Confidence, also loosely known as your degree of self-efficacy, is the belief you have about your chances for success when attempting to perform a specific task. Interestingly, your past athletic success (or lack thereof) is less important than your personal belief about what you can achieve in the future. Put another way, even if you had a terrible game yesterday what really matters is the degree of confidence you have in yourself today. This might be the reason why you hear so many great athletes have a short memory relating to their toughest games — why worry about what has already happened when you have a great chance for success tomorrow?
The theory of self-efficacy was developed by Dr. Al Bandura of Stanford, and is one of the most practical applications relating to how psychology impacts human performance. While self-efficacy can be applied to sport success, it can also impact how well you do in other areas of your life, including school, career, and relationships. If you believe you can succeed your chances for success actually increase, and this has been found in countless empirical research studies. But beware, your lack of belief (or self-efficacy) in yourself also impacts your performance in a negative way.
Practically speaking, if you have two similarly talented athletes and one really believes she will be successful, while the other athlete believes she is lacking in talent, the variable of belief (self-efficacy) can be — and often is — the difference in who succeeds. In fact, athletes who have a high level of self-efficacy often outperform athletes with better skills, and this is a fairly common finding in sports. As the old saying goes, “if you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right!”
The impact of confidence
Athletes high in self-efficacy also commonly witness their confidence improve, although Dr. Bandura does make a slight, albeit important, distinction between confidence and self-efficacy:
“Confidence is a nondescript term that refers to strength of belief but does not necessarily specify what the certainty is about. I can be supremely confident that I will fail at an endeavor.”
For the purposes of this article I am loosely grouping self-efficacy and confidence together, as for the average person there is a lot of overlap between the two. Delving deeper into sports we see that confident athletes benefit from their own belief in a number of ways. First, confident athletes develop a positive emotional mood state – and research has shown this helps athletes get “in the zone” more frequently. Confidence also helps with skill acquisition, memory, and conditioned, automatic athletic “muscle memory” responses. And finally, confidence helps athletes improve focus by directing attention toward relevant factors (i.e. the next play), while diverting focus away from less relevant facotrs (the crowd booing).
Ways to improve confidence
- Remember how important confidence is every time you go out to compete. Confidence and positive self-beliefs lead to peak athletic performances.
- Forget about bad games, and remember that tomorrow is another day. Your confidence will begin to immediately improve the moment you make this decision.
- Only you can increase — or decrease — your self-confidence level. Choose wisely and you will improve your chances for reaching your full potential.
- Keep a journal of your athletic achievements and re-read your entries often. Train your memory to think of the good plays you have made and are capable of making again in the future.
- Eliminate of irrational fear. You are human and will make mistakes in sports, so chalk them up to learning experiences and quickly move on to the next play.
Confident athletes play to win, not to avoid losing. Confidence also helps prevent burnout, minimizes choking, and is a great tool to use to break out of slumps. And the best part? Confidence (self-efficacy) is something that you determine, as it is your thinking that dictates the belief you have about your chances for future success.