By Coach Hoy, MS, CSCS, SCCC, PES, TPI1, RPR1
Listen to an interview of an elite athlete after a successful competition and you will almost never hear him/her say that they were completely shocked or surprised at their success. It is very unlikely that the athlete will say that victory was never expected. Instead, you will usually hear that the athlete was confident about his/her skills and that he/she was well prepared for the opponent. They will say that they prepare for moments and opportunities like this and always look forward to competition.
So, what does this mean?
This means that the successful athlete had a specific level of self-confidence before the competition. And, research has proven, over and over again, that athletes with optimal levels of self-confidence are more successful.
What is self confidence?
According to the textbook Advances in Sport Psychology (3rd Ed, Horn, p.66), “self confidence is the belief that one has the internal resources, particularly abilities, to achieve success.” Self-confidence consists of physical skills, resilience, and cognitive efficiency. (Horn, p. 82)
Research has shown that different types of confidence relate differently to athletes’ performance. A study done in 2002 with elite swimmers found that physical skills were a strong predictor of success early in the competitive season (after pre-season physical preparation), while resilience and cognitive efficiency were stronger predictors of success later in the competitive season. (Horn, p. 82)
Researchers also found that self-confidence is a crucial component in mental toughness.
International-level elite athletes identified self-confidence as the most critical mental skill in defining mental toughness…U.S. Olympic champions, their coaches, and parents,…,identified self-confidence as a key mental skill in successful performance at the elite level. U.S. Olympic coaches indentified self-confidence as an important influence on their athletes’ performance at the Olympic Games, and junior tennis coaches rated self-confidence as an important mental skill for young tennis players. (Horn, p.81)
Another study showed that athletes and coaches believe that self-confidence is significantly related to performance, and it is a key discriminator between successful and less successful athletes. (Horn, p. 81)
Unlike most keys to success in sports, self-confidence is fragile. Too little will result in less success AND too much will result in less success. An athlete needs to have an optimal level for optimal success.
According to Mia Hamm, “the thing about confidence I don’t think people understand, is it’s a day to day issue. It takes constant nurturing. It’s not something you go in and turn on the light switch and say, ‘I’m confident,’ and it stays on until the bulb burns out.” (Horn, p. 66)
So, what does it mean to have optimal self-confidence?
All experts agree that optimal self-confidence is attained through proper sports preparation.
Preparation is critical to nurturing optimal self-confidence.
Optimally confident athletes are competent and prepared. They have all the necessary physical and mental skills to achieve their realistic goals. They develop competence by being well-conditioned, mastering their sport’s fundamentals, developing and executing effective strategies to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses, and excelling at the mental skills necessary to create and maintain a flow mind-set. Optimally confident athletes play within themselves: They feel successful when they perform at the upper limits of their current capabilities but don’t worry about achieving goals that are unrealistic for them.
Optimally confident athletes are also well prepared. The conditioning that athletes do to improve their flexibility, agility, speed, strength, power, endurance, and cardiovascular ability should improve their capabilities and prepare them to execute skills and strategies successfully in competition. Moreover, the harder they work in practice to develop and automate skills and accomplish performance objectives, the more prepared they should feel for important competitions. Athletes can’t fool themselves. If they haven’t done the preparation, their confidence will fluctuate and often plummet when they can least afford it.
Confidence in the clutch requires that athletes pay the price in the off season, in the weight room, and on the practice field or court, preparing sufficiently to create an optimal level of confidence. (Sport Psychology for Coaches, p. 189-90)
As a reciprocal effect, self-confidence also motivates athletes to work harder. An elite athlete explained “when I feel confident, it just drives me on more and makes me try harder, raises my game and the intensity of my effort and preparation.” (Horn, p. 84)
Take a careful inventory of your self-confidence. Are you optimally confident? Or, are you setting yourself up for less than optimal performance? The expert sport psychologists all agree that through proper preparation, optimal self-confidence can be achieved, resulting in optimal performance in sports.
What are you doing to optimally prepare?
While there are many ways to become more self-confident, the intent of this article is to emphasize the relationship between self-confidence and success in sports. Self-confidence is an element of mental preparation, which can be cultivated through proper physical and technical/tactical preparation (for more on this, check out this blog post).
What are you doing today to improve your self-confidence?
For questions or suggestions on this topic, please comment or contact us. And, as always, keep training hard!