To be successful in sport, as suggested by the most popular literature in the field of attitudes, behaviours and sporting achievement is focused on self-confidence (Cox, Shannon, McGuire & McBride, 2010). The main theories surrounding confidence are the self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1986, 1997) and sport-confidence (Machida, Marie Ward, & Vealey, 2012). Gilson (2010) describes how research has proven the most important psychological factor in sport to be confidence, further describing that confidence is the clear differentiation between elite successful athletes, and the non-elite. To ensure high levels of performance, Bandura (1986 as cited in Beaumont, Maynard and Butt, 2014) suggests that the self-efficacy model is of benefit to athletes, based on the definition of self-efficacy as an individuals ability to perform and construct specific skills. Although, in relation to performance levels within athletes, it is important to always remember and understand that confidence levels will fluctuate. It is well known that if an athlete is performing well, and ‘in form’ as a sporting term, then the athletes’ self confidence will improve. Understandably, if this is then the opposite and the athlete is currently not performing well then the self-confidence will in turn be lower.
Mental preparation for sporting events and practices has proven to be very successful, but it must be conducted consistently and in the correct manner. Many successful professional sporting athletes’ have figured out the most effective way to plan their mental preparation to ensure they are most successful in their field. Some examples will be the use of imagery for the likes of Ronaldinho, Jonny Wilkinson and Michael Johnson. Ronaldinho describes his use of imagery as, “So what I do, always before a game, always, every night and every day, is try and think up things, imagine plays, which no one else will have thought of. That is my job. That is what I do. I imagine the game.”
Much research has been conducted in these areas, including interesting research which analyses gender differences within confidence. Hays, Thomas, Maynard and Bawden, (2009) found females described lower confidence compared to males potentially due to gender biases over other confounding variables. Females experience much lower media coverage in comparison to males, which could indicate a hierarchy of genders. Most recently, in the Womens Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF, 2009) women’s sport has been reported to occupy only 2% of their sports reported and Topping, (2012) estimates a total of 5% coverage throughout all media coverage. Due to the low levels of coverage for females, Harris (2005) believes this is the main contributor affecting females attitudes, perhaps causing a change in view towards sport and their overall participation levels. Although it was suggested the differences between genders could be due to gender biases, other research concludes there has been no definite conclusions found as to why females experience these low self-confidence and self-efficacy levels (Hays et al, 2009).
To portray good levels of self-efficacy, individuals need to believe ‘in their capabilities to produce given attainments’ according to Bandura (2006 as cited in Bandura 2012). This can be done through a variety of different methods, although there are four key factors which should be implemented to be the most effective. Firstly, the most important area is the use of experiences within the field. Drawing upon previous experiences can be extremely beneficial to athletes, as it determines what has worked and what needs improvement from previous game day or training situations. The other three areas are; watching other athletes in the same situation of which they will need to compete, verbal persuasion from others and physiological perceptions of the area (Gilson, 2010).
In order to work on self-confidence within sport, it is important to use the four areas mentioned above to ensure the athlete understands the key areas of which to focus upon. Alongside this, another method which should be considered is the use of goal setting. The main aim of goal setting focuses on increasing individuals’ motivational levels to achieve success by directing attention and applying energy levels into achieving the overall goal (Locke & Latham, 1990). With the combination of the knowledge of key areas, and goal setting, the athlete will go through an intervention process whereby as soon as they start to see themselves progressing, or achieving a certain goal, their overall self-confidence will in turn improve.
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About Kelly Bourne
21 year old. Bsc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Psychology graduate from Edge Hill University. Senior football player for Blackburn Rovers Football club and Senior welsh international.