Confidence is an elusive beast writes Greg Cary; here today, but fleeting the next.

Another wonderful year of sport begins. Will the Broncos revisit the glory days? Can the Lions take a few tentative steps towards better days? Can Adam Scott win another green jacket at Augusta or will Jason’s day finally arrive?

Amid all the guesswork there is but one certainty: without confidence there will be no victory. Confidence. For Prime Ministers, athletes and the rest of us it is the essential first requirement to achieve anything. With it all things are possible, without it — nought.

It is an elusive beast; here today, yet tomorrow as hard to catch as the wind in a butterfly net.

Tony Abbott hasn’t been lacking in people offering unsolicited advice over the Christmas break. How grateful he must be that friend and foe alike were offering all kinds of solutions to halt the slide in his and the government’s political standing but, without the confidence he once had in his ability and policies (regardless of what you think of them), it will amount to nothing. I’ll leave political analysis to one side but at a personal level the PM, like the rest of us, is vulnerable to self doubt. Once things start to go wrong it can be hard to stop the momentum. The same when things are going well.

Athletes talk of being “in the zone”. Maybe you’ve experienced it as well. You just know something is going to go to plan. It just flows — the end result of preparation … and confidence. Does the putt have any chance of going in if you think it won’t?

Others will occasionally seek to undermine our confidence and sometimes we become willing (if not always knowing) conspirators. Even the denial of a problem can focus the light on the fact that there is a problem.

When Sam Stosur was knocked out in the first round of the Brisbane International after holding match points at 5-1 in the third set, journalists wasted no time in talking of her “mental fragility” and spoke of her reputation for imploding. Oh, how they again wanted to call her a choker — the harshest and worst word in sport. And then one or two did. Shame. How many players would swap their careers in a heartbeat for what Stosur has achieved?

Does it not occur to those who say this stuff that you simply don’t win a U.S. Open by being “mentally fragile” — whatever that is. Sam clearly faces issues closing matches out at times but that doesn’t mean she’s somehow weak. It does mean that there is something physically or psychologically happening at certain times that is limiting the instinctive abilities she clearly possesses. When Sam speaks publicly it is filled with undertones of defensiveness. You can only imagine the self-talk at critical times.

Golfers with the yips aren’t mentally “fragile” anymore than a high-board diver is cowardly for suddenly balking at a manoeuvre they once performed with ease. The brain remains largely uncharted territory and plays tricks on us all. At a time when we are coming to grips with the increasing incidence of depression and anxiety it ill-serves those trying to demystify conditions impacting a large number in our community to have athletes being described as chokers or fragile. What
then does it make others?

It makes them human beings doing the best they can who, when they fall short, pick themselves up and go again.

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