Five mental tricks to boost race confidence

Become unflappable with this excellent advice from a sports psychologist


Sports psychologist and former GB age-grouper Lindsay Woodford has some crafty tricks up her sleeve to keep going when things get tough.


Every athlete wants to feel confident when they are racing, so if you struggle with race day jitters here are my top five tips to trick yourself into unflappable self-confidence.

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Set the right goals

The most common goals athletes set themselves are outcome orientated, for example to achieve a particular finish time or finish position.

That’s great, but outcome goals are often out of your control, the weather might be dreadful (we do live in Britain after all), an old injury might flare up or you might have the week from hell at work, so your pre-race training might be limited.

So to boost your confidence, set yourself some process goals that you can control, for example to swim smoothly, to corner well on the bike or even to enjoy the scenery on the run. Then smash them!

See it and believe it

Imagery is an awesome technique for developing your ideal racing mindset, as it can help prime your responses to race situations. When you have a quiet moment try imagining yourself competing in your next race.

Try to visualise the senses associated with swimming in a lake at 7am (see the other competitors feet and arms splashing, smell the water, hear it whoosh in your ears, feel that cold water on your face) and your ideal response: focus your sight on your target, use the whoosh of the water to block out distracting noises, let that cold sensation perk you up.

You can also use imagery to help you develop strategies to respond to challenges during the race: for example if you go off course in the swim, get a puncture on the bike or are overtaken in the run.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Preparation is the key to helping you feel relaxed and confident on race day. So plan your pre-race dinner, pack your kit bag and even the car, check the route to the venue, visualise your race plan. You want to arrive on race day feeling ready to race.

Reframe the pain

Triathlon is an endurance sport, it’s about having the staying power to keep going when the going gets tough. You need to be physically and mentally tough if you want to achieve your very best performance.

Negative thoughts such as “My legs are knackered” will only make your legs feel more tired as it will focus your attention on them. So in training do some race-pace pieces and be aware of how your body is feeling.

You can then use this as positive feedback during racing: “Yeah my legs are pumping, I am at race pace, I am on for a PB”.

Cheer yourself on

Imagine what would happen to your confidence if your coach, partner of friend shouted; “You screwed up your swim, you may as well give up, you can’t do it.”

It seems unthinkable to imagine one of your supporters saying such negative things to you, so don’t do it to yourself. Be your own best supporter and cheer yourself on in whatever style you respond to best.

It might be something complimentary to make you feel good, a kick up the arse to get you motivated, or a technical focus to shift your attention to the task in hand.

During training, practice your positive self-talk and experiment with different phrases and words to help you maintain a positive mindset.

(Images: iStockPhoto / Unsplash / Stocksnap)


Lindsay Woodford is a chartered sport and exercise psychologist at The Sporting Mindset. What you believe in your mind you can achieve in your sport. For more info head to