Confidence for peak performance

Volley Ball

Despite recognising the importance of confidence for sporting success, research in to the precursors, predictors and development of sports confidence is only beginning to seek further understanding that provides practical implications for designing and delivering effective confidence interventions to athletes (Vealey, 2001). To date, most study has examined sports-confidence used in a pre-competition or competition setting, with little evidence to show a correlation between confidence in practice and performance outcomes. However, recent research supporting the salience of ‘robust’ sports confidence in elite (Olympic & World champion) athletes offers advocacy for the incorporation of holistic sports confidence interventions in to regular training regimes. Thus instilling sports confidence of a stable nature, to withstand the fluctuations in and fragility of confidence associated with competition (Kingston, Lane & Thomas, 2010).


The conceptualisation of confidence in a sporting context has drawn predominantly upon the two theories underpinned by a social-cognitive perspective. Firstly Badura’s (1997) self-efficacy theory that defines self-efficacy as a belief in ones capability to plan and execute a task proficiently  and secondly Vealey’s definition contextualising sports-confidence as an individual’s belief in their ability to perform and execute tasks in sport. Both theories share commonalities in their philosophies of Affect Cognition Behaviour, whereby appraisal and evaluation influences beliefs and actions. Bandura described 6 sources of information that underpin efficacy; enactive mastery experience, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, imaginal experience, perception of emotional and physiological states. Sports confidence has been identified as the most important psychological factor influencing sports performance (Vealey and Chase, 2008). Progressing on from the original dichotomy of state and trait confidence models, Vealey (1998) presented sports confidence as a global, multidimensional characteristics; recognising the influence of socio-cultural, personal and organisational factors on an individuals’ sports confidence and categorising the determinants (sources) of confidence in to 3 broad categories of achievement, self-regulation and sociocultural.


Achievement determinants of sports confidence were those including mastery and demonstration of ability. Self-regulatory determinants included athletes’ perception of physical and mental preparation and self-presentation; social culture determinants include social support, coach leadership, environmental and situational favourableness (Vealey, 2001). This model was developed to act as a practitioner guide to developing sports confidence interventions for use with athletes. To enhance the effectiveness of such interventions further research sought to examine the importance and predictive nature of the determinants relative to sports performance outcomes.

Identifying the importance and effectiveness of sources of sports confidence increases the specificity of interventions conducive to developing programmes tailored to individual athletes’ needs and ultimately increasing the effectiveness. For example, the importance of the various determinants on sports confidence and performance vary as a function of gender, level and time to competition. Each of these factors will now be considered in greater detail:

Gender: Research measuring the importance of sports-confidence determinants in athletes has shown that females rely on social support factors, from loved ones and particularly coaches in the form of leadership, motivation and feedback as a source of confidence. Females also placed greater importance on self-presentation and mastery determinants. In contrast, males rely less on coach feedback and source confidence from a trust I the coaches training programme and belief that they are physically prepared for competition.

Time to event: In relation to temporal variations in sources of confidence and their importance, a study was conducted on elite level athletes (n=54) to measure fluctuations in and variations of sources of confidence as the event approached. Measurements (using the Sources of Sports Confidence Questionnaire, SSCQ) were taken at 6, 4, 3, 2, and 1 week prior to competition. The results showed that as competition approached demonstration of ability, physical/mental preparation, self-presentation and situational favourableness became the most influential source of confidence for athletes. Interesting demonstration of ability was consistently reported as the most important source of confidence for athletes across time. Therefore interventions leading up to competition that offers athletes the opportunity to demonstrate their skill and ability in relation to others in the form of practice sessions replicating competition demands or match scenarios will be most conducive improving confidence. However, demonstrative ability is a relatively unstable source of confidence, due to its uncontrollable nature (athletes do not have control over others athletes preparation or ability) and this may explain the aforementioned fluctuations and fragility associated with confidence. One solution is to increase the control (and as a consequence the stability) of demonstration of ability in athletes. This can be achieved by providing athletes with an evaluative comparison with themselves, as opposed to others (enactive mastery), the use of reflective practice and performance profiles provide practitioners and coaches a framework for creating positive, confidence inducing appraisals and reflective practice for athletes.

Mental Skills training that focus on increasing attention to controllable and stable determinants of sports confidence are likely to develop ‘robust’ sports confidence, a preliminary qualitative study establishing robustness or resilience of sports confidence has a bigger predictor of performance outcomes than sources or level of confidence. A definition of robust sports as a multidimensional set of beliefs that are malleable durable, strong, developed and protective emerged from this study that used 4 elite athlete case studies and a follow up confirmatory focus group of 16 elite level performers from individual sports explicated the importance of resilient, multi-faceted confidence that is resistant to and recovers quickly from possible debilitative threats to confidence. This research, although limited by its focus on individual sport, lends further credence to the need to develop practice based interventions to promote confidence in sport, in addition to the more widely deployed pre-competition and competition based strategies (Thomas, Lane & Kingston, 2011).

Several studies have endeavoured to identify mediating factors in the relationship between mental skills, personality factors and sports confidence: Recently (Levy, Nicholls & Polman, 2011) conducted a study to examine the effectiveness of coping strategies and the mediating influence of sports confidence and subjective performance. The results showed that coping strategies used effectively by athletes (such as task-orientated coping) had a positive effect on confidence and subjective performance i.e. those using task orientated coping demonstrated more pre-competition confidence and reflected more positively on their performance. In contrast, deploying ineffective coping (such as resignation or avoidance) correlated negatively with pre-competition confidence and subjective performance ratings. Interestingly, the most predictive form of task-orientated coping was the use of mastery imagery. This is in-keeping with studies supporting the use of imagery to improve pre-competition and competition sports confidence. Specifically, motivational-general mastery and cognitive-specific imagery were associated with higher levels of confidence (Hall, Monroe-chandler, Cumming & Murphy, 2009).

Coaches designing motivational climates to develop robust sports confidence required withstanding anxiety, choking, cultural, organizational and social evaluative stressors associated with performing in sports benefit from providing opportunities to derive confidence from multiple sources – particularly focusing on the controllable, stable determinants. The use of task-orientated goal setting, mastery imagery, reflection and performance profiling are tools that can train the mental skills necessary to instil a stable, malleable, multidimensional confidence. Similarly, Vealey et al (2012) highlighted the predictive value of personality characters for determining sources of athletes’ confidence, being mindful that athletes possessing maladaptive perfectionistic traits are more likely to source confidence from demonstrative ability, self-presentation and situational favourableness (unstable) and adapted perfectionistic traits rely on more stable and controllable sources.

Identifying the needs of the athlete relative to personality, gender, competitive level and being mindful of the temporal fluctuation in importance and level of confidence as competition approaches require consideration when designing and implementing training programmes. Developing sports confidence through training, in addition to pre-competition and competition based strategies to enhance confidence is optimal and characteristic of elite sports performers.  


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Hall, C R., Munroe-Chandler, K J., Cumming, J., Law, B., & Murphy, L. (2009). Imagery and observational learning use and their relationship to sport confidence Journal of Sports Sciences 27(4), 327–337.

Kingston, K., Lane, A., Thomas, O., (2010) A temporal examination of elite performers source of sports confidence, The Sports Psychologist, 18, 313-332.

Levy, A.r, Nicholls, A.R. Polman, R.C.J., (2011) Pre-competition confidence, coping and subjective performance in sport, Scand J Med Sci Sports: 21: 721–729

Vealey, R.S. (1986). Conceptualization of sport-confidence and competitive orientation: Preliminary investigation and instrument development. Journal of Sport Psychology, 8, 224–246.

Vealey, R.S., & Chase, M.A. (2008). Self-confidence in sport: Conceptual and research Advances. In T.S.Horn (Ed.), Advances in sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 65–97). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Vealey, R.S., Chase, M.A., Magyar, T.M., & Galli, N. (2004). Sources and levels of confidence infemale athletes: Age-related and seasonal influences. Paper presented at Association for Advancementof Applied Sport Psychology Conference, Minneapolis, MN.

Vealey, R.S., Hayashi, S.W., Garner-Holman, M., & Giacobbi, P. (1998). Sources of sport-confidenceConceptualization and instrument development. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 20, 54–80.