The Not-So-Secret Ingredient for ESPY winner Thomas ‘Snacks’ Lee

What do all athletes have in common? Confidence. Or lack-there-of. 

Confidence is something that affects every athlete, as it is a key trait for greatness in anything. Lack of confidence, however, can be detrimental for the psyche of an athlete: the self-doubt that comes from missing an important shot, the thoughts that arise when someone criticizes your play, the negative self-talk that makes you question “Am I good enough?”

Even the greatest athletes have moments of doubt, and they will tell you that too, falling into the trap of comparison and self-doubt. On the bright side, you are not alone. However, if you are suffering from a lack of confidence, it is most likely negatively affecting your performance. The difference between good and great, in terms of confidence, is the ability to maintain confidence and composure in the face of adversity. The great ones know that at the end of the day, self-confidence is what keeps them driven, focused, and positive and it can either make or break them.

General science agrees that self-confidence leads to increased knowledge, taking risks, thinking positively, being courageous, setting goals, and self-belief. This,in turn, can influence an individual’s success, according to the Journal of Physical Education of Students. Athletes with high self-confidence use their physical and mental skills to reach their full potential and success even in situations of high stress. It may not be a revolutionary idea, but mastering self-talk and feeling comfortable in your own skin could very well be the missing ingredient to reaching your full potential. 

Recently, Jackson State University’s Thomas “Snacks” Lee went from basketball team manager to internet sensation overnight thanks to his confidence and positive attitude. When Jackson State played Arkansas Pine Bluff on senior night, Snacks was expecting a normal day with the team, he was not expecting to step foot on the court. He was just the team manager, hadn’t played a second in the four years he was there. Much to his surprise, Coach Brent pulled him aside and informed Snacks that he should grab a jersey and lace up his shoes, because he was getting some minutes that night.

 With a 30 point lead, the student-manager-turned-basketball-player stepped onto the court to a loud roar and standing ovation from the crowd. The stage was set for another heartwarming story about the manager who got a chance to play and made it count, all Snacks had to do was hit a shot.

So Lee took his position outside the three point line and his teammates set him up. A catch and shoot three for Snacks and all the glory in the world. The crowd held its breath as the high, arching shot didn’t even scrape the bottom of the net, and the next two shots clanged off the backboard and rim. It was not looking good for Snacks and his Sportscenter Top 10 dreams.

 For many people, this would have been discouraging or possibly embarrassing but Lee said these few shots just helped to “get the jitters out”. On his fourth shot, he took a few extra steps back to make sure he had room, let a deep three fly and drained it. As one could imagine, this video of Thomas Lee went viral. 

The gym may as well have exploded, because the camera started shaking and the crowd was going insane. “Snacks” was known for handing out skittles and food at games, he was a fan favorite and the ultimate team manager for that. Now Snacks is known for sinking a legendary three, winning an ESPY for the “Can’t-Stop-Watching Moment”, and being an advocate for people with low self-esteem and confidence.

 Lee said “When I entered the game in March… I had the ultimate confidence. My teammates told me ‘We believe in you, so every time we pass it to you, let it fly’” according to ESPN. 

Lee did exactly as they said. Although it would have been easy for him to fall victim to self-doubt, nerves and comparison after missing his first three shots, Lee’s mindset was different. He wasn’t thinking, “what if I mess up?” or “what is everyone else going to think”. Snacks said he was thinking “If I [get] open, I’d eventually hit one, even though I missed the first three” according to ESPN. Lee understands the importance of believing in yourself and showing people that you can be successful, it just takes some positivity and a little confidence.

As athletes, and people, we are not prisoners to our own thoughts. We are able to rewire our brains and teach ourselves to be more like Snacks – to have a thought process that elevates us instead of drowning us. So what do we do to initiate this change? Bonnie Marcus, who works to help women gain traits needed to pursue their career, is an expert on how to combat low self-confidence and how to gain confidence to help in your life and career. She says there are simple ways to rewire your brain that can provide a ripple effect to improve mental strength and confidence.

  1. Know that you have something to offer. A lot to offer. 

In sports, every person has a specific ability that they can bring to a team. You may not be the best shooter, but you are fast. Or you may not be fast, but you can see the field and assist your teammates. You may not even be on the field but you may have leadership skills that no one else possesses. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Work on your weaknesses and emphasize your strengths. 

  1. Trust your ability and then visualize. 

Marcus says that “When you lack confidence, you spend more time thinking and worrying about what other people are doing than focusing on your own competence and potential. This focus on others robs you of the positive energy you need to fuel your ambition and reach your objectives”. Focus on yourself. It is a waste of time to focus on others’ progress. Trust your training, trust your teammates and trust yourself to get the job done and before you even start the competition, picture yourself accomplishing everything you have trained for. 

  1. Take risks. 

Without risks, you become complacent. You need to step out of your comfort zone. Know that you will fail but that every risk enhances your curiosity and motivation and when that task is completed, it will enhance your confidence. No athlete wants to be invisible and risks set you apart from the players around you. 

There will always be moments of weakness and moments when you don’t feel you are able- that is how sports and life goes. It is important to figure out your goals, recognize your ability, do your best work in everything you do and believe you can. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not always easy, either. Just remember a little positivity and self-love can go a long way. And don’t be surprised if your confidence leads you to your own “Snacks” moment. 

Written by Stephanie Colson




Bostancı Ö., Karaduman E, Mayda M. Investigation of self confidence levels in elite extreme athletes. Physical education of students. 2019;23(3):106-11. https://doi.org/10.15561/20755279.2019.0301

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