Confidence: Athletics & Life

A person’s belief system drastically changes his or her outlook and overall quality of life. A person or athlete’s belief in their abilities is a critical element that increases enjoyment and drive during the pursuit of success in competition and everyday life. The concept that will be discussed in this article will be Self-Efficacy and it’s laymen counterpart; Confidence. In this article we will be discussing the definition, function of, and small ways to increase confidence.

Albert Bandura speaks on the concept of self-efficacy in his book Self-Efficacy: the Exercise of Control. He says that “perceived self-efficacy refers to beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments.” (Page 3)

Confidence and Self-Efficacy are very similar, some may argue that Confidence may differ slight however in this article we will use them synonymously for ease of communication and application. Again, confidence is the belief that an individual has the ability to perform a task or a skill. Confidence helps people to succeed, however a person’s confidence does not guarantee a successful outcome. This is where our discussion will toe the line as confidence is one element critical to overall success however we won’t have time here to discuss how it fully interacts with the other elements in full detail.

Confidence is a unique concept, more is not always better. Too much can hinder a person or an athlete as it clouds their vision and may keep them from putting forth effort to train or work hard. Consequently, a person or players lack of confidence will negatively impact an individual’s effort or desire to work hard in a situation. Both high and low confidence levels can affect the individual’s belief in the outcome of a task or competition in similar ways. Both ends of the spectrum effect a person or players accurate understanding of his/her true abilities or capabilities.

High level Athletes in particular can be highly effected by their confidence level. A high rate of belief in one’s abilities is critical for the proper execution and ultimate success of an athlete however a confidence level that is too high can cause a person or athlete problems.

The “Right” amount of confidence:

This is a section that doesn’t have a specific answer. Unfortunately, confidence is a bit ambiguous when it comes to the right amount of what is effective for a particular athlete or person. The right amount of confidence is similar to the children’s story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The right amount of confidence will vary for each person or athlete. A person’s confidence level is a balance, too much or too little and maximum success and functioning may not achievable.

Too little confidence will most likely effect a players desire to engage with a task. A person with low confidence will typically give up too soon or never even try to enter into a competition or situation where they don’t feel they can succeed. On the other side of the spectrum, a person with too high of a confidence level may not accurately know where there abilities truly are and over commit to a task or competition they are not ready for.

A person or players confidence needs to have some alignment with their actual ability or set of skills they possess. While a person or player may not have experienced a situation before he/she can have confidence in their abilities to find success in new situations if the person or player knows that true abilities or skills.

Confidence Changes:

Not all people or athletes are confident at the same level each and every day. Confidence is not a constant, it is variable and consistently needs to be managed and developed. Developing confidence is a task that has to be developed and maintained similar to a person’s physical or athletic abilities. Athletes in particular tend to have hot or cold streaks of physical execution of tasks and success in competitions. These ups and downs will have an effect on a player’s confidence if they allow the external factors to dictate their overall confidence levels.

People and athletes today are highly effected by the here and now of life. One moment a person can be very confident in his or her abilities and the next moment they are questioning their ability due to some actual or perceived failure. The general field of athletics in particular suffers from the “win now” mentality, a players confidence will change due to this as pressure. While it is proven that winning develops confidence, the art of failing and recovering is highly undervalued in our culture today.

It is critical for a person and particularly an athlete to know that confidence can change. A player’s continued work at building and maintaining confidence, no matter the external circumstances, will be important for success to occur on a consistent basis.

Some aspects that a person or player has to fight through where confidence will help drive success:

1. Knowing internally that he/she has the ability to do great things but may not see the success in training or competitions at the present time.

  • The person has to know that success will come, being patient and continuing to focus on the small tasks and areas of growth are essential. Winning consistently takes time. It takes development of skills, plans, and confidence.

2. Comparing one’s self to others

  • Comparison can help drive people to greater success or crush them under the weight of failing to achieve what he/she wanted to achieve.
  • A confident person will look at another’s success and believe that they have similar abilities to achieve what the other has achieved. Again, everyone is different in their abilities. The road to success and the ultimate destination will look different for every person.
  • Comparison works if it is balanced with healthy expectations, individual motivations, and individual goals

3. Failure academically

  • Failure is the only way that people learn how to overcome difficulties. Failure points a person back into the direction they should be going if they recognize that continued consistent failure is not what is good for them. Knowing why the failure occurred is critical for success. Failure is sometimes the only way to help motivate and develop an accurate view of where a person or player is looking to go.

4. Struggles in family or friend relationships.

  • This can occur due to many different reasons however confidence in one’s ability to be social and connect with others is quite a significant aspect of a person perceived or actual lack of quality friendships. An individual has to develop the confidence in their ability to interact with others which is a difficult thing if self-esteem (a person’s belief that they are valuable) is lacking. While self-esteem Is important for a person her or she can fight through that lack if they have some confidence in their ability to socialize.

5. Not “feeling” well emotionally

  • Sometimes a person will wake up and not be feeling well or feeling like they don’t have the ability to succeed in the days tasks. Confidence is a critical aspect of fighting through the “feeling”. A persons intellectual confidence will need to kick in and say “I may not be feeling well but I know I have the ability”
  • Just because a person or player lacks the belief that they are valuable does not mean that they do not possess the abilities to succeed.

Confidence is a hidden key to success:

Confidence is internal, it is hidden from others until it is shown. Confidence is linked to an individual’s personality and overall disposition. A person’s confidence level is not evident all the time however it can be seen in the persons or the athlete’s demeanor. There are many people whom exude confidence in some areas of their lives but deep down inside struggle as they significantly lack confidence in other areas or lack self-esteem.

I have worked with many people and athletes in particular whom have failed to reached their potential not due to physical plateauing or lack of abilities but as a result of not believing in their real capabilities. The belief in one’s self and abilities will significantly increases their opportunity for success.

Confidence is what allows a player to succeed when they are not at their physical best. A person or player is rarely at their best all the time. Confidence that their abilities are good enough is critical.   Athletes that want to succeed in their sport have to spend time on their mental training just as much as their physical training. One of the key elements to mental training is the development of confidence. The internal belief that a person has, this confidence is what makes a player special.

How to develop Confidence:

Increasing the amount of positive self-talk a person does each day

  • Research has shown that positive self-talk occurs about half as much as negative self-talk (Van Raalte, 1994). As a result an individual must work hard to increase the personal dialogue that one has with him/herself in a positive manner.
  • Positive self-talk is the internal or external dialogue one has with himself or herself. The individual turns to thinking about positive or encouraging words or ideas about oneself repeating them over and over so that he or she begins to see these positive aspects and focuses on them consistently.

Increasing opportunities for successful execution of tasks.

  • For confidence to be developed a person must find successes. Achieving success in easy tasks helps build a person’s confidence in their abilities. In tennis for instance, a player will practice hitting a thousand serves in a week to different areas of the service box. While under no real pressure to do so the player is increasing muscle memory and the confidence that they have the ability to hit a serve well. This confidence, when focused on during a match, will help him or her push out the negative thoughts that they lack the ability to do so.
  • Start with simple success first and then increase the intensity and difficulty.

Increasing ones hearing of encouragement from others.

  • Everyone needs to have some connection with others whom can offer positive reinforcement and encouragement.
  • Knowing that others believe in ones abilities helps to increase confidence when under stress and difficult scenarios.
  • Coaches, parents, friends, and support staff should be looking at ways they can help a player or person believe in their abilities. The person should also seek out this as well.

Knowing ones general abilities and positive aspects of oneself.

  • A person must be mindful of his/her abilities. Everyone has positive aspects that they possess but not everyone remembers those abilities. When a person or player forgets their talents and/or abilities, confidence will deteriorate.

Be willing to take some risks.

  • Healthy risk taking helps a person develop confidence. Being able to fail and continue to pursue success is a necessity in life if a person is to develop confidence particularly during hard times.

Increase your ability to see the successes in failure.

  • Failure is inevitable at some point in time. No matter what the failure is there is always some information that can be taken away from the failure which can be learned from.
  • A person or player must have the confidence that they have the abilities to overcome failure.

Confidence is a big idea. It is important to every day life in the tasks we do every day. Below are some further resources referenced in the article. They may be helpful to your deepening an understanding of Confidence and how it may effect your life. 

(Concepts that will be expanded upon in future or past articles: mindfulness, self-esteem, comparison, & self-talk)


Bandura, A (1997). Self- Efficacy: The exercise of control. San Francisco, CA: Freeman

Cox, R.H. (2007) Sports Psychology: Concepts and Applications. New York, NY; McGraw-Hill

Van Raalte, J. L., Brewer, B.W., Rivera, P.A., & Petitpas, A.S (1994). The relationship between observable self-talk and competitive junior tennis players’ match performance. Journal of Sports and Exercise Psychology.