Can You Train Confidence in Sports?
How would you rate your confidence as an athlete?
Are you someone who believes highly in themselves and you trust your skills during games?
Or do you doubt yourself and find that you underperform during games because of this lack of confidence?
If you fall into the second category, you're likely wondering if confidence - that belief in yourself you know you need to succeed - can be trained...
The answer is yes! And in this article, I'm going to show you how.
Two Types of Confidence
Working as a mental coach, confidence is something I deal with a lot. Specifically, a lack of confidence.
One of the main reasons an athlete will reach out to me for help is that they're playing well in practices, but not in games. A major cause typically being a lack of confidence.
But, what's interesting is that they'll tell me time and time again they know they have the skills to succeed. So if they know they have the skills...why is there a lack of trust come game time?
Because confidence in sports needs to be broken down into two separate categories: confidence in understanding and confidence in execution.
Confidence in Understanding
As you train, naturally you're going to become aware your skills are improving. Shots are going in more frequently, your time is decreasing, and the ball is leaving your hands with a little more speed.
You understand that your skills are growing, and so you have belief in this understanding.
How would you rate your confidence in understanding?
Think about your skills. Do you feel confident that they are good enough to succeed? You may notice that you're comparing yourself to other people on your team or opponents you've faced - thinking about your skills in relation to theirs.
If you judge your skills to be on an equal or higher playing field, then your confidence in understanding is likely high.
Having high confidence in understanding does not mean you aren't still wanting to improve. It simply means, right now, you know you have the skills necessary to play well.
The actual playing well part being a completely different story.
Confidence in Execution
Now without the belief that you are highly skilled, it's going to be difficult to trust yourself during games. But once that belief is there, it'd be safe to assume trust in execution would follow.
Yet, that's not always the case.
Confidence in execution means you trust yourself to perform at a high level come game time. You have confidence you can translate the skills you know you have into competition.
This is by far a much more difficult form of confidence to generate than confidence in understanding. Mainly because there are other factors that play into your performance besides your physical skills.
These include internal factors (such as your thoughts and feelings), along with external factors (such as the opponent, officials, or playing conditions).
As I said earlier, most of the athletes that come to me for help are seeing a difference in the way they play in practice vs games. Their confidence in understanding leads them to realize their execution during games is not matching.
This leaves them with very little confidence in execution, which only pushes them further and further away from playing up to their potential during games.
How Confidence Can Be Trained
Knowing now the difference between confidence in understanding and confidence in execution, we return to the original question of whether or not confidence can be trained.
As I said, it most certainly can (and must) be trained. No matter how confident you are, it is a mental skill you should continually work on because of how important confidence is to peak performance.
To train your confidence, we're once again going to split confidence up into the two forms: confidence in understanding and confidence in execution.
Training Confidence in Understanding
To build a solid understanding in your skills, you first need skills. It won't do much good for us to try and get you to believe in your talents if you aren't putting any work into improving.
In addition, we want to make use of reflection as a way of strengthening the trust you have in your skills. Through the combination of these, your confidence in understanding will grow.
Step #1: Creating a Practice Plan
To improve your skills, you need to be training your skills. Whether you're in the offseason, just about to start your season, or you're in the middle to end of your season, you need to be practicing and refining your skills.
This form of physical training provides you with adequate preparation going into a game.
To help ensure you're training as much as you need to, I always recommend creating a practice plan for yourself if you don't have one already.
This practice plan will include the drills you will do and when you will do them. Think of this also like putting together a training routine.
As you're creating your practice plan, don't forget to include any strength and conditioning as well - if there's not already a plan set in place by your team.
A solid practice plan that includes skill work and strength and conditioning work will ensure continual physical improvement. This improvement will add to your confidence in understanding.
Step #2: Apply the Principle of Reflection
As you train, your skills will improve naturally. But what happens if you spend more time thinking about how much you still need to improve, instead of the progress you've already made?
You keep yourself from developing as much belief in your skills as you could.
Building belief takes reflection. You must spend time going over your progress and reminding yourself of all the skills you have right now.
Yes, of course you want to keep thinking about improvements, but not at the expense of overlooking your current strengths.
A great exercise to ensure you're reflecting on your strengths is to make a list of them and then reread this list each day.
Another way you can apply the principle of reflection to building confidence in understanding is keeping track of your progress each day in a performance journal.
This is where you list out what you did well that day and then think about where you can improve.
Training Confidence in Execution
As your understanding that you have the skills needed to succeed grows, you want to simultaneously be working on the trust you have to execute those skills during competition.
Now this can be very difficult, since you need trust in order to play well, and you need the experience of playing well to increase your trust...so what can you do?
The approach I take for building confidence in execution involves managing factors limiting performance, along with using visualization to increase belief.
Step #1: Managing Factors Limiting Performance
When we look at a lack of confidence in execution, it forms due to poor performances. Now, the lack of trust is a major reason for underperforming. But a lot of times, the trust is absent because of mental blocks that are present.
Mental blocks are frames of thought that undermine performance. Some of the main ones include performance anxiety, fear of failure, perfectionism, and negative self-talk.
By identifying a mental block and working through it, we know performance level will increase. And if your performance level increases, so will your trust in execution.
So how can you go about managing fear, anxiety, the demand to be perfect, or negative self-talk? Well, there are different strategies you can take to each one, and I've written articles that go into detail on each of them.
- Here's an article that shows you how to overcome performance anxiety.
- Here's an article that shows you how to reduce fear of failure.
- Here's an article that teaches you how to manage perfectionism.
- Here's an article that goes into detail on changing negative self-talk to more positive and productive self-talk.
Step #2: Using VIsualization to Increase Belief
As your mental blocks are being worked through, your performance level will increase. As you play better, your trust will grow - since trust relies heavily on the experience of success.
While this is taking place, there's another tool you can use to generate even more memory of success: visualization.
Sports visualization involves imagining yourself performing your skills. When you visualize, your brain fires in a similar way as to when you play in real life.
This creates new neural connections, strengthening your belief in your skills.
On a simpler level, the more you imagine yourself making a shot in a game, for example, the more you are building that feeling that you've done it before.
If you step onto the court knowing that you've seen yourself make the shot hundreds of times in your mind, you're going to have more trust in yourself to make the shot during the game.
Knowing the experience of success leads to greater trust, you can use visualization to leverage this idea by building more memory each time you mentally rehearse yourself performing.
The question of can you train confidence can be answered with a simple yes. And not only can you train confidence, but I think it's one of the most important skills for any athlete to work on.
Without confidence, your skills will go to waste. No matter how talented you are, if doubt consumes you, your performances will suffer.
And when it comes to training confidence as an athlete, you want to remember the two types of confidence we discussed: confidence in understanding and confidence in execution.
You first need the belief that you have the skills necessary to succeed. Then you must develop trust that you can execute those skills at a high level during competition.
The combination of these two types of confidence are what lead to peak performance for you as an athlete.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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