Confidence Requires Evidence

Last summer, with some trepidation, I attempted my first 50-mile bike ride. I didn't really do any organized training other than riding around on the gravel roads where we live. Rarely did I exceed 20 miles at a time, with my longest ride being 31 miles a couple weeks before my attempt.

As I contemplated my route, I consulted with the friend that got me into cycling. He is an avid rider who often rode 20 miles with me on his off days. As we talked about my goal, he quickly concluded that I was more than ready to ride 50 miles. In his words, the only challenge would be getting enough calories during the ride and handling the mental grind of being on the bike that long for the first time. His confidence surprised me.

Fearing my legs wouldn't have it in them, I wasn't totally convinced. Nonetheless, I plotted a 50-mile loop in central Iowa and on July 2nd I took off to see what I could do. Three hours and 20 minutes later, I finished. The ride wasn't always comfortable, but it was just as my friend described it would be. Why was he so confident when I was not?

JP and I recently sat down with Steve Magness, author of the book Do Hard Things. He has a very succinct description of where our inner confidence comes from: 

Confidence requires evidence.

When my friend looked at my mileage log going into the ride, he saw evidence that I couldn't see. He understood that if I could do 80-100 miles in a week, and 30 miles to that point on my own, my legs would be able to sustain me for 50 miles. He was convinced because he had done this many times himself. I doubted myself because I had not.

When we talked with Magness, I asked him, "How does one develop confidence before they actually accomplish the thing they are chasing?"

For example, our team has six losses on the season, all to teams ranked in the top 10 in their respective classes. In five of those games, we led in the second half but were unable to finish. How do we build confidence that we can close out a victory in those situations when have yet to get over the hump?

His answer was simple. You must search for evidence that the process is working and share that with your players as often as possible. And so, following our latest loss, we examined the last 10 possessions of our game on January 17th, and compared those with two close games a month before. The evidence of our improvement is clear.

I am reminded of a question Arkansas Women's Basketball Coach Mike Neighbors once asked at a clinic. "Can you prove to the critic that your process works?"

What I have come to understand is that many times our players' fiercest critic is the voice inside their own head. Their inner dialogue undermines their sense of confidence, and as soon as things don't go according to plan, they crater and we are left to help pick up the pieces.

As coaches, we quietly wonder, why can't they take responsibility for their own confidence? 

The answer is clear. They don't know where to find the evidence.

We have a couple players right now that are convinced they can't make a layup because the only evidence their brain registers are the ones that they miss. They don't know what I know - that they currently rank first and third in our league in field goal percentage at the rim. They don't know how much their percentages have improved since last season. They don't know that the most efficient shot on our team is one of them shooting at the rim.

Too often our players don't know where to find the evidence that confidence requires.

What they need is someone to come alongside them just as my friend did when he confidently proclaimed I was ready for a 50-mile ride. He knew something that I didn't, that the evidence was already there. I just couldn't see it. That was enough for me set out on my own to discover for myself whether or not he was right, and there I found this to be true:

I could do more than I thought possible. I just needed someone to help me find enough evidence to start me down the road before my confidence could become my own.

Food for thought.

Nate Sanderson



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