Money Smart Athlete Blog

Building Confidence and the impact it has on developing elite athletes

Jan 29, 2020 | Athlete Development

By Niovie Constantinou, Contributor

“It is always in my mind still that I can crush anybody. That’s not an issue […] If you don’t believe you can win tournaments anymore, then you can’t do it.” – Roger Federer, Tennis Player, 20-time Grand Slam Winner

20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer is the living example of the fact that what distinguishes highly successful athletes from less successful ones, is confidence.

Research has long shown that confident athletes feel energized, inspired and excited, focusing on what they need to do in order to perform at their optimal level, making both their training and competing experiences enjoyable. In turn, successful competing experiences bring about confidence and positive thinking, creating an upward spiral of confidence and successful performance.

Of course, athletes are often presented with obstacles, like losing a competition or making mistakes, which may hinder their confidence. Unfortunately, quite often, such obstacles create a vicious cycle of self-doubt, low self-confidence and a drop in athletic performance. If athletes lack the ability to overcome failures, it may be difficult to recover their self-confidence. It is evident that sports performance and confidence interrelate, and indeed, winning competitions is a powerful way to boost confidence, but it should not be an athlete’s only source of confidence.

With the right mindset, athletes can overcome setbacks, and failure may even help them become more focused on their goals, encourage them to assess what went wrong and become strategic about how to be better prepared in the future. In this respect, athletes should acknowledge that confidence will be built over experiences and they should strive to build a “resilient” confidence. Elite athletes have described resilient confidence as an “unshakable belief in their ability” which enables them to stay confident even when they are not performing well.

This resilient confidence is actually the key to success, as it allows athletes to rise over obstacles, but also, in contrast with arrogance, encourages them to work hard in order to become better. This type of confidence, at its core, emanates from the understanding that if you put in the work, the results will follow, urging athletes to focus on what they can control (that is, their efforts) rather than things they cannot control (that is, the results).

With resilient confidence, athletes are able to stay confident even when they are not winning, because it shifts their focus on always performing their best. Fundamentally, it rests on the athletes’ faith in their ability and preparation. Seeing that resilient confidence is essential in the development of elite athletes, cultivating it should become an integral part of athletic education.  To build resilient confidence as an athlete you are urged to do the following:

  • Identify if there is anything that holds you back from becoming an elite athlete; is it fear of failure, or even fear of success? Recognize your fears and work on overcoming them.
  • Focus on the things that you can control and do not get drained in things that you can’t, like your opponents, the weather, field conditions, etc.
  • Do not compare yourself to other athletes: focus on yourself and what you need to do in order to prepare in the best possible way.
  • Prepare: there is no substitute for hard work and physical training; knowing that you have trained long and hard will give you confidence. When Roger Federer was asked how he stays confident he said: “There is no way around hard work. Embrace it. You have to put in the hours because there’s always something that you can improve.”
  • Accept that failure is part of sport and that it forms an integral part of your athletic experiences; embrace it, learn from it, and don’t let it get you down! Recognize that facing challenges is necessary in becoming the best athlete you can be!

Helping athletes build resilient confidence is an integral part of the holistic model of athlete development and sports organizations should devote the necessary time and effort to train their athletes in this particular area.

For more information on helping athletes develop by building resilient confidences, you may contact us at [email protected].