It’s not always plain sailing – battling back when your confidence is rock bottom

We’ve all been through tough times when our confidence has taken a battering. It happens to the best of us, and sometimes, in the case of elite athletes, very publicly.

The very best recover their confidence remarkably quickly when they’re rock bottom In 2013 Team Oracle USA achieved the unachievable and won the America’s Cup from a practically impossible position. The story of how they regained their confidence – and how they knew how to – is one we can all learn from.

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High performance headlines

To bounce back when you’re rock bottom, here’s what to do:

  • Keep focused on your achievements and strengths.
  • Be clear on your performance recipe – keep the faith and keep focused on it.
  • Think and act constantly with those two things in mind. No matter how hard it is, keep performance and strengths focused. Everything you do, think and say should demonstrate that.

The full viewpoint

In 2013 Oracle Team USA staged one of the greatest comebacks of all time to beat Emirates Team New Zealand and win the pinnacle of elite competitive sailing – the America’s Cup. They came from a position of being 8-1 down to winning the series 9-8 – quite extraordinary.

When Ben Ainslie, who was drafted in as strategist half way through the series, was asked what made the difference, he said they focused on two things. Firstly, making small tweaks to the boat to make it go faster. And secondly, team confidence.

Sounds simple – but what did they actually do?

3 rules for bouncing back

We don’t know for sure, but from having worked with plenty of elite performers in similar situations, we think there are 3 things Ben and his crew will have done:

  • They’ll have reminded themselves of their achievements and their strengths. They’ll have focused on their assets – the qualities that could give them the edge over Team New Zealand.
  • They’ll have tuned back into their recipe for success. What they needed to do – as a team and individuals – to get the result they wanted. They’d have been crystal clear on their tactics and plan, team behaviours and mindset and individual roles.
  • They’ll have been 100% focused on numbers 1 and 2. All their energy would have been on executing their recipe brilliantly. And they’d have been talking constantly about their strengths and successes after each race as they built momentum, and their plan for continuing to use those strengths in the next race.

Bringing it to life

They’d have been very specifically focusing on that stuff in team meetings and debriefs. But it wouldn’t have ended there. In fact it just started there. What counted – and what Team USA did brilliantly – is how this was brought to life, on the ground.

Everything every person did and said (and thought) would have reflected those 3 rules. Here’s what we’d have seen if we’d been on that boat or around the meetings:

  • people constantly calling out when they’d seen their teammates do something well. Lots of specific shout-outs of ‘well done’, ‘good job’, ‘you nailed that’ and so on.
  • race reviews where they celebrated their wins, but spent more time understanding why they won. Knowing what part of their recipe was critical, and what things to keep doing – essential to keeping momentum and remaining focused on the next performance.
  • after races, team mates would have taken time to give feedback to each other. Some of this might be on great stuff they’d seen each other doing (using examples). Some might be stuff that wasn’t great, but the focus is on what we (and note the we) need to do to make it better next time. No blame, just shared focus on solutions and getting better.
  • Loads of support and backing each other. Helping each other out, trusting each other, publically backing each other. Not just comments to each other, but to the media, friends, family and even competitors.
  • Before races, they’d have been super clear on the plan and individual roles. In the TV coverage of the race, you could hear the helmsman and strategist (Sir Ben) talking about this, with everyone chipping in. Not just one leader, but a team of leaders.

Confidence is a funny thing

We all know confidence is vital for us to perform well. After all, nothing breeds success like confidence (unless it’s success, but that’s another story). In the world of sport, confidence is very explicitly discussed and then worked on. In the world of business, the mindset and approach is a bit different. So there’s an obvious oversight here and we wonder what might happen if you tried out the approach that Oracle Team USA took this week – for you, your team and your business? How much confidence can you generate and exploit, by making it a team focus?

What would the equivalent in your world look like?  How and where would you start with it? And if you did it, what impact might it have? Because we’re pretty sure that if you change your mindset and behaviours when it comes to confidence, you’ll start reaping some immediate rewards .