10 Tips to Boost Confidence and Mental Toughness

By John R. Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach

Portrait of a young male basketball player against black background

1.  Boost Confidence

Confidence is the athlete’s best friend. It is the most important factor determining whether success is felt and internalized.  The confidence or lack thereof will spill over into other aspects of your life. That is of course if you identify with your sport performance as a major element to yourself image.Confidence is a core mental game skill because of its importance and relationship to other mental skills.Confidence is the athlete’s belief in his or her ability to perform.

  • Factors that help athletes feel confident:
  • Having a solid support system
  • Attending practices where pressure is less intense.
  • Performing well in practice
  • Access to good coaches
  • Access to good equipment
  • Being in good physical condition.

One of the best ways to BOOST confidence is by identifying beliefs, doubts, and expectations that undermine confidence. Beliefs like: “I am not talented enough.” Doubts like: “I can’t perform because I have not mastered the skill in practice.” An expectation: “I need to not give up any turn over’s in today’s game.  Knowledge of these gives one the opportunity to practice positive thinking. Since you are aware of them you can then be proactive.

Start the Process

2. Cope with Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is characterized by high expectations, a strong desire to succeed (not fail) and anxiety and tension.  Fear of failure causes the athlete to worry too much and focus on end results, and about approval by teammates or peers.  Fear is generally about:

  • Feeling embarrassed.
  • Being reprimanded by a coach or peer.
  • Wasted practice time on the wrong things.
  • Not performing up to others expectations for you.

Fear of failure is rooted in social approval. Being accepted by the group causes the athlete to focus too much on what other people think. It’s important to be aware of your fears and the limited importance of others thoughts about your performance. It’s important that focus be placed on goals the athlete sets and the criteria for measuring success.

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3.  Identify Self-Limiting Expectations

Expectations about performance cause athletes to focus on perfection and limited tolerance for making errors. Expectations can quickly torpedo confidence because the success target is always moving.

Identify personal expectations or demands about performance that cause the loss of confidence and focus. It’s the constant judging against the unachievable levels of performance expectation that undermines success and joy.

Start the Process

4.  Minimize Distractions and Improve Focus

Concentration is important, but often the focus is set on a single issue that is the distraction. Example: “I simply cannot drop this pass” – wide receiver while on the offensive line before the ball is thrown.  This is what is called a results-oriented focus. It’s best to remain focused in the moment, and let go of worrying about the results. Tell yourself, “One catch at a time,” or “One pass at a time.”

Focus on the process of the game, and not about the outcome. Decide ahead of time what thought or cue phrase that will keep you centered on catching the pass. For example; concentrate on executing the route pattern and seeing the pass into your hands.

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5.  Use Coping Tools for Setbacks

When you expect too much of yourself it can be challenging to deal minor errors that are a natural part of sports. It’s important to take note of the expectations (write them down). Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Make a decision in advance on the number of mistakes you will allow yourself to make without judgment. It’s ok to not “make the shot” from time to time. No one can execute perfectly.

When you have an error or mistake it’s critical you move onto the next play or shot without judgment. Remind yourself to look ahead to the next shot, play, or period of play.

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6.  Set Your Own Agenda

Your participation or your performance is for you and not for anyone else. Understand why it is that you participate in sports:

  • Is it for the joy of competition?
  • Is it for the vigorous exercise and health benefit?
  • Is it for the reward of reaching a goal?
  • Is it for the social aspect?

Tap into your reasons for participating in sports. Ask yourself, “why do I do this?” or “what is it that keeps me coming back for more?” Once you know the answers to these questions you will better understand your purpose for engaging in competitive sports.

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7.  Make it Fun

Everyone wants to win. Winning is exciting and gives one a sense of accomplishment.  Above all make sure you are participating mostly for fun. Remind yourself once again why you are participating in the sport. If it is to please someone else you might be competing for the wrong reasons.

Fun and enjoyment is the seed that if cultivated develops motivation and desire. If you have allowed yourself to have fun, experience enjoyment, and the joy of being with friends or teammates you will most likely be free of unrealistic expectations for your performance.

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8.  Utilize Self-Talk and Self-Feedback

It’s important to give yourself positive feedback. It’s easy to call out the critic and beat yourself up for making mistakes. However, I assure you that if you compliment yourself on the things you do well rather than chastising yourself for making mistakes you will perform at a higher level. It’s ok to identify areas needing improvement, but its far more important to give yourself five times as many positive compliments. By doing this you build character, self-confidence, and belief in yourself.

When your critic shows up try to park it.  Ask yourself: What can I say after a game to help myself grow more confident? Don’t dwell on this mistakes or errors, focus more on the improvements made and the plays executed successfully.

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9.  Filter the Noise

Develop a tool for that gives you the ability to hear the coaching and filter out the noise. Coaches have the ability to coach well, but they can often cloud the message with unnecessary chatter and emotion.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotion and miss the message.

Don’t shoot the messenger (the coach). Become your own coach and check in with yourself. Try to understand the coach’s agenda and philosophy. Then execute on only the critical aspects of the message.

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10.  Know the Difference Between Self-Motivation and Motivation by Others

It’s just the greatest feeling in the world to have others acknowledge you and praise you for your efforts.  Getting your name in the paper or receiving an award for your performance success is awesome. I am here to tell you that the most important message or rewards are those you give yourself. Every other accolade is simply the extra icing on the cake.  In the end no one but you can really make the difference in your performance because it’s you that is doing the performing.

Self motivation is the best type of motivation. It’s the intrinsic motivation that is derived from your love of sports. Set goals that are achievable, but challenging. The #1 goal is to have success and feel good about what you have accomplished.

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Confidence is the most important factor that influences how we see success and happiness in sports and life. Most athletes gain confidence from practice and success over time. However, you can take a proactive step on your own to boost your confidence and mental toughness by trying some of these tips on yourself.  If they work for you who knows how they just might work to help your kids.