Confidence can play an important role in sport and finding success and enjoyment out on the field. Confidence is often discussed by athletes and coaches as the ‘special ingredient’ to performance, and we’ve seen time and time again how confidence (or a lack of confidence) can impact a team or an individuals’ performance. In this article we’ll touch on what the research says, and what this means for you if you’re looking to enhance your own confidence in your sport. Now confidence is a complex and heavily researched topic, so we’ll keep it simple and jargon free here.
What is Self - Confidence?
Put simply, self- confidence is the belief that you can do something successfully. In other words, it’s being sure of yourself and knowing that if you put your mind to something, you’re likely to be successful. Many things can impact our self-confidence beliefs, from childhood events and recent performances, all the way to how we speak to ourselves with our inner voice. For instance, when faced with a challenge does your inner voice start listing all the things that could go wrong, or does it go through what it might be like if everything actually went right instead? The way in which your internal voice prefers to talk about a challenge, can have an impact on how confident you feel.
Sources of Confidence
Before we can work on enhancing confidence, we must first understand where confidence comes from. There are many different sources of confidence we can draw from, but the ones we’ll cover here are sourced from research exploring confidence in sport (Vealey, 1986) and in wider life (Bandura, 1997).
Past Performance Successes
One of the most influential contributors to self-confidence in sports lies in the realm of past performances. Reflecting on instances where you faced pressure or adversity and emerged victorious can reignite the emotions of excitement and elation. Recall the knowledge that you conquered a challenge and prevailed, ask yourself what helped you overcome these challenges? How can I bring what I’ve learned from the past into my current situation? Leveraging memories of significant achievements in similar aspects of your sport can serve as a powerful reminder that you possess the capability to overcome present challenges. This process of drawing upon previous successes is a widely employed method for building confidence, as the mounting evidence of your ability to perform under tough circumstances gradually reinforces your belief in yourself. Consider, for instance, your initial experience of competing in front of an audience – it is likely that your confidence was notably lower compared to your tenth time competing in front of a similarly sized crowd.
Vicarious Experience (Learning through others)
Vicarious Experience is just a complex way of saying learning through others. This primarily means you gain confidence through observing the successes of others in sports context and can even refer to seeing or re-living your own success via film. It involves gaining knowledge and insight into sports-related skills, strategies, and outcomes by watching or hearing about the experiences of other athletes or sports teams and using these to your advantage. For instance, if you see others in your sport implementing strategies that work, you’re more likely to have confidence in these when you come to use them as well.
Verbal persuasion just means receiving encouragement from those around you (such as family, friends, or a coach), or even from yourself. This can look like using self-talk words and phrases which hold significant meaning to you and help your confidence in the moment. For example, just before your event reminding yourself that you’ve battled through tougher situations and succeeded can help bolster your self-belief in the moment. In sport psychology, we often encourage the use of self-talk to focus on what is possible, past successes, instructions, and motivation before a big game day.
Physiological & Emotional States
This refers to your mood and physical states, such as feeling excited and your heart beating faster or your breathing speeding up. It’s easy to understand that if you’re in a good mood and you physically feel warmed up and ready, you’ll probably be more confident. However, this can also heavily be influenced by mindset, for instance feeling mildly anxious can often feel similar to excitement – so it is important to pay attention to how you are interpreting your physical feeling and how your mood might be impacting this interpretation.
There are many ways you can improve your confidence in your sport, whether you play football, rugby, gymnastics, archery, tennis or esports. Below we focus on techniques which align with the research points we’ve discussed above.
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• Gather past data on your most successful performances. If you have video, stitch these into a highlight reel you can watch before going out to perform or incorporate this into your pre-performance routine.
• Remember that confidence is a belief, not just an emotion, and as such can be influenced by thought patterns. Encourage thoughts that instil self-assurance, such as recalling past successful performances against strong opponents or focusing on your strengths as a competitor.
• Challenge yourself to learn from observing others and model the successful behaviours you see (such as resilience or focus). Seek out relatable role models or high-performing players to observe and draw inspiration from.
• Visualise yourself executing skills correctly until this feels natural, and then bring this into your physical practice.
• Use positive self-talk to focus on possibilities, past successes, and how you can rise to the challenge in front of you.
• Recognise your mood and physiological state. Remind yourself that being nervous can be natural, as it means the situation is important to you.
• Engage in training that is challenging but still generally achievable, where possible balance situations where repeated failure is likely with situations where success is probable, when you need confidence most. (e.g., before a big competition)
• Reflect on your own sources of confidence and learn how to maximise these. For instance, if you take reassurance from being prepared in training and on match day, make sure you have planned out training in the run up to competition and given yourself enough time to deal with any unexpected scenarios.
So there we have it! The research and techniques behind bolstering confidence in sport. If you’d like to know more and work on your confidence with an expert, click here to work with Chartered Sport Psychologist Callum or fill out the contact form at the bottom of the page.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman
Vealey, R. S. (1986). Conceptualization of sport-confidence and competitive orientation: Preliminary investigation and instrument development. Journal of sport psychology, 8(3).