Post By: Emily Cohn  | Saturday, June 20, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS EFFICACY

“You are your own worst critic.” Let's dissect this statement. If we look at it with a scientific lens, it is probably true. Research has shown that self-appraisal is not always the most accurate source since we are likely to answer questions being asked in a way that helps us pursue our overall goals rather than objectively answer the questions being asked. So if our boss or coach is asking us how we think did on a given task, we are likely to say we did better than if we were reflecting internally on that same task. To become our own biggest fan, we much switch the phrase “you are your own worst critic” to “you are your best motivator”.

People who are more negative in their self-assessment are more likely to see success as out of their control and harder to achieve. On the flip side, those who are more positive with their self-assessments are going to approach tasks with a more “can-do” attitude because they see the world as more in their control. So how do we make the switch from overly critical to highly motivational? Increase your self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is your belief that you have the ability to achieve whatever skill you are trying to accomplish. Although those skills may be put on a brief hold while in quarantine, there are actually plenty of tools you can try at home to increase your self-efficacy.

There are four ways to increase your self-efficacy: recalling times you have already accomplished a task (Performance Accomplishments), watching someone of a similar skill level accomplish a task (Vicarious Experiences), visualizing yourself accomplishing the task (Imagery), and giving yourself a pep talk or triggering a positive emotional setting (Physiological States). With this extra time at home, athletes and performers now have the time to explore their self- efficacy through all of these fields.

Performance Accomplishments

When reflecting on your season that was cut short or potentially had not even started, it is extremely easy to get wrapped up in the negative and the “what ifs”. That is normal feeling and you should allow yourself to have that experience. However, do not let it be the main focus of what you are feeling. Make sure to redirect and set your thoughts to what was going well in your game and think back both vividly and fondly on those moments. Create a personal highlight reel either in writing or in video so you have something to physically work with when thinking about your sport. Try to think of the smaller accomplishments: maybe you figured out how to work with a new grip if you play a stick sport, increased your hand eye coordination, or you hit a personal record for number of free throws made in a ten minute period.

Vicarious Experiences

If you are part of a team there are likely team members you look to for help and also look to for inspiration. Think about parts of their game you want to emulate, watch what they do and ask them questions. You can also use this time to start finding athletes who inspire you. They might be professionals or any skill level. Think about what parts of their game you would like to incorporate into your own when forming your athletic identity.


Especially at a time where you may not be able to physically play your sport, imagery is the perfect way to keep those mirror neurons firing to increase that “muscle memory” that everyone likes to reference. Muscle memory is really talking about the map that is created in your brain for common activities. If you start to raise your hand for a serve your brain intuitively reacts and says, “I've seen this before” and helps to finish the serve without you consciously thinking about every step of the movement. You can practice this while you are at home and not on the court by mentally putting yourself on the court and watching yourself make a serve. Imagery will help increase mirror neurons and then increase your confidence to perform that serve when the time comes to get back to the court.

Physiological States

Making sure your emotional state cues you into belief rather than doubt tends to be one of the trickier parts to increasing self-efficacy. However, there are some good tips to simplify thinking about your physiological states. If you are someone who is in tune with their self-talk, positive self-talk is the first step. If you are more inclined to listen to other people for advice, a pep talk from a teammate or a coach is likely to increase your motivation. If you are someone who notices “butterflies” and shies away from a situation, we would need to figure out how to use those feelings to your advantage. On the other hand, if you notice butterflies and see it as a challenge you want to take head on, then you are likely to already rate yourself fairly positively and can focus on some of the other aspects of increasing your self-efficacy.

While this is an extremely simplified understanding of self-efficacy, it is a starter guide to increasing your belief in yourself. You are your own best motivator. Anything you want to accomplish must start with a belief in yourself, and you have the power within, to have belief conquer doubt.