Building Self Confidence


Building Self Confidence

Building Self Confidence

Genuine self-confidence is one of the most important mental skills in sport and should be leveraged by all athletes who are looking to achieve performance excellence. With that said, self-confidence is also a skill that can be elusive for some athletes and may become fragile when someone underperforms. In our work with athletes, many describe their confidence to us as being directly related to how they perform in games or competitions. They say that if they perform well during their competition then their confidence grows, but if their performance is not as good as their last, then the athlete starts to lose belief in their ability.

This direct link to performance is worrisome, as for some it could be the only source of building confidence that they have. As well, some athletic groups do not compete often because of the physical nature of their sport and do not have many opportunities to perform. Boxers, mixed martial artists, long-distance runners, and cyclists only compete a few times per year. Thus, there are fewer opportunities for them to grow confidence through competition.

With most athletes training more hours per week than competing, it feels like there are great opportunities to earn confidence in different ways. Well-known psychologist Albert Bandura proposed four primary strategies of self-confidence that are readily available to athletes that can change the way they build their confidence.

1. The first strategy of building confidence is known as Mastery Experiences. This strategy describes how self-belief is built by your past experiences in practice. The more often a skill is completed, recorded, and remembered through practice, the more the mind and body believe it can do it.

For example, a basketball player can simulate their free throws in practice and record how it feels (i.e., physically, technically, and cognitively) when the ball goes through the hoop. A soccer player can practice penalty kicks in training and go through a pre-strike routine each time. Thus, the repetition builds a sense of mastery and muscle memory that enhances belief in successfully completing that task.

A HeadSet mental workout used with athletes to increase mastery experiences is called “Bricks On The Wall”.  Headset advises athletes to record 3 activities each training session that went well or that the athlete was proud of. Even if the athlete had an average or poor day in training, there are still 3 activities that can be found and recorded. The more activities an athlete can record and remember, the more confidence is built.

Watch HeadSet marathon runner Christine Edwardson describe building confidence using the HeadSet Bricks On The Wall mental workout.

2. The next strategy in building confidence through training is Vicarious Experiences. Vicarious experiences are when an athlete is shown how to perform an athletic skill by someone else (e.g., another athlete or coach). By observing the successful completion of a skill by someone else, an individual can start to imagine and break down how the specific skill looks and feels. Seeing someone perform a skill allows the athlete to believe they can also perform the skill, especially when they see someone of the same skill level perform it.

When you watch a role model, please keep a close eye on how they break down the skill into manageable parts. Research suggests that watching movies, videos, or someone live performing the skill (and breaking it down into smaller parts) is an excellent way to develop confidence.

For example, when shooting a basketball, the role model should show the athlete exactly how to hold the ball, how your hand should follow through after the shot, how far apart your feet should be, and where your eyes and elbow should follow through.

3. The next strategy is known as Verbal Persuasion. Verbal persuasion is verbal feedback that is given to the athlete by others. This helps the athlete by encouraging and motivating them through positive talk. The type of talk being used before, during, and after performances is critical, especially to the athletes that don’t compete often. Regardless of the performance outcome, feedback should stay positive and focused on ways to change controllable actions. It is also helpful when knowledgeable or esteemed colleagues deliver the verbal feedback.

A social support network is made up of the people you currently go to for support or people who know you as an athlete that you have access to. This means that these people can be contacted by you if support is needed. An athlete’s social support network is often made up of friends/family, teammates, coaches, and sport science professionals.

4. The final strategy of building confidence is known as Physiological and Affective States. This strategy is helpful when an athlete is trying to control their fatigue, pain, or stress levels. When an athlete is experiencing fatigue/pain or stress they may doubt their capability to successfully complete skills. Being aware of the symptoms and having the right coping strategies is key for an athlete to maintain or develop their confidence.

For nervousness or fatigue/pain, employ breathing techniques. Box breathing has been used and proven to influence fatigue/pain and reduce stress.  By breathing in for a four-count, holding for a two-count, and breathing out for a four-count, an athlete can slow down their brain and body.

Have a look at HeadSet Mental Performance Consultant Lacey Everett going through a box-breathing example below.

To learn more about the 4 strategies of self-confidence, please watch this video – Lean more about the HeadSet app and its mental workouts on self-confidence by contacting us at for more information.

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