Post By: Rachel Hoeft, M.A. | Saturday, June 13, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS confidence

Confidence is a tough belief because it comes and goes quickly. I'm sure you have experienced on multiple occasions where you felt good about yourself, then you experienced some sort of event or had a negative thought, and almost immediately your confidence plummeted. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence. So, with that in mind, how do we go about building ourselves back up?

I want to first make a clear distinction between two common topics, confidence and self-efficacy. Confidence is our belief that something is true. It embodies full trust in our abilities in the current moment. Self-efficacy on the other hand, is a belief in our own abilities. We can create self-efficacy through vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, physiological feedback, and mastery experience (Bandura, 1982). In other words, confidence is believing our abilities will truly help us in the moment, whereas self-efficacy is the belief that we are capable of completing a particular task. This distinction is important because... *drumroll please* … we can believe we are capable of doing something and still not feel confident in our abilities to complete it when needed. This means that we can practice the task or action time and time again, but if we don't address the underlying issues of our confidence, progress will be minimal.

Most of our lapses in confidence stem from internal thoughts about ourselves and fear. We are often fearful of the potential results from our actions, such as playing against our most competitive opponent and losing. What's worse is that our brains have a tendency to play into the negatives without stopping to even consider the positives. Until we get the negative images out of our minds, positive beliefs in our confidence are slim to none.

My solution for building confidence and minimizing fear consists of 3 mental skills and a little bit of thought work. Studies have shown that positive self-talk, imagery, and goal setting are all fantastic tools for increasing confidence in our abilities (de la Vega et al., 2017; Shapiro, 2009; Weiss, 2017).

Positive Self-Talk

The first step in using positive self-talk is identifying when you are having negative thoughts. Then, tell yourself to STOP. No really, say it to yourself. Say it out loud, and mean it. This halts our negative train of thought dead in its tracks.

Next, neutralize the thought without any emotional words. We of course want to spin the thought to be positive, but for many people, going directly from a negative concept to something polar opposite feels too fake or forced. So, neutralizing the thought helps us to gain clarity over the facts of the situation. Instead of thinking “I'm going to totally miss this shot and everyone will hate me for it,” neutralize it into “I'm going to take this shot with people watching.”

From there, it may be easier to find your positive spin and turn it into “I'm going to take my best shot and the game will go on regardless. I will give it my all and play the rest of this time at my A Game level.” This is a much better outlook, don't you think?


Using imagery is a great way to help us gain control of our emotions and prepare us for what lays ahead. After we have identified, neutralized, and spun our negative thoughts into positive ones, it is important that we use imagery to show ourselves what that positive option can really look like. Depending on the timing of your situation, you can be proactive about this or you may need to create it quickly. Either way, try to fully imagine the positive idea you have just created with your positive self-talk. Keep your mind focused on the happiness, excitement, and pride you feel from that image as you approach your task.

Goal Setting

If you have the time to work on your mindset before your activity, goal setting will be a useful tool to improve your confidence. If you are short on time, you can still quickly run through your previous achievements to draw strength from. Either way, the important thing here is to call upon your capability.

If the event is still far off, setting up milestones will allow you to put forth the effort to reach your goal, reflect on your progress, and be proud of it. If your event is quickly approaching, you can still reflect on previous obstacles you have overcome and the successes you have reached to get to where you are today. What is most important here, is acknowledging that you have conquered tough circumstances before and you will do it again.

Put It All Together

Using positive self-talk, imagery, and goal setting will help you give yourself a little nudge in the right direction. I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that has helped me take the first step in many unnerving challenges when I wasn't sure if I was capable. “On the other side of your fear is your freedom” --Jen Sincero. Finding confidence in yourself will help you to overcome this event, and afterward, you'll be wondering why you were so wound up. Whenever you are feeling hesitant, afraid, or are not confident in yourself, remember that you already have everything you need to tackle this challenge.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.

de la Vega, R., Ruiz Barquín, R., Aguayo, E., & Márquez, S. (2017). Restoration of confidence and perception of coaches following sports injury. Cogent Psychology, 4(1), 1312047.

Shapiro, J. L. (2009). An individualized multimodal mental skills intervention for college athletes undergoing injury rehabilitation (Order No. 3377513). Available from ProQuest Central; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Weiss, W. M. (2017). Mentally preparing athletes to return to play following injury. Retrieved from