how do you address something like that for the swim specifically?

Nicole Adams:              

That is such a great question. Um, and I will put myself, you know, directly into that category as well. I was not a swimmer. My background was very far from swimming. Um, I came from a running background. So swimming to me was such an unknown. And in fact, my very first IRONMAN was an ocean swim. It was IRONMAN Brazil. Yes. I had no clue what I was getting myself into. Um, you know, something about a lake, it seems like sort of this closed body of water where somebody could find you if you needed to be found, but that now as certainly, um, you know, I think the swim really does conjure up a lot of nerves, because again, it just seems like a massive unknown. And, um, you know, I think that, uh, one of the biggest things that I try to help my athletes focus on is number one, the work that they’ve put in to get there, you know, call recalling all the hours and the yards in the pool. And, you know, hopefully they’ve had a chance to do some open water swimming as well. And, you know, recalling experiences they’ve had, um, in open water swimming where they were able to, you know, complete a certain distance in an open water swim or, um, being able to sort of be calmly in the water and, you know, just sort of take care of their own little bit of space. And, um, you know, one of the biggest things that I emphasize with athletes, especially those who are newer to the sport, is find yourself a starting position that’s a little away from the melee of people. Um, you know, you don’t necessarily need to line up in the very front group where, um, you know, you might have some more, um, sort of more aggressive, swimmers who are perhaps lifetime swimmers who, um, you know, intend to go out with a sprint and kind of cruise on from there. I really emphasize to them, you know, find yourself a spot a little bit further back where you have a little bit of your own open water and, um, and then you can sort of control, you know, control your first few strokes. You can control how, um, you know, how you ease into the swim. Um, take a little bit of that, you know, the unknowns out of the equation. In other words, not putting yourself directly into the, you know, the front group in the front melee of swimmers. Let them go off and do their thing. Let them blaze the trail for you and you can follow along. Um, you know, if you wait 20 seconds for that front group to get away from you, that’s perfectly okay. That’s 20 seconds you can make up at some other point in the race when it’s calm and when, when things are under your control.

Dave Schell:                 

Right. Yeah, that’s, and I would have to imagine that it also might have a positive impact of if you’re starting to catch swimmers. So maybe you start a little bit behind, but then as you’re warming up and start to catch some of those swimmers that helps build that confidence.

Nicole Adams:              

Without a doubt, you know, allowing yourself to kind of warm up and ease into your race and then just gradually pull the pack back and 9.9 times out of 10. That’s exactly what happens.

Dave Schell:                 

That’s great. So you had mentioned, um, that in Mark Allen’s article just about building confidence. And so when you think about confidence, how would you define it? When it applies to sport?

Nicole Adams:              

Yes. Such an excellent question. Um, you know, first I think we have a perception that confidence is the sort of gift bestowed on us for, for, you know, something that we deserve, a gift that we’re given for, for, you know, talent or, um, you know, whatever, you know, whatever you might want to call it. But that really makes it sort of this intangible, you know, unattainable state of mind. Um, I prefer to think of confidence as a sense of calm, a sense of optimism, but most importantly, confidence is about focusing on the process. So instead of trying to have this sort of, you know, undefined feeling and aura about you that’s, you know, kind of this puffed up, you know, chest, chest beating, um, you know, ego-driven confidence. In fact, confidence is really about focusing on the process and focusing on aspects of your race or your sport that you are in control of.

Dave Schell:                 

We were just talking a little bit about the, those athletes who are worried about starting the swim. So obviously it seems like there’s lots of athletes that maybe lack that confidence. And why do you suppose that is?

Nicole Adams:              

Yes. You know, I think first of all, um, you know, they’re not necessarily sure what’s involved in actually accomplishing this task, especially if you’re new to the sport. The, the idea of a swim, you know, swimming in a body of water surrounded by, um, you know, surrounded by 500 of your fellow athletes or even if you’re in a wave starts, you know, surrounded by 40 to 100 of your fellow athletes can seem incredibly unusual and, um, just difficult to even wrap your head around. So, you know, what I emphasize is first of all, um, you know, thinking about the things that you can do to warm up for, for the swim starts, you know, if that means taking a little jog around, transition, getting your heart rate up and um, you know, kind of getting, getting some of those more nervous breaths under control, that’s one aspect of it. And then another aspect is, is just focusing on the, um, the process and the technique involved, you know, focus on how you want your stroke to feel. How do you want to pace your swim? Do you want it to feel easier at the start and then steadily work up into a rhythm, uh, you know, focus on how you’ll breathe. Will you try to breathe every, um, you know, every other stroke so that you get plenty of oxygen? Um, you know, at first you’re one to get lots of oxygen in. And as you kind of calm down and, and develop a more steady rate, um, you can probably breathe bilaterally, you know, breathe every three strokes. So, you know, focus on those process aspects of the swim and less on the, um, the fears and, and, you know, one of the tricks that I was taught that I think is incredibly helpful is to just count your strokes, you know, distract yourself from the, um, the nerves and, and the magnitude of what’s going on. And just bring it down to the most basic of aspects of swimming, which is counting every stroke. And that seems to kind of focus the mind on something practical and, and most importantly, just keeps you in the moment. You’re not thinking ahead, you’re not thinking too, um, you know, what comes after the swim. You’re just thinking about every moment, every next stroke.

Dave Schell:                 

That’s some really great advice. It’s kind of easy to think about that with the swim. So how might you apply that same technique to cycling or running?

Nicole Adams:              

Yes, absolutely. So, um, you know, on the bike you’re going to have similar types of cues that you’re going to want to focus on. So your confidence is really coming from, um, you know, the training sessions that you’ve done leading into a race where you’ve practiced your pacing, your efforts, practiced your nutrition, you’ve practiced how you want that race day of feel. So you’re going to keep coming back to those same thoughts, which is, you know, am I, am I pedaling smoothly? What kind of cadence am I looking for here today? What’s my optimal race cadence? And ideally, you’re going to have some sort of a number, whether it be an average heart rate or an average power, um, that you’re going to just loosely focus your efforts on. As we know, you know, those numbers, we can’t be a slave to our numbers, but our numbers certainly give us a good range for what’s appropriate for race day. Um, you know, one of the tricks I tell my athletes is to, um, is to run their computers on average power for the first say, um, you know, 20 to 40 minutes on the bike. So they get an idea of where they’re averaging that gives them, um, you know, that gives them sort of a good effort to, to base the first, you know, the first half of the ride on. And so again, you’re bringing it down to the process, which is, um, you know, focus on my cadence, focus on how this should feel. I, in the beginning of the ride, I should really feel, you know, sort of that easy to steady feeling. I shouldn’t be digging deep right now. Um, and then really, really important is keeping your mind constantly on when am I taking my next fuel? Or when am I taking my carbs? When am I taking my water? When am I taking my salt? So that you’re breaking that bike course down into small chunks of, you know, sort of manageable tasks for, and you’re going to be doing something every 5 to 10 minutes. So it doesn’t really allow you a lot of time to think ahead. You’re really taking care of, you know, taking care of yourself in the here and now. And, and similarly, similarly for the run, um, you know, same type of thing when, when an athlete, um, you know, comes out of transition and they’ve got their running shoes on, the first thing they’re going to want to think about is what’s my effort? What kind of an effort do I need to have at this point in the race in order to ensure that I build and build and build and get stronger. So instead of thinking of, you know, oh, I really want to beat “X” time today, or I really want to beat “X” athlete today, you’re bringing it to a personal and internal level, which is what kind of effort do I need to be putting out right now in order to build and stay strong over the course of the run? And of course the other side of that is what kind of fueling do I need to, um, you know, take care of at each aid station. I need to have a plan. Plan out exactly what I’ll do as I arrive at each aid station and, and have it all mapped out for yourself. Um, you know, and thinking of it that way really helps you to again, stay in the moment and really not worry about the outcome or the result of it, but instead just executing the best you can in each moment.

Dave Schell:                 

And so as a coach yourself, is this something that you have your athletes practice in training?

Nicole Adams:              

Yes, absolutely. Um, you know, we do, um, a certain number of workouts kind of throughout their build that, that um, you know, really are sort of a, um, a test run if you will, um, for a key race. So, um, you know, especially workouts that kind of stretch them a little bit. Um, you know, I’ll really, um, really encourage them to think about those process aspects that would apply well in racing. Um, so in those key workouts, you know, they may be, um, working hard physically, but at the same time they’re mentally staying focused in the moment and what they need to take care of in each moment to ensure that they finished that workout strong, that they come out of that workout feeling like, you know, they could have even done more at the end. I don’t necessarily need them to be emptying the tank. Um, you know, I want them to finish those workouts, feeling a sense of confidence about having executed to the best of their ability. So we do a lot of, you know, kind of focus on execution and, um, they get tired of hearing this. I know I sound like a nag, but it’s constantly, it’s pacing, pacing, pacing, nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. And so that’s really ingrained in them throughout their workouts. And then it’s something that they easily translate into racing.

Dave Schell:                 

So talk to me a little bit about, um, building a confidence resume.

Nicole Adams:              

Yes. Um, so this is, uh, what I think is just a really awesome technique. Um, taught by Dr. Patrick Cohn who’s, um, who has PeakSports.com. Um, Dr. Cohn came up with this notion of writing a confidence resume, which, you know, as the word suggests, a resume is sort of like an accounting of what you’ve done. It’s an accounting of, um, you know, if, uh, if it’s something for your career, it’s, it’s giving people a picture of, of what your career looks like. Your confidence resume is similar. Um, and, and it’s for you, it’s for you only. You write it for yourself. You’re, you’re really recounting all of the work that put in to get to where you are. Each of the key aspects of your training that the boxes that you’ve ticked off. Um, you’ve done your bricks, you’ve done your long rides, you’ve done your long runs and you’ve executed your long swims as necessary. You’ve thrown in a little bit of speed work where necessary. Um, and then the other really important things, um, you know, taking care of all the little aspects, your nutrition, your recovery, so your, your confidence resume is going to list out, you know, after each of my long runs I took in the correct recovery nutrition after each of my long rides, I foam rolled. I, um, you know, I got my massage, you know, once every other week. Um, and then another aspect of it would be your mental preparation. And so in that confidence resume you’re going to write, um, I practiced staying in the moment during my hard workouts or, um, you know, I brought myself after a tough workout that didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I manage to get over that quickly and get onto the next workout the next day. So it’s kind of highlighting all of the things that you’ve done and you’ve accomplished throughout your training. Um, and, and you know, it’s something that you write down. You literally, you know, I like handwriting. I think when you hand write things that really commits at nicely to memory. So write it in your own handwriting and, and reread it. Um, you know, especially say the two weeks leading into a race that’s like your, it’s like your mantra. It’s something you’re going to reread multiple times to keep reminding yourself of all the hard work you’ve put in. And then one last aspect aspect to that I, I encourage athletes to do is to let their spouse or their parents or their coach even contribute some points to their confidence resume. And the reason for that is that so often we overlook our own greatest strengths. We seem to focus on, uh, you know, we seem to focus on certain things, but we really do forget some of our greatest strengths. And our, our support system is there to remind us of those things.

Dave Schell:                 

I absolutely love that and I’m going to steal it. And one idea that kind of popped into my head and I’m, I’m currently coaching somebody to their first IRONMAN and we talked about special needs bags and maybe having a note from, um, a loved one or a friend in your special needs bag to help get you, you know, halfway through the marathon or something like that. And so now I love this idea of the confidence resume where maybe you have that in your special needs bag if you have to kind of go to that well. Such a great idea.

Nicole Adams:              

And further to that, I have an athlete who has two teenage daughters and her daughters think that she is just, uh, they look up to her, you know, as, as being this incredible role model, especially since she’s doing this really, really cool sport that most people think is nuts. Um, so her daughters, write on little little post cards and um, when she packs her gear to go off for a race, she’ll be unpacking her bags and you know, stuffed between like her race kits or whatever. She’ll pull out a little posted note or a postcard written by her daughters. And the look of joy on her face is a little, things like that make an enormous difference to an athlete.

Dave Schell:                 

I can imagine. That’s wonderful. So this is like, I love this. But on the other side of that, is there any value in dealing with adversity and having some of that hardship to help to build up your confidence?

Nicole Adams:              

Oh, tremendously. Um, you know, obviously a really big part of confidence is sort of having the positives and the strengths and um, you know, knowing you’ve done the work and you’ve had these great workouts, however, confidence really becomes robust when you have had to overcome some, some adversity, which every single person, um, you know, has had something in their lives that’s tested them. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the sport itself. Obviously when it’s something you’ve overcome in the sport, it is, it’s incredibly helpful. You know, um, how many people have had a flat tire, you know, in a race? And, and in fact, Mark Allen referred to this in his article. He said, what is a flat tire mean in the middle of a race? All it means is that you have to change a tire. It doesn’t mean your race is over. It doesn’t mean you’re the worst triathlete to ever do the sport. It just means you’ve got to change a tire. So, um, you know, drawing on, um, drawing on things, you know, whether it’s a mistake or whether it’s something that was out of your control that’s happened, remembering that you overcame that and adding that to your confidence resume. You know, something along the lines of remember that day when I just felt absolutely terrible in the middle of my long ride and I stopped on the side of the road and I sat there and I thought about my life for 15 minutes, but you know what? I got back on the bike and I completed the ride. That’s huge. Um, you know, nobody that I know of has been able to complete an entire triathlon without having some low moments. And so knowing, knowing that those low moments can occur, but the only thing that you need to worry about is just putting one foot in front of the other and picking yourself back up and keep going because that low moment is going to end. It’s, you know, those tough moments, will have their time, but as long as you keep focused on the here and now and especially keep focused on what can you do in the next moment. Um, so often that’s nutrition related. I find, you know, take in a little bit extra carbs, take in a little bit of salt, take in a little bit of water, um, you know, and pick yourself up and slowly start kind of gaining your momentum again.

Dave Schell:                 

So, beyond just getting the athlete through a race successfully, what other kind of positive impacts can have in confidence have?

Nicole Adams:              

Yes. You know, I think that confidence, this type of confidence, you know, confidence that’s really based on, uh, you know, all the work that you’ve done to prepare and, you know, the, the miles that you’ve done to prepare to get to where you are, racing with that mindset really allows you to, to really enjoy the sport. Um, you know, there’s so much enjoyment to be had when athletes uncouple their self image from their results. Um, I think that we as, whether it’s just, you know, athletes of this nature or, or just as, as humans, you know, we’re so results-oriented, we’re so outcome-oriented that sometimes we forget that we’re doing this as a, as a hobby that’s, you know, something we love. It’s, it’s supposed to be fun. And when you approach a race with the mindset that, you know, I’ve done the work I need to do, I’m going to execute to the best of my ability in every moment, you really kind of open the door for enjoyment. And not just enjoyment, but really long-term engagement in the sport. Because ultimately, you know, I think one gets the most out of the sport when you do it for many, many years because there are so many pieces of the puzzle to figure out and triathlon, you need a lot of, you know, you need a lot of bites at the apple to really feel like you’re on top of it. And, um, so, you know, my hope is that with athletes approaching racing with this type of confidence in mind that they’ll actually get more enjoyment and do it for longer.

Dave Schell:                 

Very cool. Before I let you go, I’m just curious, do you have any other, um, resources if a coach wanted to learn more about, um, either sports psychology or Dr. Patrick Cohn. Do you have any resources there that they could seek out?

Nicole Adams:              

Yes, absolutely. So they should definitely look up Dr. Cohn’s website. Um, it’s PeakSports.com. He’s got just a wealth of resources there. Um, and then, you know, there’s some great books out there. I mean, there is a wealth of literature out there. Um, but, you know, some of my favorite books that I, that really kind of opened my mind to, um, to this type of confidence, you know, confidence that’s calm and optimistic and focusing on the process. Um, one of the books is, um, called “Surviving the Extremes” by Kenneth Kammler. Uh, just a fascinating, um, you know, fascinating kind of recount of, um, athletes who’ve survived some extreme situations, you know, whether it be by design or by accident. Um, that’s a really good one. And then, um, the author Dan Millman, who has written several great books, one of them is “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.” Um, that’s also, an excellent book to kind of open, open your mind to, um, you know, to looking at confidence differently. Um, and then, you know, not everybody has access, but if you are, um, you know, near to your closest college library or something like that, you know, go and see if you can research some of the, um, you know, the academic research in sports psychology specifically about confidence. And in the sports psychology field, um, we often speak about confidence as self efficacy. Um, the reason being that, you know, the word confidence is really difficult to define. But if you research under self efficacy, you’ll find just a wealth of, um, you know, wealth of information with regards to really practical things that athletes can do to increase their sense of efficacy, to increase their belief in their ability to master, um, you know, master tasks. And so those are just some of the, the ideas that they can look into.

Dave Schell:                 

Fantastic. And what if they had a question for you specifically, would you, could they hit you up on Twitter or Instagram?

Nicole Adams:              

Um, I’m not super active on social media, but I would absolutely love, I would love if they would contact me through one or two of my websites. They can find CNSathlete.com or they can find me at TriathlonMentalCoach.com.

Dave Schell:                 

Fantastic. And we’ll link to that in the show notes as well.

Nicole Adams:              

Wonderful. And I look forward to hearing from anybody. Questions, discussion. I’m open to it.

Dave Schell:                 

Awesome. Well, thank you very much for your time. I certainly learned a lot and looking forward to hearing more from you at this year’s Endurance Coaching Summit.

Nicole Adams:              

Wonderful. Thanks so much for having me, Dave. I appreciate it.

Dave Schell:                 

Right. Take care of Nicole.

Nicole Adams:              

You too!

Dave Schell:                 

Hey, guys. Dave here again, and I hope you enjoyed my talk with Dr. Nicole Adams. Nicole will be speaking at this year’s Endurance Coaching Summit. So if you want to hear more, use the code “CoachCast20” to take 20 percent off your in-person or online registration. Until next time.

The post CoachCast: Building Confidence with Nicole Adams appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

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