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Building the Confident Athlete

Image of Danielle Martin
Danielle Martin

We had an opportunity to talk to Danielle Martin, a Mental Skills Coach for top professional athletes and an Sevwins Advisor, about the power of vulnerability and how to build confident athletes. Vulnerability is a mental block that everyone faces from time to time. No one wants to feel that they are not good enough or that they cannot take on a challenge because they are afraid of losing.  

The Fear Behind Vulnerability

People are intimidated by the word “vulnerable”, specifically because it can affect people mentally, physically, or emotionally. Danielle believes that most people initially associate vulnerability with the idea of being weak, which therefore translates to people believing that expressing their emotions is a weak trait. Considering how common it is for people to fear vulnerability, Danielle’s goal in coaching people is to show them that vulnerability is not to be feared, but embraced. Vulnerability is a superpower, and when we learn to get out of our own way, we are able to conquer this fear of being vulnerable and harness the power it brings. Accepting vulnerability allows us to be our authentic and genuine selves, so as Danielle would say, “the more we give [in life], the more we get… [so we should tap into] that vulnerable side and give from there.”

It is easy to get caught up in putting on a face to the world and not showing those deeper layers of ourselves because we are afraid that others will not like us. People fear not being liked, not fitting in, not being good enough; we fear failure in our performance. Danielle notes how she personally experiences these feelings from time to time, where she does not think she is good enough or doubts her own value. An important idea Danielle brought up is that at times she is so afraid to fail, that she “[sabotages herself] to not be good at [something] because [she is] too afraid to be vulnerable.” Taking those feelings, Danielle believes it is necessary to open the door to courage and face those parts of ourselves that are uncomfortable so that you can get to a place where you can be “comfortably uncomfortable”. We must recognize that we all have our weaknesses, and that is okay.

Learn to Embrace Yourself

Take a step back and think about this: we are all human beings. Each of us with the same internal instincts to eat, breathe, and survive. We all face challenges and are all confronted with failure. Yet we are all unique people. If we do not accept vulnerability, we might never truly develop our unique selves. This is especially true for athletes. If you want to be a great athlete, you need to walk through the door of courage and think to yourself, “I’m going to take time today to face my weaknesses, look at my issues, write them down, or even talk to someone about them.” When you open this door, you have the ability to create an action plan and work to better yourself overall.

Accept Constructive Criticism

Say you are a coach and there is an athlete on your team that you want to push from the minor leagues to the major leagues. You have to help the athlete pinpoint their weaknesses. Maybe they are not disciplined enough, they have a poor work ethic, or they deal with high levels of anxiety. The athlete cannot progress until they hold themselves accountable to their vulnerabilities and work on their issues. This does not only apply to athletics, as Danielle mentions, this can happen in any facet of life. The things that make us vulnerable can be performance on the field, life at home, relationships, and so much more. We need to find a way to let go of these issues and accept that we cannot understand everything that our mind does. 

In her own experience, Danielle used to feel that she had to understand why certain things happened to her or why her mind felt vulnerable before she could let it all go. It took time, but she came to the realization that we are all human beings and these vulnerabilities are natural; no one is at fault for them. Difficult times forge us into who we are and allow us to grow and improve ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Being Vulnerable Allows You to Grow

Everyone needs to find a way to be comfortable in their own skin. To feel happy and confident in their professional lives, at school, on the field – anywhere. If you are an athlete at the college level, then you are being paid to show up and deliver a positive attitude and vulnerability. It is crucial to accept constructive criticism from a coach and to accept failure from time-to-time. If you are vulnerable, then you are open to learning the lesson that life is supposed to deliver to you. It allows you to grow as an individual and become more compelling and unique. Very few people accept vulnerability in practice, so to do so ultimately radiates more confidence than the majority of people. Be vulnerable in the moments you are able to, be vulnerable to the people you choose to surround yourself with, and be open to constructive criticism to allow yourself to prosper. In Danielle’s own words, “please be open being human, take the weight off of your shoulders, let it go, and be vulnerable to the moments that you're given.” Vulnerability is a superpower.


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