The modern-day athlete is an interesting environment that exists at the intersection of mind and body. Present-day sport psychology is the study of application of psychological practices and methods to enhancement the understanding of successful team and individual athletic performance (Kramer & Moran, 2008). Examining the individual athlete and determining the factors that separate success from failure is the essence of sport psychology. The athlete is a superb portrayal of the complex interaction between mind and body. Researchers can agree that one of the most consistent findings of peak performance is the significant correlation that exists between self-confidence and successful sporting ventures. Success for any athlete can be traced back to the prerequisite trait of self-confidence. Self-confidence shares a strong relation to self-efficacy (Singh, Bhardwaj, & Bhardwaj, 2009).
Self-efficacy is a situation-specific form of self-confidence, a belief that oneself possess the competentance to master the task at hand and accomplish the expected outcome (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 87). Self-confidence is a stable personality characteristic. Where self-efficacy may fluctuate, self-confidence is consistant from task to task (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 87).
The concept of self-efficacy is an integral component to psychologist Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory (Bandura, 2012). Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations. In other words, self-efficacy is a person’s own belief in his or her ability to be successful when challenged by a difficult event. Bandura explained that self-efficacy determines how people think, behave, and feel (Bandura, 2012). Self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s own abilities to deal with various situations, can play a significant role in how someone feels about themselves, how they respond to difficult events, and whether or not they can successfully achieve their life goals.
The concept of self-efficacy is often used interchangeably with the concept of self-confidence. Self-efficacy is most accurately described as a forerunner to self-confidence.
Research has repeatedly identified a significant correlation between self-confidence and successful sporting performance. Confident individuals tend to be more skilled and effective in using cognitive resources that are vital for success in athletics endevors.
For example, Bandura and Wood (1989) showed that confident individuals remained focused on the on the process and solutions to problems in the faced with difficulties, whereas less confident individuals were more likely to focus on their inadequacies- percieved or real. The difference was the more confident group beccame task oriented when challenged and the less confident group become self oriented. Furthermore, confidence has been discoverd to greatly influence an athlete’s coping ability. High self-confidence has been strongly associated with positive affects, whereas a lack of confidence has been associated with negative aspects such as depression, anxiety, and dissatisfaction (Hays, Thomas, Maynard, & Bawden, 2009).
Confidence is associated with productive behaviors such as persistence and continued effort. Furthermore, a strong sense of confidence has been associated with setting goals that are challenging and pursuing those goals with maximal effort and grit. Thus, athletes who have high self-confidence are more likely to succeed because of their positive behaviors in the face of adversity (Hays, Thomas, Maynard, & Bawden, 2009). Stated simply “elite athletes win in their minds first” (Meyer & Coffey, 2017, p. 45).
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Albert Bandura stated that self-confidence and self-efficacy are different in the sense that confidence is a nonspecific term about the strength of their belief. For example, someone can be extremely confident that s/he will perform poorly. Conversely, self-efficacy is positive in nature, revolving around accomplishment and affirmation (Singh, Bhardwaj, & Bhardwaj, 2009).
The Significance of Self-Efficacy and Self-Confidence in Sport
Sport psychologists have analyzed the psychological characterisitics of successful athletes since the birth of the field. Comparisons of successful and non-successful athletes have revealed distinct differences regarding confidence. Comparing athletes who made an Olympic team against those who were cut showed that the more successful athletes had higher confidence. Confidence is often interchanged for self-efficacy because it more easily understood by athletes, coaches, parents, and the media (Singh, Bhardwaj, & Bhardwaj, 2009). Self-efficacy predicts behavior, including quality and quantity of effort, choice of activity, and persistence (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 91).
The importance of self-efficacy is very clear; there is a revolving loop of performance and self efficacy. Research indicates that there is better-than-moderate relationship between self-efficacy and performance and performance is a strong predictor of self-efficacy (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 88).
What Creates Self-Efficacy & Self-Confidence
Self-efficacy is the critical mediating variable to successful perfromances. Self-efficacy can be forund on groups as a form of efficacy in the shared belief of a group to execute a task successfully (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 87). Research has identified that exposure to exercise results in increased efficacy (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 89). It is the primary task for coaches to enhance a players self-efficacy through continual, appropriate, and repeated exposure to the task affiliated with successful performance and create the environment where a team can enhance a collective form of efficacy.
Self-efficacy by definition is an unstable and situation-specific phenomena. The skill of self-efficacy is a perishable skill that requires continual maintenance and/or cultivation. Self-efficay is developed through exposure to exercise and previous performance experiences (Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 89). In the sports world the challenge for coaches is to continually re-enforce the positive loop of building on previous performance and apply exposure to new and exciting challenges for athletes and teams. The challenge is to build self-efficacy and energize a positive cycle of self-efficacy, success, increased self-confidence, and increased self-efficacy. The cycle can be fragile. A negative occurrence can affect the cycle and require a significant retrace of previous lessons to get back on track.
Malcolm Gladwell reports (Gladwell, 2013, p. 40) that there is a critical minumum level of practice required to acheive mastery. Evidence from case studies reveal that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve a level of mastery associated with world-class expertise- in any field.
Self-efficacy tends to influence performance and determines how much effort an individual will expend and how long they will persist in the face of obstacles and challenging experiences (Singh, Bhardwaj, & Bhardwaj, 2009). Therefore, in order for subjects to persevere through challenges, obstacles, and difficult periods to achieve the ten thousand hours of practice required to achieve mastery an athlete must have high self-efficacy. The best coaches are able to effect the cycle of self-efficacy by building off of previous performance experiences, apply exposure to new and exciting challenges, and cultivate self-efficacy through a positive cycle of success, increased self-confidence, and increased self-efficacy.
- Bandura, A. & Wood, R. E. (1989). Effect of perceived controllability and performance standards on self-regulation of complex decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 805-814.
- Bandura, A. (2012). Self-efficacy the exercise of control. New York, NY: Freeman.
- Gill, D., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Gladwell, M. (2013). Outliers: The story of success. New York: Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company.
- Hays, K., Thomas, O., Maynard, I., & Bawden, M. (2009). The role of confidence in world-class sport performance. Journal of Sports Sciences; 27 (11):1185-1199.
- Kramer & Moran. (2008). Swifter, Higher, Stronger: The history of sport psychology. Retrieved from: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-21/edition-8/swifter-higher-stronger-history-sport-psychology
- Meyer, U., & Coffey, W. R. (2017). Above the line: Lessons in leadership and life from a championship season. New York: Penguin Books.
- Singh, T.D., Bhardwaj, G, & Bhardwaj, V. (2009). Effect of self-efficacy on the performance of athletes. Journal of Exercise and Physiotherapy, Vol. 5, No. 2: 110-114.
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