How to Build Trust in Your Skills as an Athlete

High-level skills must be accompanied by high levels of trust. Learn 4 sport psychology strategies you can use to build trust in your skills as an athlete.

Building trust in your skills is crucial to your success as an athlete. If you don’t have trust, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are; you won’t perform up to the level you know you’re capable of.

However, trust isn’t the easiest thing to develop. You may even be frustrated because you understand that you are skilled, yet you don’t necessarily trust yourself to perform your skills well during games.

Trust is one of the key ingredients to athletic success. But why? That, along with how you can develop trust in your skills, is what will be covered in this article.

Why You Need Trust in Your Skills

Worry is the enemy of success. And worry is born out of a lack of trust. That’s why you need trust in your skills as an athlete. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of worry.

Not only worry but fear as well. Fear stems from worry when you’re unsure whether you can succeed. This especially happens when you perform badly a few times, and then grow fearful of the consequences of bad games.

Within sport psychology, we use the terms performance anxiety and fear of failure. Performance anxiety is worry-you are worried about what may or may not happen.

Fear of failure means you are afraid to fail because of what you don’t want to have happen if you do fail.

Confidence, which is another word for trust, works wonders at wiping away both fear and anxiety.

If we were to dig deeper into why trust works to reduce worry and eliminate fear, we would find the word control. When you don’t have trust in your skills as an athlete, yet you still want to succeed and perform well, where are you going to find a feeling of control?

The answer is thinking about and trying to force an outcome. And as you think about what you want or don’t want to have happen, as you fear an outcome you don’t want, it seems to your mind like you are gaining a bit of control over the situation.

However, you are not. In fact, you are decreasing your chances of succeeding.

Now, when we apply trust to the equation, we see the need to think about the future fade down. You know that you are highly skilled. You trust in these skills. Therefore, your focus is more in the present, because that is where the control is.

You control the outcome through your skills. Skills, that need to be trusted and a trust that must be built.

What it Means to Trust in Your Skills

There are specific tools and strategies you can use to build trust in your skills. But before I introduce those, I want to discuss what it actually means for you to trust in your skills.

Trust means giving up the need for control. You no longer feel like you have to force an outcome because you trust that your skills will help you get the result you want.

Another word for trust is confidence and the two are really pointing to the same feeling. But, I think trust takes confidence a step further because it means you not only have confidence in your skills, but you trust that you will be able to perform well during the game.

So much of sports, as with life, is unknown. You don’t know what the next moment will bring. And that’s okay…as long as you trust in yourself to handle whatever happens.

When you perform with trust, you’re able to do something pretty cool-allow yourself to perform. I know that may seem odd, but the truth is, many athletes never truly allow themselves to simply play. They’re constantly trying to force an outcome.

But when there’s trust in your skills, it’s easy to allow yourself to play. There’s going to be more joy in what you do, you will perform more freely, and you will play better. When you let go and simply allow, that’s where you find peak performance.

That’s what can happen when you truly trust in your skills.

How to Build Trust in Your Skills

To build trust, there are specific strategies and tools you can use. These are based on principles within sport psychology that work to alter the way you think and develop certain experiences that lead to an increase in trust.

Now, I’m going to show you a few different tools you can use, so, feel free to choose a couple to use or simply stick to one. What matters as you begin to work towards building trust in your skills is that you make the work consistent.

Repetition is key to improvement. This is true in relation to your physical skills, and it is equally true in relation to building trust.

So, no matter which tool or strategy you choose to apply, do so diligently and with consistency.

Strategy #1: Listing out Your Strengths & Weaknesses

For the first strategy, we are going to make use of a list. One that will be made up of all the strengths you have within your sport.

To make this list, take a few minutes and brainstorm, free from any distractions, all your skills. Go into as much detail and be as specific as you’d like with this exercise.

Now, once you’ve created your list of strengths, you need to think about your weaknesses. What’s holding you back within your game?

Once both lists are made, it’s time for the real work to begin. First, you want to set yourself an action plan for turning your weaknesses into strengths. Then, it’s all about some repetitive reflection.

Take your list of strengths and reread it to yourself each day. This will work to continuously remind yourself of all the skills you already possess. In addition, take your list of weaknesses and reflect on how you are working to improve them each day.

The more you focus on your strengths and see that you are developing weak areas within your game, the more your trust in your skills will grow.

Strategy #2: Mentally Rehearse Your Skills

When you’re wanting to build trust, you need experience seeing yourself succeed. It’s that experience of doing it once, twice, or many times, which gives you the confidence that you can do it again.

This is why it can be so difficult to build trust-how do you build trust in your skills if you need the experience of seeing yourself succeed in order to do so, yet you need trust to give you a greater chance of succeeding?

That is quite the question.

Well, what we can do is use a sport psychology technique known as mental rehearsal. With mental rehearsal, we take the concept of seeing yourself succeed, and leverage it through the use of visualization.

You are going to mentally rehearse performing your skills. The more you do this, the more trust will be built.

But why?

The reason mental rehearsal works is due to how your brain responds to the visualization. When you visualize, the reaction in your brain is similar to the reaction that occurs when you actually perform your skills.

So, let’s say you are mentally rehearsing yourself shooting a basketball. Your brain will fire in a similar pattern to when you shoot a basketball in real life. This strengthening of neurological connections works to build confidence in your ability to shoot.

What also happens as you mentally rehearse your skills is that you are developing a memory of success. Both on a psychological level and emotional level.

Using the example of shooting a basketball, the more you visualize yourself making a basket, the more memory you are building.

In addition, as you bring emotion into your visualization (feeling confident as you shoot and successful afterward), the more you are anchoring that emotional state to the act of shooting a basketball.

Strategy #3: Build Trust Through Your Words

When you don’t trust yourself, what kinds of thoughts do you have? Are you thinking about how you know you’re going to do well and how you can’t wait to show everyone how great you are?

Or are you thinking about how much you don’t want to mess up and how you can’t embarrass yourself or let your team down?

In mental performance coaching, when I work with athletes who are seeking to build trust in themselves, their self-talk mirrors the second of the two examples from above. Their thoughts are focused on not wanting to fail. They are thinking in terms of worries and fears.

Now, does that seem like a recipe for high levels of trust? If you’re constantly thinking about failure and not wanting to mess up, are you giving yourself the opportunity to trust? No. You’re keeping your mind fixated on the possibility of failure.

Instead, if your aim is to build trust in your skills, you have to speak to yourself in a way that allows such trust to grow. And that requires you talking to yourself as though you already do trust in your skills. The actual trust will follow your thoughts.

The strategy you can use involves the process of cognitive restructuring. It’s a simple exercise, really. What you do is brainstorm how you currently think and speak to yourself. Write all the unhelpful and untrusting thoughts down on paper.

Now, look at the list. Are these the thoughts of someone who truly trusts in their skills? No? That’s okay, because what you’re going to do now is create a new list that mirrors the trust you want to have.

For example, you can write things such as:

  • I trust in my skills.
  • I am a great shooter.
  • I have a strong arm.
  • I am quick and have good open field speed.
  • I am working to get better each day.

The fun part of this exercise is getting to choose how you want to think. If you fully trusted in your skills, how would you think? What would you say to yourself? That’s how you need to think and how you need to begin speaking to yourself.

Once you’ve come up with your list, repeat the phrases each day. What this does is begin to rewire how you think. And the more you think in this new way, the more trust you will build.

Strategy #4: Performance Evaluation

In the second strategy, you learned about mental rehearsal. The main reason mental rehearsal works so well is because it builds a memory of success. This memory, or the experience of seeing yourself perform well, is vital to building trust.

Another strategy you can use is leveraging that same idea, but doing so in relation to your actual playing. This is done through the use of a performance evaluation system.

It’s easy as an athlete to brush over what you did well. You are focused on improving, so you need to examine all the things you did wrong so you can get better at them…right?

Well, yes, but not initially. And not solely if your aim is to increase trust.

When you only focus on what you did wrong, you are never allowing yourself the opportunity to build a memory of success. If you don’t have the experience fresh in your mind, it becomes difficult to trust in your skills.

So, what you can do is begin evaluating your performances (practices and games) in a way that works to increase your trust.

This is done through the use of two questions, asked in a very specific order.

  • Question #1: What did I do well?
  • Question #2: Where can I improve?

First, you must examine all that you did well during the game or practice. This means that each day you are providing yourself the opportunity to build a memory of success. Then, we aren’t going to stop there and brush over what you did wrong or where you can improve.

That’s where the second question comes into play.

Once you’ve identified what you did well, think about where you can improve. This evaluation practice builds trust in your skills because you are focusing on what you did well, along with gaining valuable information you can use to improve moving forward.

Final Thoughts

High-level skills must be accompanied by high levels of trust.

One of the most frustrating situations to find yourself in as an athlete is working hard, building your talents, yet still not trusting yourself come game time.

Luckily, trust, just like anything else, can be built. Through the use of sport psychology strategies, you can work to build the trust you have in yourself and your skills.

Choose one or two of the strategies listed above, put them into practice, and watch as your trust grows with each day. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

Mental Training Courses

Learn more about our two main mental training courses for athletes: Mental Training Advantage and The Mentally Tough Kid.

The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

In Mental Training Advantage, you will learn tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage expectations & pressure, increase motivation, and build mental toughness. It’s time to take control of your mindset and unlock your full athletic potential!

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