By Dale Mann
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – In light of the announcement by UFC Champion Rashad Evans of his struggles with self-doubt, both MMA coaches and sports psychologists agree that such anxiety can be overcome through confidence in training and preparation.
Despite knocking out UFC poster child, Chuck Lidell, and then capturing the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship from Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans told Fighters Only Magazine that self-doubt continues to be his toughest opponent.
“I always see everything, every fight, as a competition against myself,” Evans said in issue number 2 of the Canadian mixed martial arts magazine.
“It’s a funny thing,” MMA trainer Erik Hibler said during a phone interview as he marveled at the elusive nature of doubt within the fighter, “how, at the last minute, while guys are doing their warm-ups, it just creeps in.”
While the violent nature of the anything-goes sport might lead one to conclude that self-doubt would seem quite natural, Hibler says that with a solid foundation and teamwork, the negative trait can be overcome.
“Self-doubt ruins everybody,” he said. “Your foundation needs to be in the systematic approach to your training. It needs to be in the understanding of your own talents and abilities.”
Hibler, himself a former professional MMA fighter, currently trains both amateur and professional MMA teams. “It’s up to your coaching and how prepared your team is to help you,” he said. “It feels good when you have support.”
As opposed to most trainers, Hibler, at his Pittsburgh Fight Club in Pittsburgh, says that he offers his fighters and members a variety of disciplines by which to find their niche.
“I set up structural integrity for everyone to understand where they are and how to understand themselves and what they can get out of themselves mechanically,” he said.
Once the individual has determined his or her own preference, Hibler says that he merely guides them along their path of athletic identity.
While Evans might be the most recent athlete to be publicizing his session with doubt, he is by-far not the first or even the most notable.
Perhaps one of the greatest upsets in professional sports was when James “Buster” Douglas beat Mike Tyson in 1990 to win the heavyweight title. Eight months later, Douglas dropped the title in his first title defense and retired from the sport of boxing.
In 1996, after returning from retirement, Douglas told Sports Illustrated, “I had my doubts about stepping back into the ring after all of that time. I’ve come to realize that doubt will always be there.”
Beyond professional competition, Sports Psychologist, Dr. David Yukelson, claims that doubt is a part of an anxiety reaction that most athletes are forced to deal with.
“It’s a common reaction when they’re not performing with confidence, but there are mental skills that you can teach them to overcome these self-doubts,” he said during a telephone interview.
Yukelson is a sports psychologist at Penn State University in charge of coordinating the sports psychology services of each of the university’s 29 sports teams.
According to Yukelson, part of the skill to overcome doubt is goal-setting by focusing on performance instead of outcomes.
Reiterating Hibler’s reliance on training, Yukelson stresses that confidence comes from a trust within the individual of their preparation prior to competition.
“You have to go back and trust your preparation,” he said, “in whatever sport that may be.”
Once an athlete’s concentration has been broken, Yukelson says that it’s important for them to get back on task and refocus.
“You can choose to get wrapped up in all of the things that you’re worried about, or you can learn how to focus on those things that are in your immediate control and be a competitor and go out and compete,” he stated.