Laura Ann Giraldi
Sports in Society
November 21, 1996
Sports Psychology is one of the most up and coming sciences of the present time. This practice focuses on training athletes to use their mental capacities along with their physical talent to reach what is known as peak performance. Sports Psychologists analyze the performance of athletes and use motivational, cognitive, and behavioral principles to teach them peak performance levels. Sixty to ninety percent of success in sports is due to mental factors and psychological mastery. Sensing the importance of mental training in recent years, scientists have developed mental training programs. These programs all vary in technique, however, they all include skills focused on mastering the art of self-confidence. There are considerable amounts of evidence in sports literature that there is a direct correlation between self-confidence and peak performance.
Self-confidence exists in all walks of life. It is defined as: the strong relationships between a person?s thoughts, feelings, and behavior which if motivated correctly can help an individual excel with confidence in anything they try to do. Most of the time self-confidence is viewed in accordance with how well an athlete performs at a certain sport activity. To examine this further one must look at how an athlete prepares themselves before the task in order to understand how their self-confidence reigns so high when it comes time for them to actually compete. An athlete must trust what enables them to build their self-confidence.
To start, an athlete needs to know themselves and what their limitations are. Through personal experience an athlete will know what they are capable of doing,
and also what challenges them. From such personal experiences an athlete can recall past success as well as past failures. Therefore, an athlete must strive off that knowledge of past success to reassure themselves that they have done it once, and that they can do it again.
All is easier said then done. Building self-confidence can be one of the hardest things an athlete has to do. This involves a great deal of mental awareness and self-discipline. For it could take only one negative experience to destroy an athlete’s ego. This is when the process of filtering comes into play. Filtering involves using negative experience in a positive way. More specifically an athlete must look at such experiences carefully and learn from them. They must not focus on the bad, but how it can help them in the future. For example, a basketball player who missed a foul shot that could have won the game must not view the experience as I am a loser; he must say ?My foul shooting needs a little help.? In turn, this athlete should take a little time before and after practice to drill this technique. By doing this he is not focusing on the negative he is building towards a positive. This technique is very important to the athlete who is looking to strive for peak performance. For an athlete who dwells on the negative aspects
of their performance will never appreciate or accentuate their positive aspects. This in the long run will not allow them to develop to their full potential.
A second technique in gaining self-confidence is a skill called self-talk. This is indeed a skill. This should be done when the athlete is spending quiet time with themselves. This is the time when an athlete must throw out all modest tendencies and falsehoods. This is a time when the athlete must be completely honest with themselves and their performance. This is also the time when the athlete must allow themselves to be their own best friend. These self-talks should be very detailed and taken seriously. They should include statements about past success, hard work, team cohesion, uniqueness, talent, endurance, persistence, and determination. This list may vary greatly, however it is these positive reinforcements that make all the difference. Self-talk is also a time when an athlete may reflect on compliments he has received and success up to this point. This technique is as important as any in the road toward peak performance.
A third technique in gaining self-confidence is imagery. Imagery if done properly does build confidence. Imagery or mental rehearsal is the process of creating mental images of yourself performing at optimal levels. Confidence increases because you avoid dwelling on the past, where you could find experiences of failure. Confidence is further enhanced when you maintain focus in
the present time rather than letting your imagination drift into the future, where the possibilities for failure or injury can exist. Simply, an athlete’s confidence is enhanced because they see themselves achieving the goal the learn what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, or even smells like. Therefore, the situation becomes familiar to them and they feel it belongs to them resulting in a feeling of success. An extra bit of confidence like that can carry an athlete through almost anything, and they can feel as if they can do things that may have seemed impossible. This technique is considered by many sports psychologists to be one of the greatest tools aiding athletes with self-confidence.
The above techniques are basically internal and must be done on an individual basis. There are however some external techniques that build self-confidence. Coaches can practice many self-confidence skills with their team.
First, team cohesion sessions are a necessity. This is the time when the team can learn to act as one. Not only physically, but mentally as well. If they have faith in one another it is inevitable that they will gain faith in themselves. Second, using constructive criticism can make the players feel much better about themselves. Coaches should make suggestions like ?Why don?t you try this,? instead of yelling at the players and saying, ?you are doing it all wrong!? Little things as these make all the difference. Third, a coach should make pre-game, mid-game, and post-game
Pep talks. This is a crucial and emotional time for the players any negative statements could be detrimental. This is the coach’s opportunity to make the team feel as if they are on top of the world regardless of the opponent or the score.
A technique that is most often forgotten, and can be utilizes both internally and externally is to have fun. If you play as if the score does not matter chances are you will feel better about yourself than you ever have. For it is only a game, and life is more than the game itself.
In conclusion, confidence as presented here can either make or break an athlete. Without confidence in oneself the physical talent means nothing at all. Believing in yourself goes a long way and it is necessary to survive in not only sport activity, but in all walks of life. A little confidence goes a long way.
Ferguson, Howard E., The Edge. Clevland: Getting the Edge, 1990.
Ryan, Frank. Sports and Psychology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1981.