BOOST YOUR FENCING CONFIDENCE WITH PERSONAL MOTIVATIONAL VIDEOS
by Jason Rogers
Every athlete will tell you that confidence is essential to performing your best. However, by nature, confidence can be elusive – almost catlike – and disappear the moment you expect it to be there. And while it is something that comes from within, it’s important to know that you can also use external cues to conjure it when you need it the most.
For example, many fencers choose to warm up for competitions with headphones and music that helps them get into the right headspace. Personally, I preferred listening to hip hop or electronic music because a strong beat helped me establish a rhythm in my warmup. Sometimes I would find myself singing along to certain lyrics because they helped me overcome any self-doubt I had before a match. I also had a special track for tense moments called “Breathe” by a group named Télépopmusik that reminded me to – you guessed it – take deep breaths when I felt stressed.
MY MOTIVATIONAL VIDEO
In the famed football movie “Any Given Sunday,” Al Pacino, who plays the head coach of the fictional Miami Sharks, delivers a hair-raising speech to the team before a critical match. It’s difficult not to be inspired by the intensity of his message. Most athletes can think of a moment when their coach said something at exactly the right moment that just made everything “click” into place.
My college coach, Vladimir Nazlymov, was great at giving these types of motivational pep-talks before important moments, but unfortunately, Vladimir wasn’t always able to travel with me to every competition. So instead, I would watch great sports movies the night before competitions in an effort to boost my confidence mojo. A personal favorite was “Miracle,” the film that documents the famed victory of USA Hockey over the unbeatable Soviet team in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. While these movies really helped me, it was unrealistic to expect to have two hours to watch a full film the night before every competition. What I needed was a way to deliver a quick boost of confidence, exactly when I needed it, whether that be on the plane, in bed the night before, or right before a critical match.
In 2006, I had the idea to create my own video that I could watch before competitions to get me psyched up and my confidence flowing. I also realized that a personalized video could be an even more effective medium for inspiration because, in addition to videos of other people that inspired me, I could also include clips of my own fencing. This was a great tool to visually remind me what excellence looked like. So, I got myself some editing software and dusted off my video archives. Below is the video I assembled myself, which despite looking and feeling dated, still gives me that mental jolt even today. (Sorry for the video quality! It's an old file and is best viewed in a smaller window to avoid pixelation). Extra points to those who spot typo!
Now let’s look more closely at the elements that make up a personal motivation video
WHY DO MOTIVATIONAL VIDEOS WORK?
Motivational videos work directly on what psychologists call “self-efficacy,” which is roughly a person’s belief that they can control the outcome of a specific situation. It’s a multi-faceted measure of a number of psychological variables, but high self-efficacy is one of the best predictors of sports performance in athletes.
While the effect of motivational videos has been primarily studied in the context of exercise (e.g. sprinting, abdominal plank exercises, etc.), the effect is clear – motivational videos can boost self-efficacy and therefore help athletes optimize their own performance.
ADD THE PEOPLE YOU ADMIRE
Rather than look only at fencers, I also picked clips of other athletes and public figures that inspired me because of the way they carried themselves under tough conditions. For example, I was fascinated by Roger Federer’s ability to rise to the occasion when battling it out with some of the greatest tennis legends of all time like Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic. It seemed that the tougher conditions, the greater his poise. I also greatly admired Sean White, a major innovator and strong competitor in snowboarding, the sport I loved as a teenager. He consistently dominated the X-Games and won two back-to-back golds at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics.
I also picked clips of fencing contemporaries, some of whom still compete today. I have always looked up to Stanislav Podzniakov (Russia), whose style, strength and strategy made him one of the best sabre fencers of all time. I included clips of the 2005 World Championship match when Podzniakov mounted an epic comeback in the final bout of the Men’s Sabre team event to win the gold. Similarly, I loved Aldo Montano’s (Italy) beautiful technique and extraordinary physical prowess, and so I added clips from the Gold Medal Match at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Both are thrilling to watch even today!
FIND OR SHOOT VIDEO OF YOUR FENCING AT ITS BEST
I also went back through the thousands of images and hundreds of hours of fencing videos I had accumulated over the years to find the moments where I felt like I was at my personal best. Watching these clips helped me recreate the feelings of being in the “zone” that I had during those bouts.. I found moments from a full range of competitions (from World Championships to NACs) and looked for certain touches that I had either executed perfectly or reminded me that taking risks was an essential part of my best fencing.
For example, I wove in footage from the 2004 Olympics during the final rotation of our Bronze Medal Match with Russia, in which I beat Sergei Sharikov* 9 to 4. It was one of the moments I remember best from those games and wanted to create more like it in the coming years. I also put my own clips next to those of Montano and Podzniakov to remind myself that I, too, could produce amazing touches when I maintained my focus and confidence.
WEAVE IN KEY MESSAGES
As a psychology major in college, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could improve my mental game. A key aspect that I focused on was my “self-talk,” which, in other words, is the ongoing conversation happening in my head. You often don’t realize it, but you are constantly talking to yourself (some refer to this as your inner monologue). Most often it’s reflexive, but it’s important to take control of what you are saying to yourself during critical moments because it can change the way you feel, and thus the way you act. For example, if you are losing a match 12-8, your inner voice may chip in and say “It’s over,” which will completely change how you fence in the final touches. If, instead, you say “One touch at a time,” you can give yourself a much better shot at staying focused and getting back into the match.
Over the years, I developed some key thoughts that I wanted to reinforce in my self-talk, which I then wove into the video. For example, “Act Tough. Think Tough.” was a mantra I used to remind myself of the importance of mental resilience in difficult moments. “Just Believe” was another that I would repeat over and over to myself when I wasn’t feeling at my best.
I would strongly encourage you to take control of your self-talk. The process starts with first noticing what types of things you say to yourself. Then working to adjust disempowering language to some that is more confidence inspiring. One key characteristic of successful people is the way they frame challenges in their mind. For example the aforementioned snowboarder, Sean White, when talking about his mindset says, “I still think of myself as the rookie coming up...The best way of dealing with pressure is thinking it’s fun.” I love this way of thinking about tough situations because it shifts your focus to see the opportunities before you.
WHAT IS THE COST OF MAKING A MOTIVATIONAL VIDEO?
With abundant free (or cheap) video editing software, the birth of Youtube and a smartphone in practically every person’s hand, this method is far easier to execute now then when I created my video. I had to scour the internet to find a handheld digital video player small enough to bring to a competition!
The primary cost of a motivational video is your time. It takes a lot of effort to source the clips you like and weave them together in a way that feels seamless and inspiring. It’s important to keep in mind how much you can learn and achieve through this effort. Remember, too, Pareto’s Principle which states that 80 percent of the effect is achieved from 20 percent of the effort. In other words, this isn’t a Jerry Bruckheimer Production and it doesn’t have to be super slick to be effective!
SOME TOOLS YOU CAN USE
Video editing software can get very expensive, very quickly, when it weaves in all the extra features for professionals. However, all you need are the following basic features to achieve something that looks good
- Cut and organize clips
- Overlay text on the clip
- Synchronize a music track
If you are an Apple user, you have access to iMovie (both desktop and mobile versions available), which is completely free editing software. PC users have a similar option in Movie Maker, (there is a forthcoming upgrade to the software that’s yet to be announced which should only make it better). You can even edit videos directly in Youtube.
WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE TIME?
It’s ok, if you don’t feel like you are ready for a personal motivational video yet. In the meantime, there are literally hundreds of thousands of motivational films that others have created and shared. You need only search on Youtube for “Motivational videos sports” to find a bevy of options to choose from. You can even look for “Motivational videos fencing” and find some nice compilations of inspirational fencing.
I highly recommend that you take the time to create your own personal motivation video because it’s like having a confidence IV directly administered to your veins! I think that you will find that even the process of reviewing and editing old videos of your own fencing will give you a confidence boost when you see how far you have come.
*Tragically, Sergei Sharikov was killed in an automobile accident on 6 June 2015, after an incredible career – two Olympic golds,a silver, and a bronze
**Header Image Photo courtesy of Serge Timacheff / FIE