Confidence in Sports

Confidence is the belief that you can successfully perform a desired behavior. When you have confidence, you know you can handle whatever comes your way. In sports that’s:

  • Smiling as you walk to the plate with two outs and down one run.
  • Saying “give me the ball” in the huddle when there’s less than a second left in the game.
  • Thinking “go ahead and ice me” right before the 50 yard field goal.
  • Hoping the ball comes to you even though it hasn’t all game.

It’s also:

  • Trying out for the team when you know you might not make the roster.
  • Standing up for social justice. Being an ally. Stating your anti-racism stance.
  • Speaking out against abusive coaching practices.

Confidence in sports can be characterized as fitting into three categories: Fundamentals/physical skills, on the court decision making, and resilience (ability to make a comeback from a set back).

The Confidence Model

Based on CBT – model from LCS

Confidence is a feeling, an emotion. Since confidence plugs into the feelings part of this model, let’s fill in the rest.

Circumstance: The circumstance can be anything. Your team is down 2 points. Your coach says “we’re counting on you, kid.” Your coach says something less encouraging. You’ve missed the first 3 shots and you’re “the shooter” on your team. You tweaked your ankle in the last event and your floor routine starts in 5 minutes.

Thoughts: If thoughts lead to feelings, this line is everything. Good news is that you get to choose your thoughts…even when it doesn’t feel like it. What you choose to think is key. So if someone shouts “Think positive thoughts!” you should be good-to-go. Super simple. Simple, but not always easy. That’s where sport psychology comes in. We’ve got a technique or two for that.

When you find the right thought, the one that resonates and that you believe (that’s the real kicker here), you’ll be in a good, no hesitation, bring it, let’s-do-this place. You’ll be feeling confident.

Feelings: When you’re feeling confident, how do you show up? Yes, like a badass. But what does that look like? It looks like head high, shoulders back. It looks like a smile or a game face. Athletes feeling confident carry themselves differently. You know it. The other team knows it. The crowd usually knows it.

This is where the fake-it-’til-you-make-it confidence advice comes in. What it means is skipping over the thought and feeling and go directly to the action. Act like a confident person. A confident athlete focuses on what’s at hand, maintains composure, and more often than not, delivers.

Result: The delivery or the result is the last part of this model. How do things turn out? Often it means a good at bat, a solid showing, and generally bringing your best.

Other Factors Influencing Confidence

Of course, confidence is ultimately determined by our thoughts, but other factors determine the circumstances surrounding confidence.

Personality characteristics: Athletes who have higher trait self-confidence (overall confidence) tend to also have higher confidence in sport and other situations.

Team/Organizational Culture: Athletes with supportive coaches who use positive reinforcement and those on cohesive teams have higher sport confidence.

Openness to feeling the feelings: Confidence builds when there isn’t an emotion you’re not willing to feel. When you’re okay feeling the discomfort that can come from setbacks and failure; that’s when you can really go for the big goals.

Benefits of Confidence in Sports

Confidence allows you to concentrate or focus on what’s important without the I can’t do this negative self-talk. Confidence also allows you to keep your cool or maintain your composure because you know you’ve got what it takes, even if the situation becomes intense.

Put more effort in. When athletes believe in themselves and their ability to get it done, they put in the work. Ever notice that when someone compliments your play — your jump shot, your swing, your hustle — you want to develop those skills. Because you have a thought of “Hey, I’m good at this.”

Play to win. When athletes are feeling confident, they go for it. The lack of confidence is often linked to playing-not-to-lose. You’ve seen this happen when watching sports. A team or athlete gets a lead and then they try to “just hang on.” There’s likely a thought of “They could come back.” or “What if we can’t hold them off.” Those are not confident thoughts and they change how athletes show up on the field. Less aggressive. Stop making smart decisions. Actual mechanics change for many athletes. This is in direct comparison to the head up, shoulders back, anticipating your opponent’s actions which are associated with confidence.

High goals. When athletes are feeling confident, they set the big goals. The if-your-dreams-don’t-scare-you type goals. Confidence gives athletes that extra boost. Like a shot of adrenaline for your dreams. Thoughts of “I can totally do this” lead to goal getting, while thoughts of doubt lead to either lower goals or often no goals at all. Confident athletes set and make goals happen.

Flow state or being in the zone. An athlete has to be confident to “get & stay in the zone.” To really be in the zone (otherwise known as flow state), an athlete has all the things come together. Confidence, concentration, composure. The thoughts (which many won’t recall) are all thoughts of some version of “I’ve got this”. The thoughts feel light. Like they’re just happening to them. But they’re still there. When you’re confident, you can focus and maintain composure, which are additional elements of flow state.

Improving Confidence in Sports

Can’t talk confidence without talking about self-talk!

Self-Talk: Become aware of your thinking. Our thoughts determine our feelings, actions, and results…and that’s amazing! Why? Because you get to choose your thoughts! Dump the doubt. Throw out the mind trash and give yourself a pre-game pep talk.

Recognize & Replace: Recognize if negativity comes your way. Our brains will do this to us. Acknowledge it, then replace with a focus on your breath and a thought that feels better. It’s important for the new thought to be believable to you, if not your brain will dismiss it. You may have to work up to the super positive, confident thought we’re ultimately going for. 

Give Yourself Some Credit: Athletes are often told to “be humble” and “act like you’ve been there.” While it’s understandable where the advice likely comes from (trying to keep athletes “hungry” so they’ll continue to work hard), at Sterling Sport Mindset we see a lot of clients not giving themselves enough credit. Cocky isn’t usually a problem. And side note: cocky (overconfidence) is only a problem when it hurts work ethic, preparation, or team cohesion. We see much more of the under confident situation. Athletes will sometimes brush off the amazing feats they’ve accomplished or their stellar strengths. They see the flaws or places where they want to improve. That’s okay, but too much focus there can lead to a confidence issue. Take some time and write down your own About Me page. Include all the great things you’ve done. Go ahead! Congratulate yourself!

If you’re serious about improving your game by improving your confidence, let’s chat. Schedule an initial consultation with one of our sport counselors.