Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Self-confidence and sport

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Self-confidence and sport:
What is self-confidence in sport, why is it important and how can it be developed?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Sport provides an ever changing environment intertwined with stories of success and failure, elation and disappointment, inspiration and controversy, hard work and luck. Stable characteristics or traits which can be directly linked to success in the sporting arena are in high demand but research has shown these are few and far between. This, in large part, is due to the differing nature of sport and the unique traits and personal characteristics possessed by each individual participant. Shane Warne, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt and Michael Jordan are among some of the best and most recognisable athletes of all time in their chosen sports. These athletes possess many characteristics both physically and mentally which set them apart from their peers but one characteristic or trait which is synonymous with these names and their list of amazing achievements is self-confidence or sport confidence (self-confidence in sport settings). While sporting performance can be influenced by the physical skills and characteristics of each athlete and external factors such as weather or opponents, sport confidence is regarded as critical to human functioning and sporting performance (Hays, Thomas, Maynard & Bawden, 2009).

What is self-confidence?[edit | edit source]

Self-confidence is a general term used in various environments but in sport settings, self-confidence or sport-confidence, refers to the certainty an individual athlete possesses about their ability to be successful in sport (Munroe-Chandler, Hall & Fishburne, 2008). Sport confidence is often measured and referred to as a trait although research suggests that it contains both state- and trait-like properties (Thomas, Lane & Kingston, 2011).

Self-confidence vs. self-efficacy[edit | edit source]

Self-confidence has often been closely or directly associated with other psychological processes, constructs and traits which are key factors in sporting performance such as motivation, imagery, rehearsal, resilience, goal-setting, self-esteem and self-efficacy among others. Self-confidence and self-efficacy are closely related traits or states but are they the same? Not particularly; self-confidence is an individual’s belief about whether he/she can be successful in an overall context while self-efficacy is a situation-specific form of self-confidence which an athlete may hold in regard to being successful in a specific task or skill under a certain condition (Munroe-Chandler et al., 2008). Differentiating between the two can be tricky but an example which can be applied to cricket may be useful. During a cricket match; a cricketer might be highly confident in his/her ability to do well in the match (i.e. score a large number of runs but this person may feel lower levels of self-efficacy when they face a particular type of bowling i.e. the individual might feel that he/she cannot score many runs off the spin bowler but he/she may feel he/she can score runs off all the other bowlers).

Sport and self-confidence - why is it important?[edit | edit source]

Tiger Woods; an example of an athlete with high sport confidence

Munroe-Chandler et al. (2008) stated that confidence has consistently been one of the most discernible and influential factors when distinguishing between successful athletes and non-successful athletes, while Badami, VaezMousavi, Wulf and Namazizadeh (2012) concluded that high levels of self-confidence in athletes has been linked to more intense positive thoughts, feelings and adequate levels of preparedness, allowing athletes to feel more comfortable and in turn perform at a higher level.

Across research it has been consistently found that athletes who possess higher levels of sport confidence tend to be more skilled and more efficient when using cognitive resources necessary for sporting success (Hays et al., 2009). Confidence also plays a significant role in athlete coping processes, that is athletes who possess a strong belief in their ability are able to peak under pressure and cope successfully with adverse situations during competition (Hays et al., 2009). The ability to produce peak performances under pressure is crucial for all athletes and especially those who are competing at the elite and professional levels of sport.

Investigations into the relationship between stress and sport by Hanton and colleagues (2004), has further suggested that self-confidence is a moderating factor when interpreting pre-competition stress. High sport confidence seems to protect or override pre-competition emotions, such as anxiety, which are more often than not perceived as negative and are likely to destabilise performance (Hanton, Mellalieu, & Hall, 2004; Mellalieu, Neil, & Hanton, 2006). High levels of sport confidence may also produce and encourage more intense and frequent achievement behaviours such as effort and persistence, which are crucial to athlete success irrespective of competition level. This finding would suggest that athletes who possess higher levels of sport confidence are more likely to succeed due to the fact that they are more likely to persist in the face of adversity and more likely to put more effort into training, competing and mastering their skills (Hays et al., 2009).

It has also been suggested that self-confidence moderates the effects of cognitive anxiety and physiological arousal on performance (Hanton, Mellalieu & Hall, 2004). More specifically, self-confidence has the ability to increase the probability that cognitively anxious performers can tolerate higher levels of arousal before experiencing a decrease in performance. Individuals who experience high intensities of anxiety and confidence together may still perform successfully, while performers who experience high amounts of anxiety without accompanying feelings of confidence may suffer from decreased performance (Hanton, Mellalieu & Hall, 2004). A meta-analysis conducted by Woodman and Hardy (2003) also highlighted the importance of confidence in competitive sport. They found that self-confidence was a far more significant predictor of sporting performance than cognitive anxiety.

Hanton, Mellalieu and Hall (2004) confirmed that self-confidence was an important variable in influencing an athlete's experience of competitive anxiety symptoms and perceptions of control. An increase in pre-competitive anxiety symptoms in the absence of self-confidence was reported to result in a loss of perception regarding control, leading to problems with focus and concentration and negative attitudes regarding future performance and expectation. In contrast, high levels of self-confidence, lead to increased motivation and effort in athletes, while they were also able to maintain a confident outlook towards performance allowing such responses to be perceived as controlled. Specifically, when self-confidence levels were low, increases in competitive anxiety intensity would be perceived as outside the performer’s control and detrimental to performance.

Need for 'robust' sport confidence[edit | edit source]

Robust sport confidence essentially means possessing a set of enduring, yet flexible positive beliefs that protect against the ongoing psychological and environmental challenges associated with competitive sport (Thomas, Lane & Kingston, 2011). Participants have emphasised how robust sport-confidence is not necessarily focused on one belief (e.g., on the ability to succeed) but could be made up of a set of beliefs (different types of sport confidence such as skill execution, preparation and achievement) (Thomas, Lane & Kingston, 2011). Elite performers have previously indicated that possessing a general sense of confidence in one’s ability to perform in sport is an essential component of superior athletic performance but more recently it has been noted that only possessing a general sport-confidence may not be enough to perform successfully, rather performers may need different types of confidence to succeed. Elite performers have reported that possessing unshakeable, resilient, and robust confidence is a fundamental aspect of mental toughness and success (Thomas et al., 2011). Thomas et al., (2011) suggested that the nature of confidence rather than just a level of confidence is important for performance and more specifically possessing resilient or robust sport confidence may lead to consistent success over a long period of time, whereas performers possessing fragile sport confidence can be overwhelmed by intense competitive pressures leading to 'one off' or irregular performances.

An example of robust sport confidence: World number 1 in men's tennis, Rafael Nadal.

Models of sport confidence[edit | edit source]

Over the years there have been many different models and theories proposed for explaining sport confidence but the two models that appear to be the most influential and widely used are;

Self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1997)[edit | edit source]

This theory proposes that there are four sources of self-efficacy (which is a form of self-confidence). The first source is enactive mastery experiences which involves past successful experiences which are considered the strongest sources of self-efficacy. The second source of self-efficacy is vicarious experience; individuals are able to develop self-efficacy through observing the performance of others. The third source of self-efficacy is verbal persuasion; which occurs when significant others (including oneself) demonstrate their support and beliefs in an individual's ability to succeed. Fourth, physiological and affective states can also influence self-efficacy through the associations individuals make between their performances and various levels of physiological arousal and emotions (Machida, Ward & Vealey, 2012).

The integrative model of sport confidence (Vealey, 1986; 2001; 2008)[edit | edit source]

This model of sport confidence effectively predicts that competitive standards, motivations, goals, expectations, personality characteristics, attitudes and individual values all influence the development and expression of confidence in athletes (Hays et al., 2009). According to this model there are nine sources of sport confidence falling within three broad domains (achievement, self-regulation, and social climate) whole a source of confidence is defined as a determinant or antecedent of confidence (Thomas, Lane & Kingston, 2011).Template:Clarity The nine sources of sport confidence include mastery (improving skills in the sporting context), demonstration of ability (showing off abilities to others or out performing an opponent), physical/mental preparation (feeling physically and mentally prepared for competition), physical self-presentation (athlete's perception of their self-image), social support (perceived support from significant others such as coaches, team mates, family and friends), coaches’ leadership (believing in leadership and decision making abilities of the coaches), vicarious experience (watching others perform successfully), environmental comfort (finding comfort in the competitive environment) and situational favourableness (perceiving that random fluctuations in sporting situations lead to increased chances of success) (Hays, Maynard, Thomas & Bawden, 2007; Machida, Ward & Vealey, 2012). Subsequent levels of sport confidence go on to influence an athlete’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Together these factors determine overall sporting performance.

How can self-confidence be measured in sport?[edit | edit source]

Self-confidence is often measured in sporting environments via the use of reliable and valid sport specific self-report inventories such as The Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2R and other slight variations) or The Modified Sport Confidence Inventory (M-SCI) (Freeman & Rees, 2010; Otten, 2009). The CSAI-2R contains five items which participants respond to using a four point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 4 (very much so) (Freeman & Rees, 2010), while the M-SCI is a 22-item questionnaire using a scale from 0 (not at all confident) to 100 (completely confident) (Otten, 2009). Using self-report inventories to gauge an athlete’s level of self-confidence is a common practice which can produce varying results, due to many different factors. Factors which may affect the result of a sport self-confidence questionnaire include form, environment and overall emotional state while there are also a variety of responder biases and the potential for dishonesty to contaminate scores. These inventories also rely on the suggestion that sport confidence is trait-like in appearance as more often than not, athletes complete these questionnaires and surveys before or after competing as opposed to completing them during competition.

Gender differences in sport confidence[edit | edit source]

Several researchers have investigated gender differences in sport confidence and a relatively consistent finding indicates that male athletes demonstrate higher levels of confidence than females (Hays et al., 2007). Research examining the pre-competition temporal patterning of self-confidence in male and female athletes points to differences in confidence levels but also differential changes in self-confidence during the pre-competition period, while different factors were found to predict self-confidence in male and female athletes (Hays et al., 2007). Significant predictors in females are often associated with personal goals and standards while predictors in males are often associated with interpersonal comparison and winning (Hays et al., 2007). Female athletes also appear to be more susceptible to factors associated with the organisational culture (social factors) of world-class sport performance (Hays et al., 2009). Previous research has demonstrated that while male athletes generally demonstrate greater confidence than female athletes they are also less susceptible to changes in self-confidence during the pre-competition period (Hays et al., 2009).

Confidence debilitating factors highlighted in a study by Hays et al. (2009) found that female athletes were seemingly more susceptible to external confidence factors, such as spending less time with their personal coach due to national team training or an uneasy relationship with their coach prior to competing. Hays et al. (2009) reasoned that female athletes tend to derive confidence from the social support of their coach, whereas males derive confidence from a belief in their coach to set the right training. Further, Hays et al. (2007) found that social support was a more important source of sport confidence for female athletes than males while physical self-presentation was also identified as more important in populations of female college athletes compared to male college athletes.

Highs and lows of sport confidence[edit | edit source]

Australian tennis player Samantha Stosur has experienced the highs and lows of sport confidence.

The loss or decline of sport confidence can have serious consequences on athletic performance and subsequent results. Most athletes believe that sport confidence is critical to performance and yet even the most successful athletes demonstrate fluctuations in confidence from one competition to another and more commonly over a career. In high pressure environments such as Olympic or World championship events, confidence has been reported to be particularly susceptible to instability, while factors responsible for decreasing athlete self-confidence include poor performances, poor preparation (physically and mentally), poor coaching and illness or injury (Hays et al., 2009). Fluctuations in confidence means different people with similar skills or indeed the same person under different circumstances, might perform poorly, adequately, or exceptionally well depending upon their level of sport confidence (Hays, Maynard, Thomas & Bawden, 2007). Obviously this makes sport confidence one of the most important contributors in athlete performance irrespective of individual skill.

In a study by Hays et al. (2009), which sought to examine the role of confidence in relation to cognitive and behavioural responses in world class athletes (participating in world championship events), it was found that athletes performed successfully and made bold and decisive movements when their feelings of self-confidence were high and unsuccessfully when their feelings of self-confidence were low leading to doubts about their ability to execute skills and beat their opponents. High self-confidence was associated with positive affect, effective competition behaviours and optimal levels of competition focus, while low self-confidence was associated with negative affect, poor competition behaviour and distracted focus (Hays et al., 2009). Many of the athletes in this study maintained a task focus when their confidence was high, while low confidence caused irrational thoughts and actions and also effected their abilities to control nerves, think positively or maintain focus on their usual routines (Hays et al., 2009). When confidence was low, nerves were perceived as negative and interpreted as fear, panic, worry, and anxiety athletes experiencing low sport confidence also showed an increased tendency to become withdrawn and unsociable.[grammar?] When confidence was high, nerves were perceived positively and interpreted as excitement rather than fear (Hays et al., 2009).

Table 1. Cognitive, affective and behavioural responses to competition when sport confidence is high, resulting in successful performance (Hays et al., 2007, 2009; Munroe, Hall & Fishburne, 2008).

Affective Cognitions Effective Behaviours Positive Affect
  • Efficient/positive task cognitions
  • Efficient/positive self cognitions
  • Efficient/positive outcome cognitions
  • Automatic cognitions
  • Positive opponent cognitions
  • Confident body language
  • Committed decision making & movements
  • Dictated to opposition
  • Increased effort
  • Enjoyment
  • Relaxed
  • Calm
  • Nervous
  • Happy
  • Excited

Table 2. Cognitive, affective and behavioural responses to competition, when sport confidence is low, resulting in unsuccessful performance (Hays et al., 2007, 2009; Munroe, Hall & Fishburne, 2008).

Faulty Cognitions Ineffective Behaviours Negative Affect
  • Doubt
  • Uncertainty
  • Negative thoughts
  • Distracted thought
  • Non-committal to decisions
  • Lack of effort/fight
  • Unsociable
  • Withdrawn
  • Very nervous
  • Unhappy
  • Under pressure
  • Lack of enjoyment
  • Frustrated
  • Angry

How can sport confidence be developed and maintained?[edit | edit source]

Hanton, Mellalieu and Hall (2004) found that athletes are able to enhance and protect their level of self-confidence using cognitive strategies including thought stopping, positive self-talk and mental rehearsal. These strategies allow individuals to control any negative thoughts or images experienced, enhance effort and motivation and maintain positive perceptions of control. Based on the major models of sport confidence (integrative model and self-efficacy) there are many ways in which sport confidence can be developed and maintained, including social support which an athlete receives from their peers, coaches and significant others, repetition and practice and different types of mental training programs (Mamassis & Doganis, 2004). Overall, there has been very limited investigation into the development and maintenance of sport confidence, which is unfortunate considering its apparent importance. However, one way of developing or increasing sport confidence which has received the majority of attention is imagery.

Imagery[edit | edit source]

Imagery can be defined as an experience that mimics or simulates a real life experience. Imager differs from dreaming in that it only truly happens while an individual is conscious (Munroe, Hall and Fishburne., 2008). Callow, Hardy, and Hall (2001) examined the effects of imagery on the confidence of elite adult badminton players. Results showed that a 20 week imagery intervention improved levels of sport confidence in most players and stabilised sport confidence in others. Mills, Munroe, and Hall (2001) also examined imagery use and self-efficacy in adult athletes competing in individual sports and found that athletes who displayed high levels of self-efficacy in competition situations, tended to use more imagery than counterparts with lower levels of self-efficacy. Other studies investigating the effects of imagery on self-confidence in sport have often involved elite senior and junior athletes but Munroe and colleagues (2008) found that imagery was a significant predictor of self-confidence and specific forms of self-confidence such as self-efficacy, in children aged 11 to 14 years competing at both recreational and competitive levels of soccer. Hanton and colleagues (2004) also supported the use of imagery to develop and maintain sport confidence mainly because it is capable of influencing an individual athlete's cognitions, thoughts and beliefs.

Can confidence impede performance?[edit | edit source]

Some studies have found a negative relationship between performance and self-confidence in sports such as pistol shooting and golf. This goes against the majority of research in regards to sport confidence but one explanation for these unique findings could be that high self-confidence leads to risk taking behaviours and complacency, resulting in a negative influence on performance (Woodman, Akehurst, Hardy and Beattie, 2010). Similar results have been found in school self-efficacy studies, where higher grades increased self-confidence but resulted in less study time (Woodman et al., 2010). These results can be related to a sports setting. For example, the more an individual athlete wins or performs well, there could be a decrease in the amount or quality of training completed as the athlete may believe that their skills are already at a high level and extra work is not warranted, this would be complacent behaviour.[grammar?] This is not a definite result as winning can also have the opposite effect and create a desire or motivation to continually reach new goals, challenges and performance criterion.

Arrogance[edit | edit source]

Arrogance is confidence which is not merited, effectively it is when an individual believes they are capable of completing a task or action when they are not (Johnson et al., 2010). Someone who is confident knows who they are and their ideas about themselves are often built on information that is authentic or reality driven. Those who are arrogant are likely to take this confidence to a different level, as they overestimate who they are and what they can do, along with acting in ways that make those around them feel inferior (Johnson et al., 2010).

Mohammed Ali, one of the world's greatest, if not the greatest boxer of all time, was well known for his extreme confidence especially during his prime where he won nearly every fight he participated in. To some Ali would be the perfect example of arrogance in sport and he would have been, if he belittled others and claimed to be 'the greatest' but was not winning many fights but Ali was more than anything, a supremely gifted and very confident athlete (Johnson et al., 2010).

Criticisms[edit | edit source]

  • Unfortunately research into the relationship between confidence and elite performance is mostly correlational making it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the relationship between these factors. (Hays et al., 2009).
  • Self-confidence is not a tangible construct, it has been linked to many crucial behaviours and dispositions but confidence can't be isolated and observed.
  • Most research into self-confidence in sporting environments has centered around the elite and professional levels of sport, obviously this is where confidence can play a critical factor in performance and match or games result but what are the implications for amateur or recreational athletes?[grammar?] Do they receive the same or maybe even different benefits from enhancing self-confidence and how could these benefits be encouraged in athletes who do not play sport for a career but for the enjoyment and competitive nature of participating in sport?
  • Studies regarding the development and maintenance of self-confidence have been few and far between.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Self-confidence is proposed[factual?] to be one of the most powerful qualities that athletes can possess and is suggested to exert influences upon performance over and above that exerted by just about any other psychological factor on physiological arousal, psychological state and future sport performance. This belief would appear to be supported by several studies that have observed self-confidence and its subsequent positive results on sporting performance.[factual?] However, despite the findings, only tentative explanations exist as to the mechanism by which athletes and especially elite athletes develop and use self-confidence to protect against poor performance. What is clear though is that athletes of all levels should be encouraged to develop and maintain their levels of sport confidence in order to achieve successful results over a long period of time. However, confidence cannot be captured in a glass bottle and administered to an athlete when needed.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

This section will offer a series of questions to aid in learning and revision of the current content;

1 Which of the below is a type of self-confidence


2 Is self-confidence beneficial to athletic performance


3 What is one of the major models of sport-confidence

Ideal model of sport confidence
Longitudinal model of sport confidence
Integrative model of sport confidence
Comprehensive model of sport confidence

4 Which gender is often associated with higher levels of sport confidence?


5 High levels of sporting confidence are useful to which athletes?

All the above

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Badami, R., VaezMousavi, M., Wulf, G., & Namazizadeh, M. (2012). Feedback about more accurate versus less accurate trials: Differential effects on self-confidence and activation. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 83(2), 196-203.

Beattie, S., Hardy, L., Savage, J., Woodman, T., & Callow, N. (2011). Development and validation of a trait measure of robustness of self-confidence. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 12(2), 184-191.

Bowker, A., Gadbois, S., & Cornock, B. (2003). Sports participation and self-esteem: Variations as a function of gender and gender role orientation. Sex Roles, 49(1-2), 47-58.

Callow, N., Hardy, L., & Hall, C. (2001). The effects of a motivational general-mastery imagery intervention on the sport confidence of high-level badminton players. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 72(4), 389-400.

Freeman, P., & Rees, T. (2010). Perceived social support from team-mates: Direct and stress-buffering effects on self-confidence. European Journal of Sport Science, 10(1), 59-67.

Hanton, S., Mellalieu, S. D., & Hall, R. (2004). Self-confidence and anxiety interpretation: A qualitative investigation. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 5(4), 477-495. doi:

Hays, K., Maynard, I., Thomas, O., & Bawden, M. (2007). Sources and types of confidence identified by world class sport performers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 19(4), 434-456.

Hays, K., Thomas, O., Maynard, I., & Bawden, M. (2009). The role of confidence in world-class sport performance. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(11), 1185-1199.

Johnson, R. E., Silverman, S. B., Shyamsunder, A., Swee, H., Rodopman, O. B., Cho, E., & Bauer, J. (2010). Acting superior but actually inferior?: Correlates and consequences of workplace arrogance. Human Performance, 23(5), 403-427.

Machida, M., Marie Ward, R., & Vealey, R. S. (2012). Predictors of sources of self-confidence in collegiate athletes. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 10(3), 172-185.

Mamassis, G., & Doganis, G. (2004). The effects of a mental training program on juniors pre-competitive anxiety, self-confidence, and tennis performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 16(2), 118-137. Retrieved from

Mellalieu, S. D., Neil, R., & Hanton, S. (2006). Self-confidence as a mediator of the relationship between competitive anxiety intensity and interpretation. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 77(2), 263-270.

Mills, K. D., Munroe, K. J., & Hall, C. R. (2001). The relationship between imagery and self-efficacy in competitive athletes. Imagination Cognition and Personality, 20(1), 33-40.

Munroe-Chandler, K., Hall, C., & Fishburne, G. (2008). Playing with confidence: The relationship between imagery use and self-confidence and self-efficacy in youth soccer players. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26(14), 1539-1546. Retrieved from

Otten, M. P. (2009). Choking vs. clutch performance: A study of sport performance under pressure ProQuest.

Rees, T., & Freeman, P. (2007). The effects of perceived and received support on self-confidence Retrieved from

Thomas, O., Lane, A., & Kingston, K. (2011). Defining and contextualizing robust sport-confidence. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 23(2), 189-208. Retrieved from

Woodman, T., Akehurst, S., Hardy, L., & Beattie, S. (2010). Self-confidence and performance: A little self-doubt helps. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11(6), 467-470.

Woodman, T., & Hardy, L. (2003). The relative impact of cognitive anxiety and self-confidence upon sport performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21(6), 443-457.