How Confidence Affects Sport Performance
Almost anyone who has been involved in sport as an athlete or coach knows that mental skills are key to success. Among the most important factors is confidence, which has been shown to influence performance in a variety of ways. Some people believe that confidence is the single most important psychological factor that differentiates world-class athletes from those who struggle to succeed in their chosen sport. Others think that confidence is just one piece of the puzzle, along with training hard, sleeping well, recovering adequately, imagining successful performances and using positive self-talk.
Research on confidence has found that it relates to the self-efficacy beliefs of athletes and that these in turn influence goal setting, motivation, coping strategies, thought patterns (attributions, decision making, style of thinking), and emotions. Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their own ability to successfully perform a task and it has been linked with both performance and persistence in the face of challenges.
Athletes with high self-efficacy have the motivation and skills to achieve their goals and are more likely to persist in the face of challenges. One study found that the level of self-efficacy in athletes is more predictive of performance than either actual achievement or the amount of effort exerted. Another study found that self-efficacy correlates with the degree of interdependence in a team sport. In more interdependent sports, like football and hockey, self-efficacy correlates with team efficacy while in less interdependent sports, such as golf and bowling, self-efficacy correlates with performance.
In addition to having the necessary skills and motivation, sport-related confidence also requires a sense of control over sporting outcomes. Some people are better at controlling their results than others, and this may reflect the way in which they have learned to cope with their sport-related confidence over time. Self-control is the ability to regulate emotional and cognitive responses, and can be enhanced by practice, training and a supportive environment.
The most effective methods of enhancing self-control in sport appear to be related to mindfulness and gratitude training, both of which can help with the regulation of adversity and setbacks in adaptive and healthy ways. In one study, a brief self-compassion intervention was shown to improve performance in female athletes by decreasing their rumination and negative evaluations following a bad performance.
Moreover, there is growing interest in exploring the role of self-compassion in sport as an approach to coping with and managing adversity. Athletes are often faced with adversity in the form of injuries, loss of fitness, and disappointing performances, which can be particularly difficult to deal with when outside support is limited or unavailable.
When working with athletes, consider incorporating a one-week sport self-compassion intervention. This has been shown to be an effective approach for women athletes and could easily be modified to incorporate a male sample. In this intervention, athletes write about a recalled emotionally challenging experience in their sport and then use an online tool to keep track of green and red beads. They add a green bead to their electronic journal each time they engage in positive self-talk or affirmation and a red bead when they are engaging in rumination or self-criticism.