How To Build Confidence In Athletes: 6 Proven Methods

Confidence,  a core tenet of mental toughness, has long been heralded as essential for an athlete’s optimal performance. Research confirms what many coaches already know, confident athletes dream bigger, work harder, think more effectively, and cope better with the stresses of competition.

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What Confidence Is Not

Some athletes and coaches believe that the players who are the most outspoken and boisterous about their abilities are the most confident. However, athletes who brag the most may in fact be the most uncertain about their skills and abilities. Don’t mistake posturing for true confidence.

This false confidence can lead to counterproductive attitudes and behaviors.

What Confidence Is

Confidence is an athlete’s belief in his ability to be successful in his sport. Belief is the critical word. I’ve worked with athletes who had the ability to be successful but didn’t believe in their abilities. That lack of belief translated into a lack of confidence. Confidence derives from an athlete’s perception of his or her ability to meet the demands of the situation.

Can I make the game-winning free throw? Can I cover the opponent’s best receiver? Can I get a hit against this pitcher? Can I make the save on a breakaway goal? Basically, does the athlete believe she has what it takes in a given situation?

6 Sources of Confidence

Coaches, parents, and athletes often wonder where confidence comes from. This is especially true if athletes lack experience in new situations.

How did the 2013 Wichita State Shockers men’s basketball team have so much confidence going into an underdog match-up against top seeded Gonzaga and make it to their first Final Four appearance since 1965? Those players hadn’t played on the big stage against the top teams in the country.

Numerous factors impact an athlete’s confidence. Here are 6 proven sources of confidence that athletes can draw from.

1. Preparation

When an athlete puts her blood, sweat, and tears into practice she earns the right to feel confident. Athletes who push their bodies physically, work hard to master their abilities, and strive to get better have more confidence than those who don’t. It should come as no surprise that when an athlete believes she is prepared for the situation, she also feels confident.

2. Perceived Success

Perception is reality. I’ve personally won tennis matches and thought, “I only won because that kid was terrible.” That doesn’t boost one’s confidence.

Alternatively, I’ve lost matches and thought, “That might have been the best tennis I’ve ever played.” Notice, a player doesn’t have to win in order to perceive success. How athletes view success makes all the difference. Successes should be viewed as a result of ability, preparation, and hard work. It is important to capitalize on successes when they occur.

3. Other’s Success

Athletes can gain confidence from seeing other teammates, friends, players, and teams be successful. Seeing others succeed can spur thoughts like: If he can do it, I can do it. If she can run that fast, so can I. If they can beat that team, so can we. I often refer to this as a “Why Not Mentality.”

4.Sense of Control

When athletes focus on what they can control, they feel more confident. Truthfully, athletes can always be in control of something – themselves. The choice is whether they focus on that or all the things they can’t control (referees, weather, crowd noise). Focusing on what lies within an athlete’s control gives him a sense of assurance in his ability to face challenges, cope with emotions, and focus on what’s most important.


When athletes believe that their coaches, teammates, friends, and parents have their backs, they feel more confident. No players want to believe they are out their on their own without support. Receiving encouraging words from others fuels an athlete’s confidence to perform her best.

6.Physical Appearance

It should come as no surprise that athletes are concerned with their appearances. Research of individual athletes found this source to be more important for female athletes than males. However, regardless of gender, when athletes feel they look good, they will likely feel more confident too.

Free Download

To help you build confidence in your athletes, I developed this free PDF: 18 Tips To Help Coaches Cultivate Confidence.

Coach Players To Build Sustainable Confidence

As any coach or athlete knows, confidence can be fragile, here one minute and gone the next. However, you can see that confidence comes from many different sources. While perceived success may be the most powerful source on its own, sustainable confidence is found when an athlete can combine multiple sources of confidence at once.  Use these 6 methods to help players intentionally cultivate an enduring sense of confidence.

Question: Which source of confidence do athletes overlook most? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.



Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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