What is self-confidence?
By James Manktelow and Amy Carlson
Self-confidence is commonly defined as the sureness of feeling that you are equal to the task at hand. This sureness is characterized by absolute belief in ability. You may well know someone whose self-belief has this unshakeable quality, whose ego resists even the biggest setbacks.
Self-confidence is the belief that you can successfully perform a desired task/behavior. Confident athletes believe in themselves and their ability to acquire the necessary skills and competencies (both physical and mental) to reach their potential. Self-belief motivates all performance, so remember:
“If I believe I can or I believe I can’t, then I’m probably right.
Confidence in any activity comes from:
– Knowing what to do
– Knowing how to do it
– Knowing when to do it
– Having the resources and ability to do it
– When to do it
We lose confidence because we:
– Start focusing on things other than our performance
– Start focusing on things outside of our control (for example, the past, the future, other peoples’ performance, etc.)
– Start focusing on outcomes, rather than the process
– Become overly critical of ourselves and focus on the negatives, ignoring the positive aspects of our effort and performance.
We build confidence by:
– Working hard at training
– Practicing good self-management
– Rewarding ourselves when successful
– Recording/logging our successes.
To enhance self-confidence you need to take responsibility for your successes and failures. It is important to remember that when you talk about success you mean performing to the best of your ability rather than winning. When you succeed you need to remember that it is because you are a good athlete and have worked hard, not because you are lucky. Similarly, when you fail to achieve your best you need to remember that there is probably a logical explanation and that you should talk it over with your coach. It is never because you are not good enough.
Myth: You either have it or you don’t.
Truth: Every individual has varying degrees of self-confidence.
Myth: Only positive feedback and success builds confidence.
Truth: For some athletes, constructive feedback and unsuccessful performances can motivate them to achieve their goals, and subsequently increase their self-confidence.
The six sources of self-confidence
The confidence an individual feels during a particular activity or situation is generally derived from one or more of the following six elements:
- Performance accomplishments are the strongest contributor to sport confidence. When you perform any skill successfully, you will generate confidence and be willing to attempt something slightly more difficult. Skill learning should be organized into a series of tasks that progress gradually and allow you to master each step before progressing on to the next. Personal success breeds confidence, while repeated personal failure diminishes it.
- Being involved with the success of others can also significantly bolster your confidence, especially if you believe that the performer you are involved with (e.g. a team-mate) closely matches your own qualities or abilities. In effect, it evokes the reaction: “if they can do it, I can do it”.
- Verbal persuasion is a means of attempting to change the attitudes and behavior of those around us, and this includes changing their self-confidence. In sport, coaches often try to boost confidence by convincing athletes that the challenge ahead is within their capabilities: “I know you are a great player so keep your head up and play hard”. An athlete might reinforce this by repeating the message over and over to him or herself as a form of self-persuasion.
- Imagery experiences have to do with athletes recreating multi-sensory images of successful performance in their mind. Through creating such mental representations, mastery of a particular task or set of circumstances is far more likely. What you see is what you get
- Physiological states can reduce feelings of confidence through phenomena such as muscular tension, palpitations and butterflies in the stomach. The bodily sensations associated with competition need to be perceived as being facilitative to performance and this can be achieved through the application of appropriate stress management interventions such as the “five breath technique” and “thought-stopping”.
- Emotional states are the final source of self-confidence and relates to how you control the emotions associated with competition, such as excitement and anxiety. Very often, the importance of the occasion creates self-doubt, which is why it is essential to control your thoughts and emotions. Learning imagery and concentration skills such as those described in “the spotlight of excellence” (Exercise 2 below) will help.
Five exercises that will boost your self-confidence
Exercise 1: Confident situations and situations of doubt
To achieve a greater sense of stability in your confidence, it is necessary to know exactly what causes it to fluctuate.
Exercise 2: The spotlight of excellence
This visualization exercise recreates the mental state associated with past performance success and will help you in bridging the gap between your ability and confidence:
Exercise 3: Positive self-talk
Positive self-talk will affirm to you that you possess the skills, abilities, positive attitudes and beliefs that are the building blocks of success. The statements you choose need to be vivid, should roll off the tongue, and be practiced well in advance of competition.
Exercise 4: Exploiting weaknesses in your opponent
Your opponent will harbor doubts and fears that they will try hard to hide from you. Like any human being, they are susceptible to anxiety, fatigue and indecision. If you spend time thinking about your opponents, focus upon which weaknesses and frailties you might most easily exploit.
Exercise 5: Using the power of sound
Music has unique properties, among which is its ability to inspire, motivate and boost one’s confidence. There are many tunes with inspirational lyrics or strong extra-musical associations that you can use to increase your confidence before competition.
This article should have convinced you that self-confidence is not solely in the hands of fate. Even when Lady Luck is not shining, you are the person responsible for determining how confident you feel in a sporting encounter. Ideas for promoting confidence range from the simple principles of understanding what causes confidence to wane, to the techniques of visualization and positive self-talk. You have also learned how to adopt a ‘can-do’ attitude, exploit weaknesses in your opponents and use inspirational music to raise your game. The legendary American football coach Vince Lombard! Once quipped,
‘Confidence is contagious … .but so is a lack of confidence.’