by Artur Poczwardowski
You can do it if you just have a little confidence.
—D. L. Feltz, Understanding Motivation
This is Part I of a four-part article that explains what self-confidence is, what can happen if you are over-confident or not confident enough, and how to develop, maintain, and in the case of an athlete who lost self-confidence, how to restore it to an optimal level.
The author, Artur Poczwardowski, is a sports psychology consultant. He graduated from Gdansk University (M.Sc. in psychology) and from AWF–University School of Physical Education (M.Sc. in coaching). He competed on a national level (in Poland) in judo. Currently he is a professor at University of Denver, teaching and conducting research in sports psychology.
You can reach him by e-mail at apoczwarATduDOTedu to arrange consultations on preparing mental training programs, implementing these programs, monitoring, and adjusting them.
The level of athletic performance depends heavily on the level of the athlete’s self-confidence. Self-confidence may be understood as the athletes’ belief in their strengths, their ability to succeed, and their good physical preparation. In so many instances, presuming an athlete has achieved a high skill level in her sport, the actual level of performance is determined by one factor—the level of self-confidence. In sports psychology literature, self-confidence is often discussed under the term of self-efficacy.
Since you are most interested in the practical aspects of self-confidence in sport, this article aims at providing applied knowledge and recommendations for developing, maintaining, and restoring self-confidence in sport. To understand and then effectively use these strategies and exercises, however, you must first learn some theoretical assumptions regarding self-confidence in sports.
Would you have any difficulty standing on the chair you’re sitting on now and keeping your balance for 30 seconds? Of course not! Now, what about your psychological reactions if the same chair were placed on the edge of the roof of a twenty-story building? Isn’t it something like, “What’s gonna’ happen if I fall off?” and “I mustn’t lose my balance because…”, with butterflies in your stomach, perspiration, and shaking? The bottom line for the brain is a simple thought: “Can I do it?”
One of the many psycho-physiological processes that were activated by this “insignificant” change in the location of the chair is the dynamics in the experience of your belief that you can successfully complete the task.
Let’s look at two more examples. You probably know the famous outcome of Sir Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile record. By breaking this magic record, he extended the boundaries that were thought to be physiological limits of human capacities. The belief that one can do it spread out among other runners. In the first year after the record was broken, this four-minute mile barrier was beaten by 12 other runners! The placebo effect provides more evidence of the power of a strong belief in something, or being certain about something. In an experiment investigating the placebo effect, it was not a pill that soothed patients’ pain, but the patients’ belief that this was going to happen after taking the “medicine.” The pill contained neither pain reliever nor any other pharmacological substance, but the pain stopped!
In case you still have some doubt as to whether the issue of self-confidence has any place in your sport education, here are some quotes to muse over:
“Stop looking for proof that you aren’t that good, and start looking for proof that you are.”1
“What we think about ourselves is very much related to how well we might expect to do, and in fact will do in a situation.”2
“Accept the fact that faith is a growing process, not an absolute.”3
“Self-confidence is one of the most frequently cited psychological factors thought to affect sport performance and is a primary focus of research by sport psychologists.”4
Your self-confidence and you
Self-confidence is a part of one’s self-concept. Additionally, self-confidence is based on self-image, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Without getting into the theoretical details of the meanings of these terms, you can adopt G.W. Russel’s understanding of believing in oneself as “one’s personal assessment of whether one possesses the wherewithal to achieve a designated level of performance.”5 This belief has its emotional component (i.e., stable and positive emotions, strong motivation to complete the task), as well as behavioral consequences (i.e., selecting the relevant sport technical element or tactics, and their application to performance). These behaviors have been either previously learned in the training process and competitions or situationally created to solve the problem at hand.
Both research findings and the author’s personal sport experience indicate that self-efficacy develops from:
a) your performance accomplishments;
b) vicarious experiences (you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes—comparing yourself to that person while he or she is
performing and succeeding);
c) persuasion that comes from others (mainly from your coaches); and
d) the conclusions that you come to about yourself as a performer.
This information is valuable in planning the intervention that can be implemented by a coach. You will also learn some techniques that may be used by a sports psychology consultant.
1. Orlick, T. 1986. Psyching for Sport: Mental Training for Athletes. Champaign, IL: Leisure Press, p. 88.
2. Singer, R. N. 1986. Peak Performance… and More. Ithaca NY: Mouvement Publications, p. 67.
3. Nideffer, R. M. 1992. Psyched to Win. Champaign, IL: Leisure Press, p. 55.
4. Feltz, D. L. 1992. Understanding motivation in sport: a self-efficacy perspective. In Motivation in Sport and Exercise, ed. G. C. Roberts, p. 93. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
5. Russel, G. W. 1993. The Social Psychology of Sport. New York: Springer-Verlag, p. 67.
If you have any questions on training you can post them at Stadion’s Sports and Training Discussion Forum.