Thursday, 29 November 2012

Confidence and performance in sport

I've been catching up on my sport psychology studies, which had been put on the back-burner so that I'd have time for my photo assignments. When you can't exercise, you can read about other people exercising. A poor substitute is still a substitute.

This week's chapter was about confidence and how it (or its absence) can have an impact on performance. There's that old Henry Ford saying circulating around the blogosphere that summarizes it pretty well: Whether you think you can't or that you can't, you're right. All other things being equal, confidence leads to better performance. If you're well prepared and motivated, to believe in yourself and your abilities can give you that extra edge you need to reach your goals. The reason for that is that you fight harder when you believe that you can succeed. You persevere even when the odds are against you.

The sport psychology bible

Conversely, if you lack confidence, you put in less effort. You're going to lose anyway, so why even try? And the less you try, the more likely you are to lose. The more you lose, the less you're going to believe that you stand any chance of succeeding next time. You end up in a vicious circle of self-fulfilling prophecies.

Imagine yourself running a marathon. Running marathons is tough, both physically and mentally. So what happens if you've trained for it, but lack the confidence that you will make it? When tiredness kicks in, you just want to quit, because you can't see yourself crossing that finish line anyway. But if you're confident in your abilities, you stick with it despite your tiredness, because you believe that you will make it.

So what gives us confidence? Being well-trained is, of course, necessary. No one can win on confidence alone. Having a strategy gives us an advantage before a competition. Liking the way we look (if we see ourselves as strong and healthy, for instance) helps. So does having a support network around us that believes in us. Acting like we're confident and thinking like it too has also been shown to help. These are just some of the things that can make us feel confident, no matter what the task.

The key to building up confidence is to not be over-confident. Know yourself and your limits. Set up goals you know you can achieve with some effort, goals that get progressively harder as you become stronger. Each step on the road towards reaching our goals is a success, so we should draw confidence from them too, and not just from the end result.

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