When it comes to sporting success, confidence has been shown to account for the differences between successful and unsuccessful performances. Sports psychologists and elite athletes have consistently stated that confidence is a crucial currency in their performances and success.
But, what is confidence? Are there different types of confidence? How do we develop confidence? What impacts athletes confidence levels?
In order to fully understand what confidence is and how it impacts athletes lives, we must first understand what it is. Confidence is defined as the feeling or the belief that one can have faith in or rely on another person or something.
This encompasses both internal and external sources of confidence. Athletes will deal with several types of confidence throughout their careers. Types may include self-confidence; role-confidence; partner-confidence; cohort-confidence; team-confidence; coach and organisational confidence.
Each one of the above types of confidence is relatively different from the other. This article will attempt to discuss self-confidence and how it relates to an athlete’s development and sporting performances. Self-confidence is different from other types of confidence as it is one that the athlete truly has complete control over. Self-confidence is defined as the belief that a person possess concerning their own abilities to successfully accomplish tasks and perform roles.
“Nothing external can affect you internally without your permission”
Athletes who have high levels of self-confidence experience the following benefits:
- Increased levels of focus
- Increased levels of motivation
- Increased levels of effort
- Set more ambitious and challenging goals
- Become more decisive
- Overcome fear easily
- Handle intimidation and criticism easily
- Take more risks
- Overcome setbacks with ease
- Are more likely to achieve their full potential
Whilst the above list is not exhaustive, it begins to paint a picture of how important high levels of self-confidence is in an athlete’s career. Athletes who have low levels of self-confidence experience the opposite of the above list.
They play tentatively, are scared to make mistakes, aren’t focused, consistently put forth minimal levels of effort, set mediocre goals, aren’t decisive, get intimidated easily and as a result are less likely to achieve their full potential.
“What’s going on in the ring doesn’t determine your confidence; your confidence determines what’s going on in the ring”
The good news behind all this is that confidence is not a hereditary trait. Despite some athletes exuding confidence with ease as others struggle, confidence is more a product of our social and environmental factors than it is our genetics. Athletes who are provided with the resources and support they need from a younger age find themselves more confident than those who haven’t received a similar level of support. Some studies have even suggested that an athletes self-belief system, their core values and their character are established by their environmental factors before they reach the age of ten. These values impact their self-confidence levels and as such they have higher self-esteem and self-confidence levels than others.
However, similar to any other skill, confidence can be learned and just like any other skill, the more time spent actively working on that skill, the quicker and more ingrained the skill becomes. Elite athletes such as David Beckham, Serena Williams, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kobe Bryant, Skylar Diggins, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer etc. have all spent considerable time mastering this skill and as such it almost seems natural to them.
“Confidence is walking into a room and not worrying if you’re better than everyone else.. It is walking into a room and not needing to compare yourself to anyone else“
As coaches, we spend a lot of time with our athletes. In fact, an argument can be made that our athletes spend more time with us than with their parents and teachers. This becomes especially true when we get to the elite levels, with daily practices, training camps, travel games and tournaments taking over our lives during the season.
Parents allow us, as coaches, the unique opportunity to guide and shape their children’s lives. They trust us, as coaches, to teach and provide the social and psychological support that all young developing children need to become strong, independent and successful young men and women. This is powerful. This is an honour. Our jobs, as coaches, are more than just teaching young athletes how to play the game. Our jobs should be about empowering these athletes and developing them socially, emotionally and psychologically.
Part of this process should be developing confidence in our athletes. Because if we can develop our athletes confidence, then their levels of motivation will also rise, their leadership skills, decision-making and critical thinking skills will also improve. This serves to empower our athletes with the tools they need to allow them to fulfil their potential.
“Self-Confidence is believing in yourself when no one else does”
There are four main sources that athletes derive self-confidence from. These are their (i) ability to execute technical skills; (ii) attainment of athletic skills; (iii) ability to make correct decisions and (iv) development of psychological skills.
As coaches, we have direct control over the environment we create in team settings, whether these are general team meetings, practices, workouts, strength & conditioning or even games. By adjusting variables, we can foster a culture where the above sources of confidence are abundantly available for athletes to experience and derive self-confidence.
Self-confidence comes from experiencing success at performing a given skill. The chances of being successful are increased by preparing adequately.
Therefore, preparation is a crucial ingredient in developing confidence and the evidence acquired by a successful performance is the currency used to fill up the self-confidence tank.
- EXECUTING TECHNICAL SKILLS
Every sport requires athletes to be able to execute fundamental and technical skills. The better the execution of these skills, the higher the chances they have of achieving success. The skills that an athlete needs at 8 years of age are different from what he needs when he is 11. In fact, two players who are both on the same team may need different skills from one another depending on their playing experience and role on the team. Therefore, coaches must know what skills are most needed and provide those skills for his players.
When an athlete believes that he has the necessary skills for him to be able to perform a task perfectly, along with the required repetitions to make it automatic, his level of confidence in performing the task increases as he has seen it happen several times before. Therefore, with every successful performance of the skill, he adds to his self-confidence tank.
- ATTAINMENT OF ATHLETIC SKILLS
Athletic skills encompass a wide variety of skills including hand-eye coordination, balance, functional movements, strength, speed, power, agility, reaction, endurance. Any and every skill that includes manipulating body position such as lateral movements, lunges and back pedalling fall under athletic skills.
Athletes who have a wide base of athletic skills have a higher potential peak than those with a narrow base. If we can get our athletes in peak physical condition, then they can perform the technical skills required (as indicated above) for longer periods of time before the onset of fatigue. This provides instant reinforcement or evidence that their training programs are paying off. As athletes continue to see evidence, their self-confidence tanks are being filled.
- DECISION MAKING SKILLS
Even with adequate technical and athletic skills, all athletes need to be able to make quick decisions in a fraction of a second. Unless your sport requires closed skills (golf, darts, pool etc), athletes will not be very effective unless they can react to an outside stimuli in a quick manner.
When an athlete believes that he has the skills to make the right reads and react accordingly in a consistent manner, it is because he has already done it in the past and is drawing on past performances. This provides the crucial currency to the self-confidence tank and allows the athlete to play with a level of freedom and creativity. Eg. Lionel Messi, Roger Federer, Steve Nash.
- DEVELOPING PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS
Psychological skills are perhaps, the most important skills to develop in athletes. These skills are transferable to any other avenue, regardless of whether it is sports or academic, work or personal life. A sound practice of psychological skills is what unites every successful person and these are the skills that our athletes need.
These skills include mental toughness, resilience, managing anxiety, communicating, concentrating, remaining committed, setting goals, staying composed, being disciplined, developing self-awareness and much much more.
Coaches want players who can bring consistent performances in competition. Athletes who are on an emotional roller-coaster aren’t able to do that. Athletes who have overcome adversity or seen the benefits of what hard-work, commitment, discipline bring are more likely to repeat these habits and maintain them as they have received evidence of what the skills lead to.
For every successful outcome in one of the above four sources of self-confidence, the athlete adds to his self-confidence tank. Athletes can only use what they have in the tank, therefore, when the tank is full, athletes can use more self-confidence which leads to better performances. The more important the performance, the more the athlete will need to use, hence he will need to have filled up his self-confidence tank. This is done with careful, detailed planning in his preparation and execution of his training regime.
Athletes and teams who thrive in high-performance sporting environments have experienced success repeatedly, hence approach competition with full tanks, brimming with confidence and the belief that they can achieve anything, which allows them to perform at higher levels for longer without wavering. An example is how Barcelona made one of the greatest comebacks ever, bouncing back from a 4 – 0 deficit in the Champions League to win 6 – 5 on aggregate. They believed that they were good enough and had the right preparation to launch a comeback and shook the world as they performed.
“Confidence comes naturally with success, but success only comes to those who are confident”
If an athlete approaches a game believing that every aspect of his preparation and training every single day was the best that it could possibly be; that their nutrition, their rest, their physical fitness, their training and team tactics have been taken care of to the finest detail, then that athlete will feel CONFIDENT that they can do anything.
Coaches can help athletes fill up their self-confidence tanks by changing and adjusting the practice environment so that their athletes can have ample opportunities to attain the evidence needed to fill up their self-confidence tanks.
Listed below are a couple of action points that coaches can use to start this process.
- Active Learning – When all is said and done, the coach remains on the sidelines whilst the players step on the court or the field. Allow your athletes to learn by doing, rather than just listening or watching. Learning happens best when players have to perform a skill repeatedly in a variable fashion. The game is unpredictable, and hence their preparation has to mimic the game. Performing a skill in a blocked manner doesn’t translate to increased performance in games. Allow your players to perform repetitions and coach in tweets rather than constantly stopping to instruct. This will be more transferable in the long-run.
- Problem Solving – Problem-solving is a coaching tool that in under utilised by many coaches. Presenting problems to athletes forces them to be self-sufficient and reliant upon themselves and this serves to present athletes with evidence that they have the skills they need to be dependant. This is one of the quickest ways that athletes can fill up their self-confidence tanks. When athletes have autonomy, they feel valued and competent. Teaching problem solving builds autonomy.
- Overcoming Adversity – Overcoming adversity makes people and teams stronger by bringing them together. Coaches can introduce their teams and players to difficult situations which will allow the team to come together to solve them. This teaches the team that they need one another and are interdependent. In crunch time, players will have the evidence they need to know that they can overcome any situation as they have already done this in the past, but they need to do it together.
- Establishing Standards – Establishing standards is all about creating the right culture for player development to be built upon. How athletes and teams achieve is as important as what they achieve. In order to maintain standards, player’s must be disciplined, committed and willing to buy into the bigger picture. This all provides evidence that the program sets the bar high and holds its athletes accountable. When crunch time comes, athletes will have the peace of mind that they were part of an elite preparation group.
- Developing Leaders – Players and teams who hold each other accountable are more powerful than those where the coaching staff are the only ones who lead. In order for this to happen, coaches must empower athletes to become leaders. This provides evidence to the athletes that they are capable of leading the team in maintaining the values, attitudes and beliefs that the program stands by. This adds to the self-confidence tank as players believe that they are an integral part of the program and are valued and trusted.
- Reset and Repeat – If it ain’t broken, don’t just leave it. There’s nothing wrong with rebuilding and making a stronger, better program. Resetting the bar and raising it to another level is exactly what is needed for players, teams and coaches. After all, we preach to our athletes to get outside of their comfort zone, then we should do the same, because success is a constantly moving target, so we should keep adjusting and improving. This is important because your athletes are provided with evidence that you and the program are constantly trying to raise the bar and set the benchmark, hence, they understand that plateauing isn’t an option. This leads to self-motivation on the athletes side which is a powerful trait to instil in any program.
Use the above action points to help your team and program attain higher levels of self-confidence. The action points can be used to assist coaches in implementing ways that the main sources of confidence are attained and will allow athletes to fill up their self-confidence tanks.
As a coach, you should know and understand your team and players better than anyone else, so adjust and add what you think your players need at any time to keep the bar high and take your team and players to the next level.
On a final note, regardless of what level you’re coaching or playing at, players want to feel good about themselves and feel valuable to the team and the program. Even at the top level, players may get down on themselves and question things. As a coach, your job in building your players confidence levels and helping your players feel good about themselves never stops. It doesn’t mean that you lower your standards, it means adjusting to what your players need at a given situation.