Confidence vs. Ego in sports


You should by now be quite aware of the growing power of sport in popular culture. Big time athletes get paid millions and it can be a lucrative business trading players between teams. Sponsorship is a common reward for making the big leagues. Brands want to be seen on your body when you compete in televised events. Starring in commercials is now a good source of income.

With the paparazzi, marketing industry and social media around us we have a non-stop update feed of an athlete’s life. Anything they say or do can and will be held against them. With great fame sometimes comes great stupidity. Humans are unlimited in their potential for both good and bad. An ordinary human with ordinary flaws can make some fairly big mistakes. A top end athlete with ridiculous amounts of money, power and fame can make a small flaw into a gigantic problem. And these problems don’t just become a little ‘oopsie’. We are talking total meltdown. High level athletes have been caught with recreational drugs, performance enhancing drugs, prostitutes, gambling addictions, massive debt, short tempers that lead to public brawls, assault charges, DUI’s, general diva behaviour, rape charges, and even murder charges.

Nobody is immune to the ego monster. There are many egotistical people out there, and sport sometimes has more than it’s fair share. Muhammad Ali famously boasted “I can injure a stone, hospitalize a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.” But he never wrote a cheque with his mouth he couldn’t cash out with his fists. Bruce Lee by comparison was fairly humble but he would also have no problem taking you down in a fight.

Where do you draw the line of ego vs. confidence? At what point does the “I’m gonna beat your ass” attitude become grating and annoying? I mean it is one thing coming prepared for the challenge saying ‘you can and will do it’ and another thing being an egotistical puffed-up rooster strutting around upsetting everyone.

The easiest way to tell if it is ego or confidence is to ask, “Does this claim/attitude have a base?” And also ask does the person making these claims or acting in a certain way acknowledge that they too once sucked at what they are now good at? Does this person give back to this sport? And finally, does this person show respect no matter who they are dealing with?

You could have the biggest, meanest trash-talking MMA fighter on the planet. He could claim nobody, and I mean nobody could even leave a bruise on him. He could go on about how he is unbeaten, that his fists fly faster and he kicks harder than anyone out there. If he then steps in the ring, annihilates the competition then shakes his opponents hand afterwards; that is confidence. It is likely he’d sign autographs for fans, he listens to the officials and would help someone out on technique advice if he could.

An egotistical fighter would win the bout and leer over his opponent smugly. Or if he lost he’d cry foul or refuse to shake his opponent’s hand. He’s likely have no time for fans, disregard the officials, argue constantly with his coach and manager, and laugh at those who were trying to learn something and struggling. In short, if you are confident, you can back up your claims and will always make time to improve the sport in some way. If you are egotistical you will be overcompensating for a lack of a solid base, you will be a sore loser and nasty winner, as well as acting like you are above everything.

Confidence is NOT an absence of fear or being the absolute best at everything. It is actually acknowledging your short-comings and working with them. Ego is a nasty thing to have. You will deny your short-comings thus never become better at what you do. Ego hides behind a show of loud shouting and generally annoying behaviour. Confidence looks in the eye of someone that says you can’t do it, and then does it anyways.

  • Confidence can be quiet. Ego is only ever at full volume.
  • Confidence is gained through training. Ego is there to hide a lack of training or to hide weaknesses.
  • Confidence is infectious. It raises the mood of those around you. Ego annoys and frustrates others.
  • You will love a confident person. But you will want nothing more than to kick an egotistical person in the crotch.
  • Confidence can be put to the test. Ego would crumble once certain things were asked of it.
  • A confident person always understands there is room for growth and they are never perfect. An egotistical person believes that the sun shines out every orifice and they never need to change or improve.

Having confidence doesn’t always mean you’ll win. Being egotistical doesn’t always mean you’ll lose. With confidence you are definitely more likely to achieve. With ego you are definitely going to make enemies.

The complete opposite side of the scale is humility and submission. Confidence and humility go hand in hand. They are positive attributes. A humble person understands their place and works hard to achieve what they want. Humility is being able to laugh at yourself when you mess up. It is also being able to say well done to your opponent no matter the results of the game. You will be able to compliment your opponent’s attributes after an event in a way that shows how grateful you are to have the opportunity to compete against someone of their caliber.

Submission is where you are the doormat. It is a sign that you have zero confidence and a tiny sense of self worth. You aren’t humble; you just believe the bottom is where you should automatically go. A confident person could crush you in competition. An egotistical person will eat you for breakfast.

The problem with all bad behaviours is that is can either develop like a mould or be cultivated through reinforcement from outside factors. In all cases it could have been stopped with a little bit of discipline. That is why sometimes it is a good experience to have your butt totally and utterly kicked in some form of competition. It can show you how much there is still out there that you totally suck at.

You will have to work at anything to get it right, and your emotional attributes are no different. So here is a guide to developing the right attitude.

How to grow confidence:

  1. Start small. Begin on the things you know you can do and only worry about that. Only push forward at your own pace unless there is a decent enough motivating factor present. I know many people who pushed outside of their comfort zones because they wanted to show off, because someone they hated was present or because there was a reward involved.
  2. Surround yourself with positive and encouraging people. Don’t let any energy-vampires suck away your good vibes. So long as you are sure you are trying your hardest and achieving what you set out to achieve that’s all that counts. And remember what ever goal you set, it’s always possible to shoot a little further than that.
  3. Set SMART goals and make sure you find the support network you need to achieve them. Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-bound. This refers to a goal you can write as follows: I want to run a 10km road race in less than 1hr. I am healthy and there is no reason I cannot achieve this realistically. I am doing this goal for myself/charity/my family/a bet/a challenge/an award/to feel good about myself. I will achieve this in 1 year’s time.
  4. Find your motivating factor and use it to your advantage. Pumping yourself up for just an ordinary training session is almost more important than the event itself. By associating positive feelings with training, when it comes to the event you can treat it like just another training day. It will remove a lot of anxiety for you and increase your confidence.
  5. Accept there are things you just cannot do yet. On the day of the event you must accept that you are here to do what you have prepared to do. Nothing more can be asked of you. If you have prepared enough success will come. If you have not then it will not happen unless you are really lucky. Anxiety is a big killer of confidence and accepting that there are things outside of your scope of control will calm the nerves.
  6. Stay in your bubble. Imagine a force field of sorts that surrounds you at all times. Things will occasionally float into your territory but for the most part it is there to keep the bad things out. This bubble extends only as far as your arms can reach. In reality that is all we can kind of have control over. You cannot do anything to make someone else worse at their job/sport. You cannot make another sports team suck. You can only make yourself good. Just stay in your little bubble and worry about your job.

How to rid ego:

  1. Try competing against someone in something you have never done before or something you know you are terrible at. Preferably pick someone who is really good at it. Lose even though you tried your hardest. Learn to accept it.
  2. Stop making an enemy out of your competition. They are simply an adversary who is trying to get the same thing you want. There will always be more losers in a sporting competition than winners, that’s the entire idea behind crowning a “winner”. If it weren’t for them you couldn’t have the opportunity to be a winner.
  3. Be civil with your opponents. No matter what happens, thank them for a good game/race when it is over. And learn to mean what you say. There is a sense honour in competition. Close competition where both sides are trying their best is incredibly exciting to watch and take part in. No need to drown them in compliments or sing their praises. Simply acknowledge that they are giving you a good game/race.
  4. Competitive sport is not actually about doing your best. Your best may not be enough to make the grade or win the day. Your competition only has to work harder than you, not THEIR hardest to win. Sometimes in order to outwork you they have to stretch themselves to the end of their ability and sometimes beyond that. This is where you want to be in competition. Learn that if someone has to beat you, it is important to make them turn themselves inside out in order to do so. If you do this, you will be in control of the game. Instead of you aiming to beat them, you should force the other team to half kill themselves if they want to beat you. Chances are you’ll work harder than what you think is your limit and have a fantastic result. Start thinking like this and it’s likely you’ll have no place for ego.

It will take a lot of time before you can actually get the right balance of humility, confidence and ego. Next time you put yourself out there by way of actions or words ask yourself this:

  • Does your attitude or speech have a solid base from which you can defend yourself on?
  • Do you publicly acknowledge that you too once were a beginner?
  • Do you give back to the sport you are part of?
  • Do you show the correct amount of respect to supporters, coaches, admin staff, referees, your own team mates and the opposition?

If you answered no to even one of these then you need to re-evaluate your view on confidence.

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