What is Self-Confidence in Sports

As an athlete

One trait all athletes need is self-confidence. Ask any coach and they’ll immediately tell you that they want players who are confident in themselves.

All athletes need to be confident, because if you’re not confident, it means you will be doubting yourself; second guessing your mechanics and decisions come game time.

And when you second guess and overthink, you underperform.

Self-Confidence in Sports Defined

Self-confidence in sports is best described by two words: belief and trust.

You must have the belief that you are highly skilled. That’s the first part of it. There needs to be an understanding present that you have the physical skills needed to succeed.

Think of this as the foundation of your confidence. You cannot have the trust in yourself during games if you don’t first have a strong belief in your skills.

One thing about true belief is that it’s not dependent upon other people. You aren’t comparing your skills to others, or needing your coach to tell you that you have high level skills.

You simply have the understanding and belief in your skills that they are good enough to succeed.

In addition to belief, self-confidence in sports involves trust. Think about this in terms of the trust you have in yourself to execute during a game.

When I’m working with an athlete, I’ll often talk about the difference between confidence in understanding and confidence in execution. Confidence in understanding is a lot like belief. It means you understand that you are highly skilled.

But confidence in execution is where you have the trust in yourself that you can apply the skills you’ve worked hard for during games.

So with trust, think about application and execution during games.

Now that we’ve broken down self-confidence in sports into belief and trust, there’s one more level we can take it to, and that’s the feeling you have when you are performing with high levels of confidence.

Self-Confidence as a Feeling

When you have a strong belief in your skills and you have trust in your ability to execute during games, what you’re going to find yourself doing is performing at a high level. And when you do, you’re going to want to repeat it.

That’s where this next aspect of understanding self-confidence in sports comes into play.

When you are playing well, there’s going to be a certain feeling you have and mindset you’re in. We can call this a state – your peak performance state.

What’s interesting about this state is that it’s the state that signifies to your brain that you are going to play well. That in turn increases the trust you have in yourself.

So when I’m working with an athlete on building their self-confidence, one of the first places we look is their past good performances.

The goal is to identify their peak performance state. Because to me, that is what defines self-confidence as a feeling for them. It’s the state they’re in when playing their best.

The same is true for you.

There is an emotional state that truly means you are performing with confidence. Your aim should be to identify that state and then work on getting into that state moving forward.

What Keeps Athletes From Being Self-Confident

Knowing what self-confidence is in sports, it’s important to also understand all the factors that work against your confidence as an athlete. These are known as the killers of confidence.

In all honesty, there are many things that can keep you from being confident. But we’re going to focus on the three main ones I see athletes struggle with: hyperfocusing on mistakes, negative self-talk, and outcome-oriented focus.

Hyperfocusing on Mistakes

This can happen during or after games and practices and is typically seen in athletes who are perfectionists.

Hyperfocusing on mistakes doesn’t mean you are examining your mistakes in a productive way, looking for ways to grow and improve. It means you are fixating on your mistakes and beating yourself up over them.

This will typically be accompanied by negative self-talk which I talk more about in the next section.

What happens when you focus too much on your mistakes is that it begins to build a self-image where you see yourself as not good enough.

Focusing on what you did well is crucial to building confidence, because you need that momentum to truly build trust in your skills.

You don’t allow that trust to grow if you only ever focus on what you did wrong.

This kind of focus also leads to fear of failure and performance anxiety, both of which also lower your confidence going into games.

Negative Self-Talk

The way that you think will either be helping or hurting your self-confidence.

If you are thinking negatively, this is going to significantly hurt the belief and trust you have in yourself.

Negative self-talk can occur anytime, including before, during, and after a game.

Leading into a game, negative self-talk will be centered around what may happen, what you don’t want to have happen, and thoughts of self-doubt.

During a game, there are many opportunities to adopt negative self-talk, but one of the most common times is after a mistake. That’s when it’s the easiest to begin beating yourself up.

Something very similar happens after games, if you tend to have a lot of negative thoughts focused on the mistakes you made. Over time, this type of thinking will continue to lower your confidence.

Outcome-Oriented Thinking

The third major factor that keeps athletes from playing with confidence is a type of thinking that’s focused on the outcome. This is known as outcome-oriented thinking.

The reason focusing on the outcome lowers your confidence is because of the fact that most athletes aren’t focused on what they want to have happen…instead, they’re thinking about what they don’t want to have happen.

This type of thinking is present in athletes with sports performance anxiety. They think about what they don’t want to have happen and worry about making mistakes, which increases the anxiety they feel in the moment. As a result, their confidence drops.

By thinking too much about the outcome, you take your attention away from the present moment, which keeps you from focusing on all the reasons you have to feel confident.

What Contributes to Confidence in Sports

Now that you know three of the main confidence killers athletes face, it’s time to get into the contributors to confidence in sports.

Earlier I said that confidence in sports is best defined by belief and trust. You need to believe in your skills and then trust in your ability to execute them during competition. So, the contributors of confidence are going to be focused on the cultivation of these two areas.

Now there are many small factors that play into your confidence, but to keep things simple, there are three main areas you want to focus on: preparation, experience, and your thoughts.

Physical Preparation

Without training your skills, it’s going to be difficult to have a high level of belief in your skills.

Physical preparation is a key element of building athletic confidence. Without hard work, you won’t be able to develop the skills you need to succeed. And not only that, but you won’t be able to gain the needed belief in your skills.

So you want to make sure you are training as much as you can to make your skills second nature. The more comfortable you are with your swing, for example, the more belief you’re going to have in it come game time.

This increases the chances of you succeeding during the game, which greatly contributes to the next element, experience.


To build trust in yourself and your skills, you need the experience of seeing yourself succeed. This is where athletes truly make the leap from simply believing that they’re skilled, to trusting in their ability to execute during games.

Now, this experience can be gained in a few ways, with the best and most impactful way being success during games. But don’t think this means you can only gain this experience when you have an exceptional game. What matters are all the small successes.

Every game and every practice there are things you do well. By focusing on them, you provide yourself with the experience of seeing yourself succeed.

Another way you can gain this experience is through a technique known as sports visualization. It’s a powerful way to instill in you the memory of success.

Your Thoughts

The third contributing element to your confidence as an athlete is your thinking – what kinds of thoughts you have.

Just as negative self-talk kills your confidence, positive and productive self-talk will increase your confidence.

You want to make sure the thoughts you have before, during, and after a game are working to increase your confidence. You also want to make sure the thoughts you have on a daily basis are doing the same.

The reason your thoughts are so important to your confidence is because it’s your thoughts that lead to belief.

If you think something enough it becomes ingrained in your mind as a belief.

So, if the aim is to develop a strong belief in yourself and your skills, then you need to be deliberately using your thoughts to do so.

Building Confidence in Sports

Now that you know what confidence in sports is, the killers of confidence, and the three main elements that contribute to your confidence, it’s time to begin taking steps to improve your confidence.

There are two ways this can be done: on your own, or with a coach.

If you choose to work on your own to build your confidence, I have a few resources you can use.

One is an article I wrote on the best confidence building exercises for athletes, and the other is a video I made that walks you through the different tools you can use to build your confidence.

Now, if you don’t want to go about it alone, then I offer one-on-one mental performance coaching for confidence.

With this coaching, you and I will work together to identify what’s currently negatively impacting your confidence, what are the main factors contributing to your confidence, and come up with a custom plan to increase your self-confidence.

To learn more about mental coaching for confidence, please fill out the form below.

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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