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7 Tips for Building Confidence with Olympian Olivia Smoliga

You probably know Olivia Smoliga as an Olympic swimmer. From the NCAA’s to the World Championships, Olympic Trials and Olympics, Olivia’s made a name for herself as a force to be reckoned with in the pool. However, we didn’t go on deck to talk to her about any of her aquatic accomplishments, but the magical one we all struggle to attain from time to time: Confidence.

These are 7 tips for building confidence from JoPro and Olympic legend, Olivia Smoliga: 


1. It’s normal to not feel confident.

You can have an Olympic gold medal and still struggle to feel confident at a swim meet as well as any other arena in life. It is normal to go through times when you aren’t feeling confident; however, the important thing is to focus on what you do next.

“I just wanna let you know that confidence is a daily practice. Although it may seem like some people just ‘got it,’ don’t let their ease fool you. Their confidence is likely built upon doing things that make them uncomfortable, that they don’t think they’re good at, or that may scare them and doing those things OFTEN. You must try to face your fears regularly. This can be as little as taking an ice bath — Ooo I know that’s cold. If you do, what you’ll come to realize is that the thoughts screaming at you that you CAN’T do something or that you’ll never be good at it, are all fake. These are the ways your brain will keep you in your comfort zone - where it doesn’t have to take any risks, where it’s safe, boring and where dreams go to die. And it’s okay if you do these things scared. You will not feel 100% all the time. You just gotta do it."



2. Don’t dwell. Take action.

Smoliga tells us that even though it is normal not to feel confidence, it is important not to dwell. Instead of dwelling on it, try to let it go and give it another shot. 

“It’s definitely okay to not be okay but you don’t want to not be okay forever. I know how you might feel after a bad race. I know it may feel like a punch to the gut if you DQ your relay. If you slipped on the blocks… And while your feelings of disappointment are valid, it's time to quit beating yourself up. Instead of dwelling, ask yourself these three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? 

One: is ‘I suck at swimming’ true? Do you suck at swimming or are you in the middle of a hard training block? 

Two: Let’s say you see a friend come out of a bad race. Would you say, ‘Aye bro I don’t think you’re ever going to drop time in that event.’ Is that kind? If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, you shouldn’t say it to yourself.

 Three: Is it helpful? Are you constructively critical with your performance? For example: ‘Ooo my turns were sloppy but if I clean them up, I can definitely drop time!’ The goal here is to learn and move on. 

How can you excel if you keep judging yourself? Give yourself a hug and try again.”



3. Get out there and do it.

Even if you’re not feeling it and regardless of the outcome, Smoliga tells us you’ve just got to get out there and do it. 

Even if you’re not feeling it and regardless of the outcome, Smoliga tells us you’ve just gotta get out there and do it. 

“Don’t let the fear of failing stop you from doing what you want. Every time I stepped up on the blocks at Olympic Trials, the first time being when I was 17, I was so nervous! And that’s an understatement. At that time, there were no backstroke wedges so you just had to do a start on touchpads that had no gripping on them. So there was a huge chance I could slip. I practiced and practiced to make sure I wouldn’t, and yet I still thought about it as I walked out for the final. But I knew I wanted to be there! I knew I could do something special! No matter what my fears were telling me. And at those trials, I made it to the final of the 100 back. How will you know what you can do, if you never try? No one cares if you fall on your face. They will admire that you even had the courage to even go after your goals in the first place. You shouldn’t care what others think anyway, but let that give you some solace next time you wanna try something out of the ordinary.” 



4. Focus on consistent action toward a goal.

Being consistent means you keep coming back. There will be good days and bad days but being consistent builds the momentum you need to succeed.

“Like I mentioned earlier, understand that you’re not going to feel good all the time. It won’t always be perfect but being consistent means you keep coming back. Once you’ve established what you want your end goal to be, you can begin to build towards it. This starts with consistently going to practice. Going to bed early so that you can recover for the next day. Stretching. If you add all these “little” things up, and whatever else you feel you need to add into your routine, it will compound tremendously by the end of the season. When you know you’ve done the work, you will be on autopilot with confidence when it comes time for your big show."


Olivia Smoliga wearing a pink bikini, diving into the pool


5. Take care of yourself.

Taking care of yourself is often easier said than done but Smoliga tells us what that involves and what works best for her.

“Taking care of yourself is checking in with yourself. I’ve made this a consistent habit so that I’m not only checking in on myself if I’m feeling bad. What are the healthy ways that you make yourself feel better? Do more of that! For me, I love to do yoga to release tension in my body and mind. I love to eat a healthy balanced meal that fuels me for the next day. I know if I happen to be overthinking something or if I’m too much in my own head, I need to hang with my friends, and ask for advice. But if I do happen to feel low, like I said earlier, I try my best not to dwell on it. And I don’t do things that may make me feel worse - like being unkind to myself or staying up all night frustrated because then I’ll just feel tired and even more irritated the next day! I let it go. I check on my foundation. Have I drank enough water? Have I gotten enough sleep? Have I eaten balanced meals? Do I need to call my mom? When you set this framework, things like goal setting, having good practices and life outside the pool will be a lot easier.”


6. Trust yourself.


Like taking care of yourself, trusting yourself can be easier said than done. Olivia tells us why it's so important to trust yourself whether you’re outside the pool or stepping up on the blocks. 

“The greatest piece of advice I ever received was to trust myself. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to anyone when they’re trying to help you. In fact, always ask for help when you need it! Trusting yourself means being empowered in your own decisions. It is, in fact, your life. Take ownership in that. No one is going to do it for you. Trust yourself to do your own thing. You are not here to fit in. Your goals may be extreme! That’s great! What are you going to do to get there? Do you trust yourself that you can do it? Even if no one does, I do. This can be challenging if you have a bad race mid season. ‘Am I even gonna drop time at states after that swim?’ Once you know that bad swims are going to happen on the way towards your success, if you can keep a cool head, trusting that it's just one stepping stone on your path, you learn to appreciate your boundless capabilities.”


 7. Never failing. Always redefining.

Failure can be like a slingshot. The pulling back shoots you forward. Take control of your own narrative and the story you tell yourself. 

Let’s take a minute to redefine failure. Failure, to me, means redirection. It is not the end of the road. It means that there is something that I can work on, adjust, and improve towards achieving my goals. It means I have exposed a weakness - and what other way to get better than that?! What better way to continue to improve than that? Just because you are not good at something the first, second, or third time, does not mean you won’t be successful on your fourth try. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a challenge to be reflective after a disappointment. But it is imperative for your growth. Are you able to use the three steps in tip #2 to shake off a setback and direct your energy towards bettering yourself? The quicker your turnover, the easier your bounce back. You think you’re the only one who’s ever failed? Let me tell you a story. I had a dream to become an Olympian when I was 8 years old. I watched the 2004 Olympics and I wanted to be just like the athletes I saw on TV. I decided to become a one-sport athlete when I was 13, leaving volleyball behind after a few sprained ankles lol, and I started to improve. I would bet you I lost as many races as I won. Four years later, at age seventeen, I competed in my first Olympic Trials. I got fourth in the 100 backstroke, and they take top two for the Olympic Team. I was crushed. But I kept going. Four years after that, at my second Olympic Trials, I won the 100 backstroke, effectively making my first Olympic Team. It took me thirteen years to achieve my greatest goal at that time. What if I had given up when I was seventeen? I guess I’ll never know. And you won’t ever have to find out, if you don’t quit. Trust yourself, take care of yourself, dust yourself off and KEEP IT LIGHT!

My challenge to you is to take some time today to write out your goals. See how your mentality shifts. You are amazing. I can’t wait to watch you shine. 

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