Confidence isn't the cure
By Dr. Nick Molinaro and Celeste Romano
You’re shoving the last of the baseball gear into the trunk of your non-aerodynamic but functional SUV as your player tromps out the front door toward the driveway. He slings his backpack over his shoulder and heads for the front seat without even a glance in your direction. His body language displays a compilation of anxiety and excitement. A smile forms as you remember the nine-year-old boy who coined the phrase “n-excited” to define his feelings of being both nervous and excited before his games. But that little boy is slowly becoming a young man. In just a few hours he will try out for the high school baseball team—a goal he’s had for several years.
As a parent, you’re feeling your own mixture of pride, excitement, and anxiety. You know he’s physically ready, but you think one last pep talk is needed to get his head in the right place. You will tell him: “Confidence is what separates the strong performers from the weak ones. Confidence is the soul of a player’s mental game. If you go into try-outs with confidence, you will make the team.”
But is your advice correct? Is there a one-to-one correlation between confidence and a strong performance? If so, then how do you explain all those times your confident player failed to perform?
In truth, confidence is not the answer to your player’s mental game or excellence in performance. As a sport psychologist, I have had numerous parents and coaches try to convince me that they understood the importance of the mental game by proclaiming, “They just need to gain confidence and then they will play better.” That’s usually when I tell them, that for all these years they thought confidence was the key to a strong mental game, they indeed were wrong. Confidence is not the answer to a strong performance and here is why:
Confidence is a belief or a feeling. Beliefs and feelings are not steeped in truth; we can believe something that is not true.
If confidence doesn’t equate to truth, then our beliefs can allow for doubt and doubt is an athlete’s kryptonite.
The human brain cannot process a negative and positive thought at the same time and negative thoughts typically dominate over the positive.
Doubt is a negative thought, and it only takes a second for that sliver of doubt to derail your “confident” athlete’s performance. Why? Because, the minute their thoughts turn to worry about their ability to perform, they can no longer focus on executing a strong performance.
At this point, most parents look at me and ask: “Okay, so you don’t want him to feel or believe he can do something?”
“Aren’t we here to discuss my child’s feelings on the field?”
“No, feelings are not something a player should focus on, especially during performance. Feelings and beliefs allow for doubt, and doubt is the great killer of excellence.”
“So, then what’s the answer?”
“Self-efficacy. Self-efficacy should be the goal to achieve excellence in performance.”
As I have written in my book, Beyond the Scoreboard, “Self-efficacy, under my definition, is separate and distinct from confidence. Self-efficacy is not a feeling or belief. It is the truth about one’s ability to perform a skill. This truth or knowledge is based on trust, and it’s developed over time as a result of dedicated practice. The self-efficacious athlete has developed trust, derived from proof, in their physical skill set. Their ability to perform with consistency over time, during practice, and in competition is the proof that manifests the trust and faith in their abilities. These athletes don’t think, feel, or believe they can do it. They know they can.”
For example, how many of us caffeine addicted individuals get up in the morning, grab that first cup of coffee and think, I believe this will wake me up? Absolutely none! We never question coffee’s ability to help us start our day. When you put your shoes on, do you believe you can walk out your front door or do you know? When you sit behind the wheel of your car, do you believe you can drive, or do you know? I use these obvious questions to drive home the point that beliefs allow for doubt, and that the things we do without any doubt are done because we are self-efficacious about them—we never question ourselves if these tasks can be performed.
Dr. Nick Molinaro and Celeste Romano are the authors of Beyond the Scoreboard. Molinaro has worked in the arena of performance psychology for more than 30 years with middle school aged children through professional and Olympic athletes, in all sports. Romano is the founder and head of Creative License Publishing, LLC, a writing consulting firm.
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