Sports Psychology
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Importance of Confidence

       If two individuals have identical abilities in every respect, the possibility for success depends on their economic status, social standing, self confidence, and to some measure on luck - being in the right place at the right time.

Self Confidence is achieved through internal and external motivation

       Confidence is the essential trait that defines each individual's hope and faith in achieving their goals, that lead to successfully achieving accomplishments in the future. The vast majority of physiologists feel self confidence is essential to gaining success and without it, consistently performing at high levels in school, on the job, in sports, and social activities are not possible.

       To inspire confidence in our athletes; we need to understand how an individual acquires and loses it! Athletes are born with differing amounts of potential physical, mental, and emotional abilities; however, the environment in which they are raised also plays an important role in skill development.

       Developing confidence is associated with being able to learn/develop the necessary skills for being successful in specific sports and activities.  Teachers, parents, supervisors, and coaches encounter students who display various degrees of positive and negative confidence in school, at home, at church, on the job job, or in social activities. These experiences can transfer between different activities and may hinder or help in the pursuit of their endeavors.

       The definition of motivation used in this article is "Words and/or deeds which stimulate and instill the desire for an athlete to perform to the best of his or her capabilities."

Factors that seem to motivate confidence
       To achieve a high level performance requires the athlete to be cognizant of the competitive level on which he can best perform. When the athlete is aware of his performance capabilities, then he/she can set certain short range and long range goals.

       Success definitely develops an athlete's confidence. However, the lack of experience and the inability to perform usually results in a loss of self confidence.

       The goal is for the athlete to learn that even a self directed personality who wishes to perform at a high performance level must participate in an intense training program that includes proper physical and mental conditioning, consistent and structured workouts, a positive support system/environment, all of which are supervised by an experienced coach.

       Occasionally, an athlete will come along who has the confidence and talent to succeed without
following rigid training habits, but, with the present levels of competition found, this brand of
athlete is a rare exception.

       A less talented, but highly motivated athlete who pushes him or herself to the very limit, may realize the intended short and long term goals, and eventually achieve goals and awards not achieved by athletes with lots of raw talent and a series of wasted opportunities.

Attaining Goals
       When an athlete becomes aware that the original goal is unlikely to be achieved, a loss of confidence occurs forcing a reassessment of goal to something that is less challenging or directs his/her energies and interests in a completely different direction.

       Whatever the goal of an athlete, motivation influences the success or failure of an individual's performance, which results in the loss or gain of self confidence.

How does someone become motivated to perform well?
       Unfortunately, coaches find very few self motivated and self disciplined athletes who have a strong desire to exert themselves physically in any sport.

       There are many young people who are preparing to earn college scholarships, which requires many hours of studying with very little time for social and physical activities.

       The apparent influence that motivates a child to become an outstanding athlete is most likely the same as what inspires and academic student to compete for an academic scholarship. 

       The sources of motivation are complex. It is important that we observe the sources from which motivation is developed:

Curiosity - The goal in teaching is to nurture curiosity and use this curiosity as a motive for learning. The challenge is to provide new stimuli, while not being too different from familiar approaches. Presenting stimuli that are completely foreign may create anxiety rather than stimulate curiosity. There must be a balance between complexity and clarity.
 
Self-Efficacy - Developing confidence through achieving specific accomplishments can be achieved by:
  • Dividing large, complex skills into smaller chunks (tasks) that providing students with early success.
  • Vicarious experience - is when the learner observes a role model attaining success at a task.
  • Verbal persuasion - Verbal persuasion is often used as others persuade a learner that he or she is capable of succeeding at a particular task.
  • Physiological states - This is the "gut feeling" that convinces an individual of probable success or failure.
Attitude - Attitude is an illusive commodity. The attitude of an individual towards learning is an intrinsic characteristic that is not always demonstrated through their behavior.  Sometimes positive behaviors may be only exhibited in the presence of the instructor, and may not be apparent at other times. Some teenagers, in a rebellious phase, may only display a poor attitude when in the presence of an authority figure, like their parents or teachers, and otherwise behave courteously and respectful to other adults. 

Needs - The most well known and respected classification of human need is Maslow's hierarchy of needs. There are five levels of need in this hierarchy:
  • Physiological (lower-level),
  • Safety (lower-level),
  • Love and belongings (higher needs),
  • Esteem (higher need),
  • Self-Actualization (higher need).
In this model the motivation is to first satisfy the lower-level needs, before moving on to the next higher need(s) which will become the dominant influence of behavior. It is important to stress that in our education system, students will not be ready to learn more difficult subjects if they have not satisfied their lower level needs. Automatic promotions only serve to kick the can (need) further down the road, which does nothing to solve the impediments to learning.

Competence -  is an intrinsic motivation for learning. Each individual should receive pleasure from doing things well. Physical and academic success may not be enough for some students. The challenge for teacher and parents is to also provide individualized opportunities to undertake challenging tasks to prove to themselves that they can push the limits of what they believe they can achieve.

External Motivators - A stimulating environment combats boredom by providing active participation. Keep in mind that learning strategies should be flexible and creative while applied constantly. Sometimes the task assigned is boring so negative motivators, such as fear and mental/emotional pressure are threatened for not meeting expectations. This work/learning environment is tense and stressful.  Extrinsic goals (grades, job status, etc.) are usually offered as positive incentive if the task in completed on time and meets or exceeds performance expectations.

       The motivation to learn is key to achieving success with learners. The motivations to learn are personal and are derived from within each individual as a result of external factors. There is a field of study known as Instructional Design that uses the principles of motivation as the basis for all instructional designs.  

It all starts with the Individual -
       Many athletes need little motivation from external sources to perform well for they have the innate ability to motivate themselves. This type of athlete relishes the idea of the challenge of competition and look forward to engaging his/her opponent. They typically perform better as the pressure of the competition increases and usually has little fear or is in control of his fear when competing.

       Some athletes seem to "panic" as a direct result of obstacles they are having difficulty overcoming and dealing with he increasing pressure. Frequently they suffer from a series of degrading competitive performances. Usually these type of athlete lacks self confidence and suffers from multiple fears such as - fear of losing, fear to do one's best, fear of letting down teammates or parents, etc.. There is nothing unusual about experiencing such fears; however, athletes who have difficulty in controlling such fears are rarely able to earn a place on the winner's podium.

       The self image of an athlete is especially important as a young person is forming ideas about them self. This self image helps to shape how other people will see you. Living life depends on being motivated by the desire to behave in a way necessary for peer acceptance. Clothing, mannerisms, tastes, and expressed opinions must fit the perception of you peers image of you as a person. Our self-image usually do not radically change over the years, but of necessity evolve and take on specific forms of expressing our inter self.

       An individual's concept of "self" is usually a social construct patterned after other people who we identify as our standard against our "self image" is measured and defined. Every athlete soon discovers  that there are other activities outside of sports in which he/she is not able to excel. Competence begets confidence in a sort of chain reaction, which leads to a positive level of self assurance. How a person handles activities in which they do not excel can define their self-image even better than successful ones.

       The manner in which an athlete competes and the amount of determination in their performance has a direct affect on their behavior and personality patterns. Generally competence doesn't materialize without some ability or talent, thus the level of confidence is directly related to the athlete's natural and developed skills.

       An athlete acquires a sense of what the award will be for his or her efforts. A highly talented person may choose not to perform if he or she doesn't value the prize; however, another person with more modest abilities may be quite willing to undertake the task and expend considerable effort for which he or she feels are fully commensurate with receiving an award, title scholarship, or championship.

       Competence and self-worth commonly coexist with one another, as a result some athletes become habitual winners, others become habitual losers. Still other athletes lose and win some competitions without any discernible pattern.

       What is important is that the individual's expectations of what is required so they may determine how much time, energy, and perseverance are necessary. One of the most highly prized goals of an athlete is winning. Normally, the athlete who wins has achieved that specific goal will relish it for the moment. However, with time there is a tendency to become complacent over the accomplishment. Becoming number one is a really big thing that no one can every take away, but what has the athlete really gained by winning?

       Self-confidence from winning results from the motivation necessary to train hard to win.  The loser may become even more motivated because of defeat and thus highly focused to meet the challenges to win. After a defeat, the athlete and coaches or students and teachers, need to review the respective abilities, talent, training habits, attitudes, goals, etc. in order to evaluate the level of desire to compete again.

       The feeling of power and dominance over other athletes is a motivating factor in some athletes. With other athletes it is emotion of beating other athletes that empowers them with a sense of being better than their opponents, which provides their feeling of satisfaction.

       Athletes may be motivated by various degrees of positive or negative reinforcement; however, it is not possible to predict which approach will offer the most incentive to the athlete at a given time.

A coach may yell and scream (negative reinforcement) at an athlete during a
contest and that person may respond with an outstanding performance, whereas,
the coach, at another time, may again use the same negative approach on the same
athlete under similar conditions; however, the athlete's response is negative and
this time poorly performs.

       Positive reinforcement does not guarantee positive motivation from the athlete! If an athlete believes the approach to be artificial or used too often, this approach may not invoke the desired response from the athlete. Athletes sense when a coach is trying to psych them up! When it is obvious the coach really doesn't mean what the coach is saying.  The constant use of the same phrases that offer praise directed at the athlete, regardless of the performance, loses the effectiveness.  Positive motivation has little or no value unless the athlete truly believes that the comments are sincere!

       The intensity level of the motivational force often influences the quality of performance.  As the importance of the competition increases, the coach often uses more extreme forms of motivation to the urge the individual to aspire to high performances.

       On the flip side, when the level of competition is weak and top performance is not necessary to win, the sources of motivation would be scaled back, but it is still necessary to not allow complacency. In programs such as gymnastics, diving, free skating, etc. the athlete is competing against their own personal best, not the other athletes.

       Too much motivation can result in an athlete or team reaching a hyper state of panic which impairs performance and strategic errors. Intense motivation emphasizes - fear and self control which interferes with high level performance and in an extreme case can result in a "total melt down".

       It is possible to motivate athletes to a point where they exceed their ability to respond to the coaches directions. This condition is generally termed to as "psyched out".

       The constant environment of motivating is not a guarantee of producing the best performances from the athletes. Research suggests that offering a mixture of high and low pressure workouts will stimulate athlete's to achieve a higher performance level than constant participation in high intensive workouts without providing enough "recovery" or down time.

       The reasoning for the intensity change in workouts appears that athletes must have time to relax between practices because they simply can't achieve a state of "peaking" for weeks constantly. The must build towards each competition, followed by a resting period that  builds again towards the next competition.

The Training and Competitive Environment -
       A positive or negative environment at a competition can often affect a performance. Cheering, booing, or even deathly silence by the spectators has often influenced the performance of athlete(s) causing success or failure. Many similar types of environmental factors can create a positive or negative atmosphere - weather conditions affecting the playing surface, visibility or temperatures.

       Competing in front of a large audience to witness the event can be more exciting especially if the audience is friendly and supportive with family, friends, and fans cheering. Emotion can change quickly in contests like basket ball, football, ice hockey. etc. depending on a team's performance.

The Coach -
       A team coach is the ideal person to motivate the members of the team as a unit. The coaches of sports such as golf, tennis, speed and figure skating deal with individual athletes.  All coaches influence their athletes that may affect their outlook on life. Coaches have guided athletes to become super stars and crippled the lives of other athletes.

       It is up to the coach to create a positive rapport with the athlete(s). The type of interaction may differ from individual to individual, depending on the length of the association and level in which the communication occurs. It is extremely important that every coach projects a strong, supportive image.

       The type of image a coach projects depends on his or her personal qualities, such as personality, sense of humor, manner of dress, moral  and ethical standards, leadership ability, reaction to stress and pressure, etc.  How each coach interacts with their athlete(s) depends upon training conditions and the type and amount of motivation available to the athlete.

       The following are specific ways of how and what services a coach may provide:
  • If a coach hopes to motivate an athlete, the coach must also be motivated. A positive attitude from the coach can affect and inspire the athlete while a poor attitude from the coach can ruin the performance of a whole team. A coach who believes that you should fight until your last breath most certainly demands respect and admiration from his peers.
  • The coach should get to know the athlete well enough to know what it takes to motivate him. Some athletes respond better when yelled at while others withdraw with such negative input. A coach who can adjust his personality and motivating traits to suit the personality of the athlete will be much more successful in coaching than the coach who treats all of his team the same way. Only through experience can a coach learn when, how, or where a particular coaching technique will work and even then the percentage of being right is 50%.
  • Perhaps one of the most difficult traits for a coach to learn is self-control. A coach that is out of control certainly cannot expect controlled performances from his or her athletes. A show of temper - swearing, constantly tearing down the opposition, or the use physical violence (like throwing chairs), will result in similar behavior patterns from his or her athletes.
  • Being organized is itself a form of motivation for this induces guidance, leadership, and concern for the program by the coach.
  • Playing favorites or being inconsistent in relationships with athletes has prevented many coaches from being a good motivator. If the coach cannot consistently enforce the rules or be up front with his or her team, then there should not be any expectation of an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
  • The coach who forms hasty or permanent negative opinions of his athletes certainly isn't using a very good motivating technique. Some people have difficulty relating to others and cannot express themselves well and if the coach is not perceptive and patient with them, he or she may live to regret later for failing to leading them in a positive direction.
       A coach should not express negative opinions about members of his team as such an action is widely considered as "back stabbing" when the comments get back to the people targeted. The result is the creation of a very poor atmosphere in the locker room associated with negative morale, fights, a team with their fighting spirit destroyed.

       The motivating techniques mentioned are wildly used to inspire the best out of athletes; however, there are may specific motivating techniques that are specific to different sports which could not be listed . Every coach wishes to motivate their athletes to achieve the best possible results. To accomplish this goal, the coach desires to start in the off season and continue to increase as the level of training escalates until the end of the competitive season.

       A smart coach annually identifies and seeks out those athletes that have talent, easy to motivate, and will fit into their coaching style. The coach then attempts to recruit to them to complement the core group of athletes carried over from the previous season. Often times, a coach becomes so focused on winning that there is an environment of intense motivation of winning. This can result in taking all the fun out of  participating by the athletes.  Sports should never be taken so seriously that it becomes the sole purpose of living. Life goes on after winning or losing a sporting contest.

       Pressure situations normally do not bring out the best in people and coaches are no exception. When a coach is out of control little he/she may actually stress the athletes and impede the possibility of  performing their best.

Recommended Reading:

Building Self-Confidence - Prepare yourself for success - ...   Learn how to build genuine, well deserved self confidence, with this video and skill building article from MindTools.com.

10 Ways to Instantly Build Self Confidence | PickTheBrain ...   July 30, 2007 ... Learn to build self confidence with these 10 strategies. Self confidence is the difference between feeling unstoppable.

How to Build Confidence and Destroy Fear   Feb. 17, 2009 ... Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.

How to Build Self Confidence: 6 Essential and Timeless Tips  Feb. 20, 2009 ... The most important step in building self confidence is simply to take action. Working on something and getting it done.

How to Build Confidence - Amy Gallo   April 29, 2011 ... "The best way to build confidence in a given area is to invest energy in it and work hard at it," says Schwartz. Many people give up when they they encounter problems.

Building Confidence Made Easy  Learning how building confidence works is a critical part of life. The successful among us have mastered the process to building confidence.

Shykids - Building Confidence  Advice for shy children on building confidence. It's actually pretty terrific to develop your own personal style that you can wear with confidence.

Rest, Recover, Refocus: Picking Up the Pieces After Defeat (golf) by Patrick J. Cohn

Sports Psychology  Concentration, confidence, control and commitment are considered the main mental qualities that are important for successful performance in most sports.

Self-Confidence     part of the Mind Tools site

Youth Sports Psychology and Youth Sports Tips for Parents  Confidence and Success in Sports & Life!" Sports Psychology Expert & Award- Winning Parenting Writer Reveals Powerful, Proven Mental Strategies

Get Rid of Unhealthy Expectations     by Patrick J. Cohn

Self Confidence in Sports  Jan 7, 2008  Importance of having Self Confidence in Sports. Just as a low self confidence can affect your relationships and career in life.

Choosing to be Confident at the Opening Kick Off (football)  by Patrick J. Cohn

Self-confidence and Peak Performance July 6, 2000  According to the leading sports psychologist it is important to establish eye contact.

Keep Sports Confidence - Sports Psychology for Athletes  March 1, 2007  Are you on the self-confidence roller coaster in sports? Many athletes allow their confidence to be thrashed around by immediate results of a competition.

References:

Relationships

The Process of Learning
  
    

Resources:

The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:
    
  
  
Alcohol Abuse
Drug Abuse
Caffeine Use
Nicotine Use
Anxiety 
Response to Stressors
Learning to be Helpless
Depression and Elation
Eating Disorders
Learning Disorders
Stress and Anxiety
Athlete Motivation
Confidence
Consistency
Flow/Peak Performance
Focus & Concentration
Goals and Objectives
Goal Setting
Hypnosis
Leadership
Personal Sabotage
Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Momentum
Motivation

   
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The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.


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