What is Confidence Anyway?

You want to be a confident athlete, right? Of course you do. But have you ever stopped to think about what it means to be a confident athlete? 

Most athletes believe that confidence is either something you have or you don't have, almost like something you're born with. But that's not exactly true. Of course there are some athletes that were born with confidence (and may even be a little TOO confident). Yet, most of the athletes who are confident had to work to get that way.

Defining Confidence

You need to understand what having confidence means not only in general but for YOU. The Oxford Dictionary definition of confidence is “the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.” Another term for confidence is self-efficacy. Essentially you need to believe you can do it. You also need to be aware of your thoughts and feelings when you’re confident and not confident. This will help you be more aware of how you define and experience confidence. Having that awareness can help you identify what you’re working toward and trying to maintain.

Confidence takes work

The fact that most have to work to be confident is a good thing. That means you can be confident, too. Or if you've had confidence and lost it, you can get it back. I like to think of confidence like having a good relationship. Some of our relationships are just easy, but that's certainly not the majority of them. Most relationships have the raw material there, but you need to work on having a good relationship. And if we stop working on our relationship chances are we will become disconnected from the other person (even if it is a good relationship) You need to know what tools to use and how to implement them to have good relationships. Confidence is the same way.

You have things that you are confident in whether you realize it or not. Some things you are naturally good at, other things require more work. You need to identify the factors that are important for YOUR confidence and work at them. Know yourself and what makes you tick. And you need to work at your confidence even when things are going well. Not necessarily to help you become more confident but to help you maintain your confidence. Just like we invest in our relationships to keep them good.

Confidence is an ongoing process

Confidence is an ongoing process where we continually evaluate what we are doing well and what we can improve upon. It’s easy to look for what’s not going well. I mean you want to push yourself to get better, right? So we take our weaknesses and improve on them. But if we ONLY look at what we need to do better and forget to notice what we do well, we’ll eventually feel like there’s not much we are doing right. And that’s totally not fair or accurate.

You also need to make sure you are continually being realistic. It's not realistic to expect yourself to play at pre-injury levels if you are JUST returning to play after you tore your ACL if your rehab did not progress well. It's not realistic to shoot 50% from the field when you're currently shooting 15%. Sure those may be goals you want to reach, but you need to meet yourself where you're at right now. Start there and move forward. If you're not sure, talk with your coaches and athletic trainers about what IS realistic. They're generally two groups of people who will be honest with you.

Confidence comes from many sources

You benefit most when you derive confidence from many different sources (Hayes, Maynard, Thomas, & Bawden, 2007). This helps your confidence be robust and stable. A recent model of sport confidence (Vealey & Chase, 2008) outlines 9 sources of confidence and highlights 3 sources most important for athletes: physical skills & training; cognitive efficiency (belief you can mentally focus in competition); and resilience (belief you can deal with setbacks).

Make sure you're not only relying on external sources of confidence, such as feedback from coaches and teammates. External sources of confidence are not within your control and can change due to no fault of your own. 

Here's a Ted talk by Amy Cuddy where she discusses how something as simple as "power posing" can influence how you see yourself. Our sources of confidence don't have to be complicated!

Confidence profiling can be an effective tool to help you understand how to build and maintain your confidence. It's important to do this with a professional trained in sport psychology, as confidence can have many confusing and complicated layers. It's also helpful to talk with someone who can help you learn and implement tools to help you get your confidence to where you want it. Trained professionals also develop an understanding of who you are and the tools that are best for you personally rather than using a cookie-cutter approach.

Just like many other things in sport psychology, confidence has many different variables and aspects to consider. At the very least, this should give you a good starting point on confidence, and you can build upon this foundation!

Dr. Erin Haugen is a licensed clinical psychologist and sport/performance psychologist located in Grand Forks, ND. She specializes in helping college student-athletes excel in sports and in life. She is a former basketball player, current triathlete, and loves dogs.


Disclaimer: You should consult an appropriate professional for specific advice tailored to your situation. If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, you should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.