After the huge disappointment of the last rugby world cup, not many people would have expected the England rugby team to bounce back and win 14 games in a row – equalling their record of consecutive wins. Confidence is undoubtedly high within the England camp, but where has this confidence come from?
Bandura (1977) developed a theory of self-efficacy, which is defined as ‘one’s ability to perform a task successfully’. It is derived from 6 main sources:
Performance accomplishments are to do with our experiences of success and failure. Put simply, if we are successful, our self-efficacy will improve. Success breeds success. With regards to the England rugby team, this may have played a large part in their increased confidence towards the end of 2016. This may also prove useful in the future, with repeated success acting like a barrier to minimise the negative impact of occasional failure on the team’s levels of self-efficacy.
Vicarious experience can be described as modelling and refers to watching others similar to yourself being successful. This could have been watching team mates in training being successful in drills or watching other teams winning matches (Eddie Jones’ Japan beating South Africa in the world cup springs to mind). This could have also been broken down to watch specific skills being performed successfully, to improve self-efficacy in those specific areas.
Verbal persuasion is widely used within building self-efficacy because it is easy and readily available. An example of this comes prior to England’s first test against Australia, with Jones describing Owen Farrell’s improvements: ‘He is a strong leader, a good defender, plays with his heart on his sleeve and has a good skill set. You can’t ask for more than that.” Verbal persuasion could easy be utilised as simply as a player telling another that they are capable of scoring or tacking their opposite number.
Imaginal experiences refer to generated beliefs about self-efficacy by imagining oneself performing effectively in future situations. The key point of imagery and confidence is to imagine oneself demonstrating master of a skill or competition (Moritz., 1996). England currently employ sport psychologist Jeremy Snape, so it can be assumed that the players have had experience with imagery within their sport psychology sessions.
Physiological states influence self-efficacy when individuals associate aversive physiological arousal with poor performance and perceived failure. This may be linked to fitness, with some individuals associating physical arousal (such as a fast heartbeat) with negative connotations, such as poor self-efficacy. Although we don’t know the specific thought of the individual England players, we do know that they have improved their fitness levels, with Jones reporting “they are fitter and more resilient with fitness levels 30 percent different.” Therefore we can assume that as the players are fitter, they will be experiencing less detrimental thoughts about their physiological states.
Finally, emotional states can also play a part in self-efficacy. There is a link between positive emotional states such as happiness ae more likely to enhance efficacy than negative emotional states (Maddux & Meier, 1995). It is obvious from the countless photos of the England players celebrating after the games that happiness is the overriding feeling within the camp and this can only grow as the wins keep coming.
It will be very interesting to see how England go on to cope with the pressure of being favourites to win the 6 nations in 2017 and whether this confidence and momentum can carry them forward to a new record breaking winning streak.
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change. Psychological Review, 84 (2), 191-215.
Maddux, J., & Meier, L. (1995). Self-efficacy and depression. In J.E. Maddux (Ed.), Self-efficacy, adaptation, and adjustment: Theory, research and application. New York: Plenum Press.
Moritz, S. E., Hall, C. R., Martin, K. A., & Vadocz, E. (1996). What are confident athletes imaging?: An examination of image content. Sport psychologist, 10, 171-179.
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About Gillian Thomas
Currently studying for a BPS approved MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology at the University of Chichester. BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Psychology, keen rugby player.