Success in sport depends on trust in your own strengths and abilities. If an athlete is well prepared for competition from a physical, technical and tactical point of view, the most important factor deciding about their degree of success is self confidence.
Self confidence is considered to be one of the leading elements in successful athlete. Belief in one's self is at the center of sports performance. One of the most important factors determining self confidence involves trust in our ability to execute a task. It is a part of a broader concept of the "ego", which is deeply connected to our self evaluation or picture of ourselves. There is also a dynamic dimension to it in regard to specific learned abilities and the level of our present effectiveness in executing specific tasks. The feeling of our effectiveness in regards to specific activities expresses itself in our attitude and motivation or will to do the task. We are born with a certain amount of self confidence. Through our life experiences this is either developed or lost. Sometimes a single event can destroy our ability to believe in ourselves.
Sometimes self confidence is so engrained, that even life endangering events have no impact on our belief in ourselves.
Our confidence level can also change depending on our physical readiness to perform a task. In this case, it will have an influence on the techniques and tactics we choose to use during an event.
Knowing that a team depended on oneself, an athlete can find the strength and confidence to execute a vault performance that allowed the team to win.
Often these types of decisions are the most difficult, because they are judgment calls and can have enormous consequences.
Self-confidence or lack of it is built based on our interpretation of our experiences. It can be influenced by those people, who carry authority in our lives such as coaches, family, friends and even other competitors. These people can positively or negatively influence our perception of our experiences and can, therefore, change our level of self-confidence. There is also room for outside influences on an athlete's confidence through training, usually with help from a coach or sports psychologist. In fact, a big part of a coach's responsibility should be to develop
self - confidence in their athletes throughout the development process using a variety of tools. Although it is always advisable to build on your own positive experiences, sometimes learning based on the observation of successes by other athletes can be a useful tool as well.
Self confidence for sports is dynamic and, like other characteristics, may be too low, too high or at an optimum level at the time of the competition. Optimum confidence levels allow an athlete to choose realistic goals, tactics and techniques based on how well they are prepared at the time of the event. Athletes who believe in their abilities to achieve planned goals are excited about the competition. Self - confidence at optimum levels is always accompanied by positive self talk and a desire for success.
Occasional defeats and successes of rivals only make athletes in this state more motivated to get better and train harder. On the other hand, self confidence which is too low results in negative thoughts like "I can't do it…what am I doing here…I knew this would happen…, etc. ". Athletes with low confidence do not enjoy themselves or the competition, which exhausts them and leaves them feeling drained. They can not wait to "get it over with". Often lack of confidence comes from unrealistic goals, lack of preparation or lack of experience.
There is also a situation, where an athlete can be too confident, which is destructive to performance as well. In this situation, over confidence usually comes from overestimating your own capabilities and readiness or underestimating the competition. This can lead to nonchalance, which comes from a casual approach to the opponent or the event. Lack of motivation, tactics or concentration as well as disregard for a warm up or race preparation, are all signs of over confidence. You often see athletes in this state making mistakes in preliminary heats of big events and being eliminated by less skilled competitors.
Occasionally, what appears to be over confidence is, in fact, only a cover up of fears and actual lack of confidence. In this case, the athlete tries to avoid facing obvious problems or uses excuses like " I really haven't been training much lately" or "I wasn't really trying". Sometimes athletes may even intentionally fake injuries or eliminate themselves through disqualification before the competition is finished.
I want to make clear that these are rare incidences and that, more often than not, parents and coaches tend to wrongly blame athletes for problems or mistakes in performances that they have little control over. Very few athletes, especially at the higher levels, intentionally make mistakes, which will cost them the race, match or game. Most psychological mistakes are unconscious or out of the control of the athlete. Many other mistakes, which are labeled as psychological, are often really physical in nature.
The level of confidence an athlete has is one of the main factors influencing their perception of reality. In consequence, confidence decides about level of stress the individual carries. The higher the level of confidence, the fewer stimuli that will be interpreted as potential danger. This means that in very stressful situations, the level of fear will be substantially lower if the confidence level is higher. In effect, high confidence will leave more room in mind for rational evaluation of situation and will allow the athlete to make correct decisions. This ability to think clearly under pressure is critical in highly tactical and short duration events. In fact, in some sports such as automobile or motorcycle racing, small mistakes can literally be deadly.
Optimum confidence brings happy and positive emotions from training and competition. It allows us to reach full concentration without the interruption of doubtful and self critical thoughts.
Confident athletes select more challenging goals and have the ability to take more risks during performances. They are often able to surprise their opponents, to try newly learned technique or add difficulties to their programs. Perhaps the most important thing to remember here is that the level of self confidence, like other characteristics, may vary depending on the training stage and the athlete's life outside sport. That's why it is important to work on building confidence and train your ability to control this level in changing environments.
Bringing self confidence to the right level just before the start of a competition is a skill, which must be mastered to be a champion.
Copyright 1999 Sport is Life / JG January, 2000