That Flimsy Little Thing Called Confidence …

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So lots of attention has gone on Manchester United in recent weeks, having changed manager, CEO and gone from runaway title winners last season to an average mid table team this term.  So what has changed?

After back to back home losses in the Premier League, United defender Jonny Evans said “The lads have lost a bit of confidence. You can tell that with the possession and creativity.  Players maybe are not playing how they naturally would. That happens when your confidence drops.”

It certainly does, ask Roger Federer.

Lack of confidence can beset just about anyone.  At times, Federer, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, has undoubtedly lost confidence, most notably this year where he suffered earlier than expected losses at Wimbledon (2r) and the US Open (4r), with a post Wimbledon slump while testing a potential new racket in Europe.

Federer’s lack of confidence against the other members of this golden generation (Nadal & Djokovic) have seen him at times try and go for winners too early, leading to his normally stellar forehand become error strewn.

Why is it that top athletes can be troubled by such a lack of confidence in their own ability?  After all the United team is largely the same as that which won the Premier League at a canter last season and Federer has won just about everything there is to play for in tennis.

A quote in a recent interview with Federer is revealing: “By the end, everyone around me was talking positively again, the mood was much better than in the summer. That boosts my morale for the coming year, and it’s a big relief. The fun has definitely returned.”

So clearly while things were not going well earlier in the year it would seem, by implication, that there were negative vibes coming from Federer’s support team.  Additionally, it would seem tennis, his enjoyment of competing he often cites as motivation for continuing to play at 32, had ceased to be the fun that it was.

We all make mistakes, have bad days, losses, etc. but how we react to them determines our future performance.  In a team or group context how we react to other people’s mistakes or low points can also impact their performance.

One characteristic I observed of Federer in the World Tour Finals in November was that he was failing to stay present.  In matches against Djokovic and Nadal in particular, he resorted to berating himself and clearly unhappy.

A clear sign of lack of confidence and doubt in one’s own ability, for Federer it was ominous but if those around him are now reacting more positively his recent declaration that he still has goals in tennis might yet mean that 2014 might be a better year for him than 2013!

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