“Most people assume confidence is an attitude which exudes a strong faith in one’s ability, skill or appearance. But in sports, confidence is far more than simply an attitude; it is a critical piece of performing at full athletic potential. 

The definition of confidence is the state of mind that develops as a result of a “”task specific”” repetitive process. For example, pitching a baseball, swinging a golf club, swimming a lap, and so forth are considered repetitive processes in sports. Each of these skills is made up of a series of specific tasks. These repetitive processes instill success by creating competency and skill mastery. The better the skill is mastered, the greater the level of success which leads to higher levels of confidence. For example: A golfer may have confidence in his ability to execute bunker shots, but may not have confidence with putting. If the golfer rarely questions his bunker execution he is said to believe, and therefore “trust” in his ability. However, if the golfer questions, thinks, or worries about putting execution, he is said to be lacking in confidence. To be successful in task execution, regardless of the sport, an athlete needs to trust that he/she has the skill level/ability to execute a task (meet the challenge) to completion.

Trust, then, is the automatic feeling that comes from “”knowing”” that subconsciously the brain has been trained to execute without thought. Without trust in one’s performance, an athlete lacks the ability to consistently perform well because he or she is thinking too much about mechanics, technique or execution. When thinking enters into the picture and takes over what should be automatic execution, the athlete’s confidence level is not where it needs to be for successful execution of the task.

Confidence can further be impacted when an athlete is insecure about his or her ability to perform. He worries about what others may think, and therefore is concerned about embarrassing himself or others because he is not able to live up to previously established high expectations for performance. These expectations could have been set by the athlete or by someone else for the athlete. When fear of embarrassment becomes part of the equation, the athlete will then play tentatively and with limited freedom. Worry creates tension and anxiety which, in turn, cause muscles to be tense and inflexible.

Professional athletes exude high levels of self-trust and confidence. They aren’t discouraged by mistakes, hung up on the comments of others (coaches, parents, teammates), or fear competitors because they trust in their skills and abilities. This strong level of confidence is what separates the good athletes from the “”great”” athletes.

=== Defining the Attributes of a Confident Athlete ===

The main attributes of a confident athlete are:

1) Trusts in one’s skills and abilities

2) Believes in oneself as a winner

3) Accepts that mistakes will happen and do not doubt or dwell on them

4) Sets realistic goals designed to foster success

5) Draws confidence from past success

6) Has the ability to “see/visualize/anticipate” success

7) Has a success plan and the ability to execute the plan

8) Doesn’t rely on the opinions/input of others to determine performance

9) Sees success as a “process” and strives to achieve excellence

All of the above attributes mentioned thus far are necessary components of confidence and a precursor to achieving peak performance in sports. Without them, an athlete may perform inconsistently, perform better at practice than in competition or may let a mistake hinder the outcome.

=== Are You a Confident Athlete? ===

Many athletes with inconsistent performances often attribute their lack of success to things or elements that are not in their control, like the weather, sporting arena conditions, officiating, pressure from others; or they blame themselves for not practicing enough. These are often symptoms of confidence related issues.

Confidence issues manifest during competition when an athlete gets stuck on a mistake, begins to think about mechanics, or technique, or worries about what others might think about him/her, wants to impress the team/coach/parent, or sets unrealistic goals – sometimes called “expectations.” Any one of these sets the athlete up for an “”all or nothing”” mentality. This type of inflexibility about performance very often produces failure because the previously set expectations are too far out of reach or simply do not match with the athletes skill level.

The first step in resolving a performance issue is to identify the cause of the problem. The following assessment is designed to help you determine whether or not confidence may be impacting your performance.

1) What kind of goals do you set for yourself? Can you achieve them, or are they based on the mindset that if you can’t reach them, you’ve failed?

2) Do you worry about what others think about your performance? Are you concerned about playing to be perfect at your sport (e.g. the perfect swing, the perfect landing, the perfect stroke, etc.)?

3) Do others impact your performance (e.g. crowd hecklers, screaming coaches, demanding parents, shouting teammates)?

4) Do you fear your competition, or do you fear that you aren’t up for the challenge?

5) Do you trust your skills in practice but have trouble applying them in competition? Do you possess the necessary skill level to meet the challenge?

If you’ve answered yes to even one of the above, then your sport performance may be plagued by confidence related issues and may benefit from taking my “Mini Assessment” (click here).

=== Four Methods to Boost Confidence ===

• Creating more realistic process oriented goals which ensure higher probabilities of success. (SMART Goals)

• Having an execution plan

• Not worrying about what others say and or do about your performance

• Trusting in your skills so you can boost your confidence.

John Ellsworth brings a multifaceted approach to the mental aspects of sports and health. Combined with his expertise in clinical and applied sports psychology, John has extensive experience coaching, teaching, and consulting with serious athletes of all ages. For more information visit: www.protexsports.com

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