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Wednesday, 13 February 2019 09:03

Sports Psychology: Confidence Lost- Vicious Downward or Upward Spiral?

Written by  Iain Shippey

 Last week I wrote about the subject of Prime Confidence. I spoke about the science of Automaticity, giving brains to our muscles, but repeated practice and rehearsal.

Tragically some of the athletes who practice the hardest are not able to translate all that work into a winning performance in a match or race which can shatter your confidence. I hope that today’s blog will help you regather you rebuild your confidence.

Think back to a time when you didn't have confidence in yourself. I can remember back to the start of a cricket season when I had been made the school first team captain, and I just couldn’t score runs. It weighed heavily on me individually. This was compounded by the fact that as the captain, I needed to be leading by example and felt that I was constantly letting the team down. As you recall, a loss of form can get you caught in a vicious cycle of low confidence and performance - in which negative thinking leads to poor performance, which leads to more negative thinking and even poorer performance; until your confidence is so low that you don’t even want to compete.

This cycle usually starts with a period of poor performance. This leads to negative self-talk: "I'm terrible. I suck! I can't do this. What’s wrong with me?" You start becoming your own worst enemy.

You start to get nervous before a competition because you believe you will perform poorly. All of that anxiety damages your confidence even more -because you feel physically uncomfortable and there's no way you can perform well when you're so uptight. The negative self-talk and anxiety causes negative emotions. You feel down, frustrated, angry, and helpless - all of which hurt your confidence more and damage your performance.

PFCThe negative self-talk, anxiety, and emotions then hurt your focus. I deal with the important topic of focus in one of my eBooks PFC (Process, Focus and Control) this is available on

(If you have low confidence, you can't help but focus on all the negative things rather than on things that will enable you to perform at your best). In essence you are double-minded and distracted. You are playing with a lot of noise and distraction. All of this accumulated negativity hurts your motivation. If you're thinking negatively, and feeling nervous, down, frustrated, and unfocused, you're not going to have much fun and you're not going to perform well.

Now recall when you have been really confident in your sport. You are upbeat and feel light in your heart. Your self-talk is positive: "I have got this! I am looking forward to this. I can perform well." You are your best ally.

With the positive self-talk, you begin an upward spiral of high confidence and performance - in which positive thinking leads to better performance, which leads to more positive thinking and even better performance.

All of the positive self-talk gets you feeling relaxed, excited and energized as you begin the competition. You feel positive emotions such as courage, inspiration and excitement. You focus on the things you need to perform at your best. Competing is actually an enjoyable experience for you.

If you're thinking positively, riding an upward spiral, feeling relaxed and energized, experiencing positive emotions, and are focused on performing your best, you're going to have a lot of fun and you're going to perform well.

Why do Athletes Lose Confidence?

The greatest disruption to confidence is failure. Failure can mean making mistakes in a competition, for example, missing an easy kick for posts in rugby or dropping a catch while fielding in cricket. Repeated mistakes will cause you to lose faith in your ability and cause you to become tentative or cautious. Feelings of failure can also be due to having poor results in recent competitions. Failure seems to provide evidence that any confidence you may have is unjustified.

How do I rebuild confidence?

Remember we said that the sources of confidence are:

  1. Practice
  2. Immediate past performance
  3. Possessing a winning attitude and outlook

So, what do I do when number 2, my recent performances haven’t been good and I am doubting myself and my ability to perform? Here are a few practical ideas:

  1. 1.Share the weight of the burden:

It is exhausting living in your own head; and you need some trusted people that you can talk to. All players go through a lack of form. Even tennis World Number One, Novak Djokovic bombed out in some tournaments this year (2016). He won The French Open, but two weeks later at Wimbledon he went crashing out in the early rounds. Serena Williams, the Women’s World Number One, said that everyone expects her to win every time she steps on a court. She realises that that is unrealistic and must manage the expectations of her fan base.

Next week more practical steps on how to rebuild your confidence.

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