What’s Sports Confidence?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines confidence as “a firm belief in one’s powers, abilities, or capacities.” The website yourdictionary.com says confidence is firm belief; trust; reliance or belief in one’s own abilities.

Sports confidence incorporates these definitions as applied to your sport. Having sports confidence means having self-confidence which is YOUR belief in YOUR ability to complete a physical skill or task required in your sport. Our confidence can be bolstered at times by others’ belief in us; but, ultimately, we have to believe in our own abilities to go out there and perform our best.

Confidence goes hand-in-hand with competence. Sports confidence and competence can affect each other. As we become more skilled at our sport, we normally become more confident in our abilities. An athlete new to volleyball may have little confidence in her ability to execute a powerful spike, but with practice comes competency in that skill and confidence grows.

Sports confidence takes two forms and comes on a sliding scale of strength. Athletes can be confident about their overall ability, and they can be confident about their ability to perform specific skills. A diver can have overall confidence in his ability to dive well and win meets but can have varying degrees of confidence on each individual dive. A basketball player may have high confidence in her ability to sink three-pointers but medium confidence in her ability to dribble with her left hand. General confidence and skill-specific confidence are both important and feed each other.

Athletes can also have different levels of confidence. They may “hope” or think “maybe” they can perform a particular skill, but as confidence strengthens they will “believe” or “know” they can do it. As high confidence kicks in, they say or think, “I will do it.” See my article “sources of confidence” to learn where confidence comes from and how to strengthen it. Athletes with high self-confidence or sports confidence think, act, and talk confidently. They do not focus on doubts about their ability or negative “what-ifs” of competition. They “play in the moment”, enjoying their sport, their abilities and the exhilaration of competition.

Sports confidence or self-confidence is not the same as self-esteem. Many times these two concepts will be confused or used interchangeably. Confidence is about belief in the ability to do something. Self-esteem is more of a feeling or a judgment about ourselves. Self-esteem has to do with our self-concept. It may manifest itself in labels we attach to ourselves—labels like winner or loser, choker or tough competitor. Sometimes self-esteem can affect confidence, but they are essentially two separate concepts.

Sports Confidence is essential to achieving the sports goals we have for ourselves. A high belief in one’s abilities is always a characteristic of high-achieving athletes. Muhammad Ali used to repeat, “I am the greatest,” reflecting a belief in his boxing abilities and in himself. That confidence carried over into a successful career in which he defeated many other tough and capable boxers.

Experience tells you what to do; confidence allows you to do it.
Stan Smith, Tennis Professional (from 1968-1985)