Why does confidence appear to be such a critical factor in sports performance –

How lack of confidence destroyed my enjoyment and my game!

During my time as a national athlete, I could have used heaps more clarity and confidence. One time, I remember being in Australia on tour for the Hong Kong National Netball Team, that I stayed awake all night before a competition, worrying about whether I could put the ball in the basket the next day. How bizarre, losing sleep over a sport I loved, why do we do this to ourselves?

Being an over-achiever

Why is it we put ourselves under enormous amounts of pressure to do well, improve or do the right thing, especially now during the lockdown; to eat well, stay connected, get involved and be on-line, with everyone else keeping fit? What if, our state of mind is not willing? It is no surprise that people get a sense of being left behind hopelessly struggling, with low self-esteem, and falling energy levels.

I tried everything!

As a mental skills specialist, my affirmations reminded me of all the times I had performed out of my skin. Positive self-talk and visualisation practises to calm my busy mind filled my training diary. My knowledge of NLP and CBT developed my capacity to be mentally and emotionally aware and re-frame my thinking to reroute from habitual negative behaviours. Yet, none of these techniques brought me the confidence I needed to sleep easy and perform well. There were times when it felt agonisingly painful, leaving my whole body hurting, and my breathing shallow. Sport was impacting my mental health and wellbeing, which ultimately hindered my performance and results.

Class Performance Sad-footballer02

So what’s the answer, Denise?

It wasn’t until I slowed down, after leaving my role of Scotland National Coach (Netball), did I profoundly realise a truth about human life that would change my perspective forever. Telling you, won’t cut it, because it’s not an intellectual understanding, but guiding you might?

Take a step back, pause for a moment

I invite you to take a few minutes, sit back, and be in a state of reflection to consider this, is it OK to feel? Don’t answer, as the juice is in the question, not the answering. Can you see just how often your thinking and corresponding feeling state changes and nothing else has altered on the outside? Being able to watch my mind get active; emotions heightened, then in one breath of realisation quiet down, without me needing to do anything, is probably one of the most profound insights of my life.

Don’t be concerned about getting more confident?

I say this because, my definition of confidence might be somewhat diffierent to most. For me, feeling confident is not a skill, acquirable or achievable, it is a state naturally there, but for your thinking. Take a look, how much confidence is required for you to breathe, or for your food to digest? Would you consider that babies need to hone the attribute of “confidence” to learn to walk and talk?

It’s already yours for the taking

When your mind is busy with needing a particular outcome, you may not respond with your usual clarity and focus, which doesn’t bode well for productivity and results. You recognise your mental activity isn’t helpful and try hard to be clearer and more confident, using techniques, but this makes matters worse. The secret, therefore, is not to go chasing so-called confidence to rectify a stressful state, instead, leave it alone and allow your mind to clear all by itself. Like our physical bodies, the human mind is a genius piece of engineering, complete with innate mental health and resilience, designed for life!

It’s OK to feel, it doesn’t mean what you think it means!

In conclusion, the ultimate game-changer for me is when I profoundly realised that it is OK to feel. Imagine that, not taking your perspective so seriously, and knowing there is an abundance of natural confidence, wellbeing and creativity bursting to come through! For 30 years, I believed that my experiences of fear and stress were solid and somehow it meant something; my game had gone, vanished in a moment of panic and that I needed something else to bring it back, but, this is a rabbit hole and not how the human experience works! Just because you feel it, doesn’t mean you need to act on it. Also, where could your skills go; thousands of hours of training, bolstering millions of neurological pathways, and boom in a moment of worry, they’re gone, and it’s all over! The good news is we know that’s not true. So now when I work with clients, I help you to see that an anxious feeling is saying something about the quality of your thinking not about your capacity to play. The way you think and feel is optional, up for grabs, and is not inevitable given the environment or situation, even though it doesn’t look like that – realising this gave me the power back.

If this resonates, join me for a complimentary webinar Thursday 28th May 2020, 17.00 UK, 09.00 PST, 12.00 noon, EST and discover how to unleash your innate resilience, even during times of uncertainty and change.

Mental Health & Confidence in Sport – Free Webinar with former Scotland National Coach and Human Performance Consultant, Denise Holland

Sign-up for FREE Webinar

What People Say About Working With Denise

I enjoyed speaking with Denise about the mind and performance. The conversations were very insightful and always had me challenging and questioning the status quo regarding mental performance. The critical pointer Denise gave was that our natural state is freedom of mind, clarity and potential. We don’t need to overexert the mind to find these states. Searching for them often leads us further into tension. I found this very relatable to direct experiences in life and sport.

Grayson Hart
Scotland International Rugby Player - London Scottish FC

I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Denise when we met in America. It would be easy to accuse me of exaggeration or sensationalising by making the following statement, but I can only offer you the truth as I see it.

Matthew Roberts
England International High Jumper who came back from breaking his neck!

Denise has a tremendous understanding of how to achieve elite performance in sport. Her contagious enthusiasm is motivating and inspires you to the next level

Lesley MacDonald
Scotland National Netball Athlete (107 caps)

Before I took part in Denise’s Health and Well Being programme, I stressed in many situations; it would prevent me from taking part in different things. I now look at the situations holistically and not let thoughts prevent me from putting myself forward.

Charlie Harris
2nd-year student – The University of Greenwich – Forensic science with Criminology Student

Denise is impressive in her abilities by any standard. Her ability to teach and develop those around her, mark her out as someone with exceptional leadership and coaching skills. I constantly seek advice and counsel from her and trust her implicitly.

Floyd Woodrow MBE
Chairman and CEO of Chrysalis Worldwide

I reached out to Denise when my world seemed to be falling apart. I had recently received a diagnosis of two different types of cancer; my son was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and had little time to live. I did not know how to process all of this, and my mental state spiralled! Within ten minutes of quiet time with Denise, I felt everything lifting from my shoulders and a feeling of calm settling in its place. Working with Denise has given me a deeper understanding and knowledge of the mind, it keeps me on a healthy path not only in general day-to-day life but as a life skill in my work environment and sport. Forever grateful to you, Denise.


Mark Harris
Senior Business Analyst and Golfer!

I enjoyed this course very much as it improved my shooting technique and accuracy dramatically. I learned that you do not have to be controlled by your negative thoughts because they are not you.

Harriet Bonner-Leney
Age 12

Meeting Denise was perfect timing, written in the stars, foretold, whatever. My world was falling apart, my marriage had ended, my child was in serious trouble, and I was upping sticks and moving up North to run the biggest, most complex project of my career.
Four months later, my project is an astonishing success, my marriage is back on track, and best of all, my baby is coming back to me. I am different at work, at home, inside my head, and others can see it. The dark days aren’t dark any more because they don’t last, and the light days are far more frequent. Denise’s workj isn’t just amazing in the world of sport but any area of life.

Vicky Norman
Implementation Manager

I used to struggle to remain calm and confident in stressful situations, what others think of me, what would happen if I did something wrong? We are all capable of achieving, no part of our abilities is lacking! This programme has truly changed me for the best and is perfect during my final year of University.

Hannah Salem
Third Year Student - The University of Kent - Sports Therapy

Denise has the skills and experience to wake people up to deeper knowledge about themselves. In the sporting arena, this knowledge happens to be crucially important.

Adam Ashe
Professional Rugby Player – Glasgow Warriors

I am so grateful to have worked with Denise, I used to float in and out of different moods and believed it was other things and situations causing them. Honestly, this understanding has changed my life.

Nadia McMillian
Third Year Student - The University of Kent, Sport and Exercise Science.

Denise’s new approach is great for teamwork, we don’t get upset with each other anywhere near as much, and get over disappointments quickly.

Amelia Davies
Third Year Student - The University of Kent, Sports and Excercise for Health

Denise has been instrumental in my evolving understanding of the Three Principles and how they specifically apply in high-performance sport. Her insightful and intuitive way of working has challenged and deepened my fundamental understanding of all human performance. I’ll always be appreciative of her significant role in my development as a performance director and coach.

Richard Pybus
Founder & CEO Optimal Performance - Former Director of Cricket - West Indies Cricket Board

I appreciate the support Denise gave me when I was transitioning into my new role at Leinster and helping me understand how to ‘free my mind!

Stuart Lancaster
Senior Coach Leinster Rugby – Former England Rugby Coach