How do you overcome a crisis of lack of confidence? It happens to all sorts of people in all avenues of life. Businessmen face it so do salesmen, so do musicians and painters, writers, students.

Punters have their very own form of loss of confidence. One minute you're sailing along backing a hat full of winners, the next you've suddenly hit a losing streak and, horror of horrors, you can't get off it!

Anton Hemm, a semi-professional punter in the United States, admits that his wins come in cycles. In fact, he admits, it took him five years before he enjoyed a winning year at serious betting.

In James Quinn's excellent book The New Expert Handicappers, Hemm says: "I lost in the beginning and did not know why. To improve, you have to know why you win or lose. I tend to win in cycles. I want to win badly, so I will stop near the end of the year if I begin to lose. I want to finish in the black. I think that's important psychologically."

Hemm says that during losing runs he simply cuts back on the number of his bets. If a losing run is extended and "really bad" he stops betting. He then makes 'paper bets' and doesn't bet any real money again until he senses that he's getting hot.

"I've never had to stop altogether for more than a month," says Hemm. So there, in one bettor's words, is an avenue by which you can begin to deal with lost confidence during a losing run. STOP BETTING.

It may take discipline, and a degree of courage, but you can do it. You don't have to stop forever. You simply shut up shop for a while, keep making your selections, but instead of risking money on them, you merely write them down in a notebook with make-believe money.

I can hear some of you say 'but what if I miss a big winner?' and that's a reasonable response. The fact is you are more likely to avoid striking lots more losers! What the 'stop betting' approach does is give you time to cool down, time to re-appraise the entire situation, time to take a long, hard look at what you've been doing wrong - without the pressure of having to invest more money at the same time.

Tom Brohamer, another US professional, advises punters to underbet in order to avoid slumping into loss of confidence. He advocates 'percentage of bankroll wagering, at 4 to 5 per cent tops.

In The New Expert Handicappers, he explains how he invests $200 to $300 on prime selections, as little as $10 or $20 on side bets. Side bets, he insists, must be exactly that. It's bad money management to have $30 on a prime horse and $15 on a side bet.

Brohamer also has the following advice for punters: "It goes without saying that the betting bankroll must be uncontaminated. It's capital, not income. If you need it to pay the bills, that's sacred money, I know.

"The choke point is also a real concept. I have mine, and so do most players. I once got involved in an investment strategy where we were betting $1600-$1700 in a short time. I got uncomfortable and didn't like it. I was glad to stop."

So bear Brohamer's words in mind. Don't try to bet beyond your 'choke point'- the point where you start to feel very worried about having placed a bet. A $10 punter may start to choke if he convinces himself to bet in $50 units. Your judgement suddenly deserts you because of the added weight of putting on more money.

Brohamer says if you work to a percentage of bankroll that suits you, then that's the way to go. You bet more when winning, less when losing and you have little chance of losing the entire bank.

George Kaywood, also a handicapper interviewed in The New Expert Handicappers, has firm views about losing streaks. Losing runs, he admits, that may be entirely normal can still "destroy your spirit."

He recounts an abnormal experience when he lost 27 bets in a row. He felt cursed. The last loss in the streak was typical - the horse he had bet was 10 lengths in front and stepped on a rock, tossed the rider and stopped cold.

Says Kaywood: "That losing streak had a lasting effect on me. When l begin to lose too often, I automatically think of it." Like other professionals, he stays away from the punt when he finds himself losing too many races. Abstinence, he claims, is the short-term practical cure!

Daryll Clausen, a professional punter from Seattle, had his own personal 'beat the blues' philosophy. He goes fishing, or he listens for hours and hours to Mozart and Bach. A Bach violin concerto, he maintains, can rejuvenate a punter's soul.

So there's some advice from men who have been through the 'mill' and know that you can strike losing runs, no matter how good you are, and that you have to confront what is happening, and do something about it!

You are not alone in striking periods of betting when nothing seems to go right. Some punters choose to try to fight fire with fire, but more often than not they'll recoup only part of their losses.

Giving the punt away for a while maybe a few days, a week or even a month - seems to be sensible advice. It can be difficult but if you're serious about winning, the abstinence may be just what's required to help you regain confidence and begin again.

By Rick Roberts