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Expect Success - Self-Confidence vs. Negative Limiting Beliefs

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Expect Success - Self-Confidence vs. Negative Limiting Beliefs

Post by Glimmer on Mon May 30, 2016 8:05 am

The majestic self-confidence of Jonny Wilkinson - or how expectations can make or break your performance

by Lee Crust
Full article found here


Sport psychologists define self-confidence as the belief that you can successfully perform a desired behaviour (1). Confident athletes expect success and have a high level of self-belief that appears crucial in determining how far they strive towards their goals. It is largely confidence that determines whether people give up or remain committed to their goals following a series of setbacks.

For the sake of simplicity, we may consider self-confidence as conceptually opposite to cognitive anxiety (negative beliefs and performance worries). Both are related to our beliefs and both, ultimately, influence our performance.

Coaches can often see fluctuations in the balance between these two opposing states reflected in the behaviour of their athletes. While confident athletes are not afraid of making mistakes, often taking calculated risks in order to take charge of a situation, self-doubters often avoid responsibility, becoming over-conservative and paralysed by fear of failure. Think of the football striker who has not scored for a number of successive matches and is riddled with self-doubt. When presented with a half-chance which would usually result in a snap-shot, he may elect to avoid responsibility and pass to a team mate.

Research has suggested that athletes can also gain confidence from viewing the successful performances of others at a similar level (1). This second source of information is known as ‘modelling’ or ‘vicarious experience’. For example, a tennis player lacking confidence in her volleying might find it useful to have a peer who has overcome similar difficulties demonstrate the skill. By viewing others, we begin to see that, with effort, success is attainable. The very common use of celebrities in fitness videos is an example of modelling.

A third way for coaches to help build confidence is through verbal persuasion. By means of careful reasoning, athletes can be shown that other people (ie the coach) have confidence in their abilities and believe they can achieve set goals. Coaches may even use deception to persuade their athletes that goals can be achieved – of which more later. Verbal persuasion can also take the form of ‘self-talk’, whereby the athlete convinces himself that success will follow.

Finally, Bandura suggest that emotional arousal can influence confidence. Although this is the least influential factor, it is important that physiological symptoms are perceived positively rather than negatively. Confidence can be enhanced by perceiving increases in heart and respiration rate as the body’s natural preparation for top performance rather than as triggers for anxiety.



Clearly, confidence is enhanced by good preparation, planning and a sense of optimism. Conversely, negative thinking and pessimism can undermine performance and limit progress. By expecting failure, we set our belief system to a negative channel and start favouring information that is consistent with these beliefs.

During a training session we may have done some things well and struggled with others. When we have a negative mind-set we tend to focus only on the things that went badly, leading to what psychologists call negative self-fulfilling prophecies and psychological barriers.

The four-minute mile was the classic example of a psychological barrier; runners were consistently achieving times of 4:03, 4:02 and 4:01, but no one could apparently run under four minutes. This led to a common perception that running a mile in less than four minutes was physically impossible. Remarkably, though, within 18 months of Roger Bannister’s famous breakthrough 16 other athletes had managed the feat. Did these athletes suddenly get faster and train harder? No: the floodgates opened because Bannister had breached the psychological barrier and demonstrated what was possible, so athletes were no longer limited by their beliefs.
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