Self-confidence, the belief that you are able to perform in the way you want to, is vital in sport. If you have it, you can put all your focus on executing the physical, psychological and perceptual skills you need to perform well, and you can trust that you have the fitness you need. If you don’t have it, you spend the energy that should be going into your performance, fighting off anxiety and doubts and negative thoughts. As a result, self-confidence is a key characteristic found in elite athletes and one of the most consistent factors in distinguishing the successful from unsuccessful.

Benefits of self-confidence

Athletes high in self-confidence have been found to:

  • Increase their level of effort
  • Improve their use of game strategies and momentum
  • Persist longer on endurance tasks
  • Have higher goal commitment
  • Be more competitive
  • Have greater persistence
  • Expect to achieve success
  • Cope well with anxiety.

Most importantly for athletes, research has found that all these elements uniting means they can perform better. It is suggested that this is because self-confidence allows athletes to protect themselves against the debilitating thoughts and feelings that arise in competition and negatively impact their performance.

Building your self-confidence

So high self-confidence can be really beneficial. But if you have low self-confidence in your sporting ability are you stuck with it or can you increase it? Positively research has found it can be changed. Here are two routes to consider…

  1. Identify all the sources that your self-confidence can come from, ascertain where you have a weakness and work on that to strengthen it. There are a number of sources of confidence though so it is not that quick or simple. Confidence can come from your physical skills and training, your cognitive efficacy, your levels of resilience, the type and style of coaching you have, whether you genuinely have a competitive advantage, your years of experience in the sport, your previous performance accomplishment, the amount of preparation you’ve undertaken, your levels of self-awareness, how much social support you have and whether you trust yourself, and others to achieve what you want to achieve. Once you’ve identified your weakest areas you can build some clear strategies for improving self-confidence in either making lifestyle changes or in learning psychological skills to increase the robustness of your sport confidence.
  1. The psychologist Albert Bandura created the ‘Self-efficacy model’. This model suggests that self-confidence comes from self-efficacy, a multidimensional belief system which strongly influences the way people think and make decisions. It suggests that once someone has the skills and motivation required to achieve a task it is their level of self-efficacy that determines whether they achieve it or not. Research in football, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair road-racing have all linked self-efficacy levels directly to performance. This means that if an athlete can increase their self-efficacy they can increase their confidence and perform better. Ways athletes use to raise their levels of self-efficacy include drawing on previous performance accomplishments such as remembering and running a mental rehearsal of when they’ve achieved goals or a great performance, using vicarious experiences such as demonstration or imagery, using verbal persuasion or creating emotional arousal such as cognitive restructuring.

Both these routes require some time, self-reflection and analysis to understand where your self-confidence and self-efficacy are strong, and where there is room for improvement, but once identified, you will have some clear routes from which to build your confidence, improve your performance, and feel more comfortable in doing so.

Some great articles if you would like to read more…

  • Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.
  • Gould, D., Weiss, M., & Weinberg, R. (1981). Psychological characteristics of successful and non-successful Big Ten wrestlers. Journal of Sport Psychology, 3, 69-81.
  • Jones, G., & Swain, A. B. J. (1995). Predispositions to experience debilitative and facilitative anxiety in elite and non-elite performers. The Sport Psychologist, 9, 202–212.
  • Vealey, R. S., & Chase M. A. (2008). Self-confidence in sport. In T.S. Horn, (Ed.), Advances in Sport Psychology (pp. 66-97). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.