Top Confidence Killers For Athletes & How To Overcome Them

Confidence is key as an athlete. Learn the top confidence killers and what you can do to increase your self-confidence as an athlete!

To compete at your best, you need confidence. There’s no way of avoiding the necessity of having a strong belief in yourself and your abilities.

But what happens when you find yourself continually struggling to feel confident? Look, I’ve been there and it’s not a fun situation to find yourself in.

When this occurs, it seems as though confidence is completely out of your control. However, you can control your confidence. And in all reality, if you want to reach your full potential, you must learn how to take control of how confident you feel.

Which is why you first need to uncover the top confidence killers that are leading to you struggling with self-confidence.

Top Confidence Killers For Athletes

As an athlete, you need confidence. It’s that sense of trust and belief which allows you to go out and perform freely. Yet, for many of us, confidence is more of a point of struggle rather than a blessed gift.

Growing up, I saw confidence as something you either had or didn’t. Sadly, it seemed to me that I didn’t. This left me feeling frustrated and jealous of the other guys on my team who appeared to be born with vast amounts of self-confidence.

The truth is, yes, some people are naturally more confident than others. But that doesn’t mean that confidence is something you must be born with. Quite the opposite. It’s a skill that can and must be developed.

What’s interesting to think about is that you may already be more confident than you think. I know I was. As you’re about to learn, it’s not always that you need to build confidence, but rather, learn how to reduce the known confidence killers you face as an athlete.

Confidence Killer #1: Self-Doubt

Confidence is quickly defined as trusting and believing in yourself. They are two words I’ve already used a few times so far to describe feeling confident.

So playing confidently means you trust and believe in your skills. Therefore, to be confident, this trust and belief must be present.

What happens when you begin to question your abilities?

Not in a natural, seeking to progress sort of way. But one in which you start wondering whether you are as talented as you think. Or maybe you start to ask yourself, “Am I really as prepared as I could be?”

Do you think this type of thinking will lead to you having more trust and belief in your skills?


When you doubt your abilities, this opens the floodgates for even more doubt to creep in. Snowballing into a downward spiral that continually works against your confidence.

Imagine you practiced well all week. Your coaches were telling you how good you’ve been playing, your body feels good, and everything seems to be in order for a great competition performed with full confidence.

But right as the game begins a moment of doubt appears. You see the opponent warming up and man do they look good. Naturally, you start to seek through the memories in your mind, analyzing whether your practices were actually as good as you thought.

Then you start to wonder whether you even feel as good as you think you do.

Do you see what’s happening? Even though you worked to increase your confidence through training, as soon as you begin to doubt yourself before a game, all that confidence slowly begins to vanish.

Confidence Killer #2: Fear

When you’re fearful, you play timidly. There’s no other way to be. What’s fueling your actions is a negative image of the future. This means you are seeking to avoid messing up rather than striving to succeed.

While it may appear on the surface to be the same thing, this leads to two completely different mindsets.

When you’re afraid to fail, success isn’t truly the alternative. The alternative is not failing. For example, imagine you’re a tennis player. You fault on your first serve and are getting ready to hit your second.

However, your second serves have been off recently. Your mind immediately turns to survival mode, thinking about how you can not fail. So, you alter your approach, hitting the ball nice and easily over.

Now why did you change the way you served, rather than trusting in your natural serve? Because the fear flashing at the forefront of your mind led you to doubt yourself and drastically lowered your confidence in that moment.

Fear causes you to focus on failing. This means, as you begin a game your mind is occupied with thoughts of doubt and images of seeing yourself fail. The more you see such scenes within your mind, the lower your confidence will drop.

Confidence requires you seeing yourself as successful, something fear makes close to impossible.

“When you’re fearful, you play timidly. There’s no other way to be. What’s fueling your actions is a negative image of the future. This means you are seeking to avoid messing up rather than striving to succeed.”

Confidence Killer #3: Unrealistic Expectations

Right now, what expectations do you hold over your performance? Would you say these are helping or hurting your level of confidence?

Expectations are interesting because of course you want to perform a certain way. For example, if you’re a basketball player, it’s natural for you to want to score ten points a game. There’s no denying that desire exists.

However, there’s a key distinction between having an expectation and a target you’re striving for.

Expectations serve as distractions. Leading into a game, rather than focusing on the process that will lead to the outcome you want, you tend to give most of your attention to the expectation.

Continually thinking about how badly you want it and how you can’t not get it. Once again, it leads back to fear and how holding onto fear results in you thinking about what will happen if you don’t reach your expectation.

As you move forward, unrealistic expectations will continually not be attained. Going off the example from earlier, this would be like a basketball player who currently averages nine points a game and says she wants to average thirty.

Of course it’s possible, but not at all the kind of expectation that will help her in the long run. What will happen is that as she begins to see her points per game increase to twelve, let’s say, she will still feel as though she didn’t reach her expectations.

This leads to doubt, frustration, and an overall drop in her confidence.

Confidence Killer #4: Negative Self-Talk

At the root of all emotions are thoughts.

The way you think leads to how you feel. And so, if you want to feel confident, yet you speak very negatively to yourself, confidence will continue to evade you.

So what exactly does negative self-talk look like? Well, there are two different forms of self-talk I like to discuss: direct and indirect self-talk.

Direct negative self-talk is anything you say directed at yourself. For example:

  • I suck.
  • I can’t do this.
  • I knew I’d mess up.
  • I don’t have it today.
  • I can never win.

It’s just all about speaking in a negative and disheartening way directly to yourself. Now, indirect negative self-talk involves thinking about your environment or other people. For example:

  • The other team looks really good.
  • Coach hasn’t been happy with practice this week.
  • The field looks terrible.
  • These officials are awful today.
  • So and so is not feeling it today.

When it comes to confidence, both of these will negatively affect the trust you have in yourself and your skills. As you say phrases such as, “I suck,” the belief you have in yourself immediately drops.

In addition, as you say phrases such as, “The other team looks really good,” your confidence is equally reduced.

Due to the power of thought, developing negative self-talk is a huge factor when it comes to struggling with self-confidence.

“The way you think leads to how you feel. And so, if you want to feel confident, yet you speak very negatively to yourself, confidence will continue to evade you.”

Confidence Killer #5: Perfectionism

What does it mean for you to be perfect?

If you were to say my game was perfect, what exactly happened? For most of us, we don’t have a clear definition of perfection. It’s more of a feeling. Something we’ll know we’ve attained when we get there.

However, the truth is perfection is not attainable. No matter what, there will always be an area within your game you can improve.

This is fantastic, because it means you’ll continually be growing and strengthening your skills as an athlete. But as a perfectionist, this also holds terrible news…you will never reach the perfection you so desperately need.

With perfectionism, being perfect feels like a cure for the unending self-critical thoughts filling your head. Yet, it’s that very desire and expectation of perfection that leads to such negative thinking.

As a perfectionist, you are constantly seeking out what you did wrong. Now, if you only have an eye for mistakes, what do you think that will do to your confidence?

It’s going to completely destroy it!

Confidence requires experience to grow. Not experience of perfection, but experience of success. The more you search for and only see what you did wrong, which is the never ending fate of a perfectionist, the lower your confidence will drop.

“With perfectionism, being perfect feels like a cure for the unending self-critical thoughts filling your head. Yet, it’s that very desire and expectation of perfection that leads to such negative thinking.”

Confidence Killer #6: Social Approval

Sports are all about judgment. It’s a competitive environment and the majority of the time, to be good, you need other people to think you’re good.

This can be both a good and bad thing.

On the positive side, it’s what makes sports fun. You go out there and train tirelessly to gain an edge over your competition.

On the other hand, the constant scrutiny and judgment you feel can lead to a negative frame of thought known as social approval.

Social approval causes your mind to become fixed on the thoughts of others. You grow worried and concerned over what people think of you.


Because you need their approval to validate you’re a good player.

This is wonderful when you get such approval. It’s the amazing feeling of receiving praise from your coach or cheers from the crowd. But what happens when the approval goes missing?

Now you begin to doubt yourself and wonder what happened. To make matters worse, even if your coach’s opinions, for example, haven’t changed, but they don’t constantly reemphasize their approval, you’ll suspect something’s wrong.

When your confidence is based on other people’s opinions and their reactions, it becomes very fragile. It is not true confidence you’re playing with, but false belief gotten through the perceived approval of others.

How To Compete With Confidence

These six confidence killers can wreak havoc on your confidence and ultimately your performance. No matter how talented you are, if you struggle to believe in yourself and your skills, you’ll have a difficult time translating your practice skills to game time success.

Which is why, what I want to do now is discuss a simple two step strategy you can use to take these known confidence killers and use them to actually increase your confidence moving forward.

Step #1: Identify Your Top Confidence Killer

As I said earlier, you may not lack as much confidence as you think. What’s likely happening is one of the six confidence killers is working against your ability to trust in yourself and your skills.

So, what you first must do is identify the confidence killer that impacts you the most.

Read through them carefully and ask yourself “Does this sound like me?”

To recap, the top confidence killers include:

  1. Self-Doubt
  2. Fear
  3. Unrealistic Expectations
  4. Negative Self-Talk
  5. Perfectionism
  6. Social Approval

Likely, there’s more than one impacting your confidence. However, what I encourage you to do is pick the main one you believe is the most important to work through first. That way, you will give it your full attention and it will be the quickest weight lifted, allowing your confidence to grow.

So, look over the list and choose your top confidence killer.

Step #2: Work Through Your Confidence Killer

Once you’ve identified your main confidence killer, it’s time to get to work!

Now, the actions you take in this step will vary depending on which of the confidence killers you chose. However, one thing remains constant: you must consistently put in work for it to be worked through.

Each of the confidence killers has a unique system to overcome it. Below are some great articles that walk you through exactly how to overcome each of the confidence killers.

  1. How To Work Through Self-Doubt
  2. Overcoming Fear of Failure
  3. Managing Unrealistic Expectations
  4. Altering Negative Self-Talk
  5. Letting Go Of Perfectionism
  6. Overcoming The Need For Social Approval

Final Thoughts

You need confidence to perform your best, there’s no doubt about it. However, confidence is not always easy to come by as an athlete.

Confidence killers are ways of thinking that work against your level of belief and trust in your skills. What you first must do is identify which confidence killer you exhibit and then begin work on overcoming it.

Now, working through the confidence killer is often the most difficult part. However, it’s something we dive deep into in Mental Training Advantage.

If you’re interested in learning more about this game changing program and how you can build a champion from within, click here.

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.

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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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