How to build confidence through preparation.

Simon Hartley, Founder Be World Class.

Over the years I have worked with a host of athletes and coaches. As the athletes approach competition the conversation inevitably turns to their confidence. I’ll often ask them how confident they’re feeling. Interestingly, many will answer by telling me about their preparation. I’m sure you can imagine the scenario.

Me – “How are you feeling?”

The athlete – “Good, I’ve had a great training cycle and I honestly feel in the best shape of my life”


The athlete – “We’ll have to see. It’s not been a great training cycle for me, a bit disrupted for a few weeks”

These simple conversations illustrate that our confidence is often underpinned by our preparation and how ready we feel. For many years I have used a very simple scale to assess confidence. I will listen to the words athletes use when I ask them whether they will perform well. Some athletes will say, “I hope”, others might say, “I think” or “I’m confident”. Those at the top end of the scale might say, “I believe”. However, the ultimate expression of confidence is often, “I know I’ll perform well”. (for more information, read Chapter 4 of Peak Performance Every Time)

Recently I interviewed multiple gold medal winning Olympic coach, Chris Bartle, during a Dinner with Be World Class event, entitled “On… World Class Preparation”. Chris and I described the way that Olympic athletes and coaches close the gap between “hoping” they will perform well and “knowing”. Put simply, they bridge the gap through preparation. I will often ask athletes, “what could you do to get closer to saying I know?”. They tend to answer by telling me how they can prepare better.

The trapdoor, for many athletes, comes when they draw up a list of hundreds of things that they could do. If we have a long list of things we could do, it is tempting to try and do them all. The end result, often, is that we spread our efforts too thinly, achieve less than we’d like and get frustrated. Great preparation, like many things in life, requires focus. Chris Bartle explained that the preparation for his Olympic squads all hangs around a very tight core of activities. Chris knows the fundamental elements that drive the performance of his athletes. Therefore, his preparation is entirely focused on delivering these.

By understanding the fundamental keys that drive your performance, you’ll also find that you can enhance your preparation and build your confidence. Olympic swimmer, Chris Cook, used this approach to make his preparation significantly more effective. Chris understood that his job was simply to swim two lengths of the pool as quickly as he could. He ensured that everything he did contributed to this simple mission. As he applied this mind-set, Chris literally began to get more from every single training session. Over the course of the weeks, months and years, his constant improvements added up. As a result, he became more confident and performed at a higher level. This simple idea helped Chris Cook progress from swimming at a regional and national level, to become a double Commonwealth Champion, Olympic finalist and the 7th fastest in history in his event.

Of course, these principles aren’t limited to sport. They can be used in any domain to help enhance preparation, build confidence and drive performance.

Find out how you can adopt this mentality, by reading “Two Lengths of the Pool