The Effects of Athlete Self-Confidence

2.0 Introduction

The purpose of this review is to provide a critical analysis of the available literature on sources, levels and importance of self confidence. It explores theories relating to self-confidence and the various measurements that have been used in recent years to assess this construct. The focus of the review will aim to analyse firstly self confidence and the importance of it among sport performers, it will highlight various studies and identify that self confidence is spilt into constructs, which in turn leads on to identifying self efficacy and sport confidence. The review will also look at different sources of sport confidence and which are most salient to elite and non elite athletes, and finally it will give a brief rationale to why the study is being taken out.

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2.1 Self confidence

Defining self-confidence within the sport psychology literature has emerged as a difficult issue (Taylor & Wilson, 2005). However, Vealey and Chase (2008) defined self-confidence as the belief in one’s abilities to achieve success, and is often identified as an important mental skill for success in sport by those individuals engaging in competitive sports, including both athletes and coaches. Self confidence is suggested to be the paramount contributor and the most critical cognitive factor affecting an athelets success (Spink,1990). Similarly, (Vealy et al 1998), suggests that self confidence is widely accalaimed by theorists, researchers, and practioniers as the most critical psychological characteristic influencing a sport performance. This ultimately suggests that self confidence is a subject topic central in influencing an athletes performance and in turn crucial in investigation.

Lirgg (1991) similarly to Vealey (1998) stated that Self-confidence has been the subject of much research in recent years in the sport psychology literature (p,294-310). The perception of one’s own abilities has been frequently cited as a mediated construct in attainment strivings and as a psychological factor affecting athletic performance. One of the most important relationship is between confidence and performance, from past literature Weinbourg & Gould (2003,p,311) state is clear that there is a positive relationship between confidence and performance (Vealey 2001), however the factors affectiong this relationship are less known. Factors such as organizational culture, gender and age have been suggested as important. Taking into account relationships confidence has with different mediating factors, it is also important to recognise it as a complicated construct.

Confidence has been operationalized in numerous ways (Feltz, 1988). It has been categorised into constructs such as self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986, 1977), perceived competence, sport-confidence(Vealey,1986 & Vealey 1998 et al), expectancies (Rotter, 1954), and movement confidence (Griffin & Keough, 1982) these have all been proposed as measuring an individual’s perception of his or her abilities (Lirgg 1991).

Self confidence affects the way one feels, thinks and behaves, and thus has an important influence upon sporting performance, Bandura.,(1997) Jones and Hanton,(2001). Self confidence might be something one feels one day therefore unstable or it may be part of ones’s personality. It has been thought by Clifton & Gill, (1994) “that a high level of self confidence is one of the most consistently reported psychological characteristics” of elite athletes ( p,150). However, despite claims about the importance of self confidence to performance, Feltz (2007) declares that its relationship with performance has not been clear in much of the sport science research in turn suggesting areas for development in research.

However in contrary to Feltz (2007) a psychological research study conducted by Jones et al (1994) and Edwards & Hardy (1996) illustrate the importance of high levels of confidence in athletes success. The research presented a positive correlation between self confidence and skilled performers, however it is still in debate as to whether the relationship perceived is a casual or a direct one (Feltz 1988). Taking into account this literature review, it was copiously apparent that during conducting interviews Jones & Hardy found that within athlete’s minds, self confidence was extrememly significant especially if they were to attain the levels of performance which they sought (Jones,Hardy& Gould 1996). This in turn reinforces the consequence of self confidence on performance and how it must be present if success is required. An additional study that has been conducted to emphasise self confidence in athletes is Mahoney et al (1987) who carried out an experiment which identified psychological skills in elite and non elite performers. There use of instrumentation was a questionnaire they issued it to 713 athletes from 23 sports, the results proved that elite performers had higher and more stable levels of self confidence than the non elite athletes therefore was suggested that there were major differences factoring between elite and non elite performers.

Another theory surrounding the notion of self confidence was founded by Feltz (2007) who identified the self concept theory, he emphasises that even though a number of terms are associated to self-confidence it should, however not be confused with the construct, and that Self-concept represents an amalgamated view of oneself that is developed during evaluative experiences and social interactions. In congruence with what Bandura has previously distinguished, Fetlz (2007) also recognizes however, that a global self-concept will not envisage the intra-individual variability in performance as well as self-confidence discernment which vary across activities and circumstances.

Within the domain of self confidence there appears to be two main approaches to the study and measurement of self confidence in sport: sport confidence and self-efficacy. Sport confidence (Vealey, 1986) refers to the belief that an athlete possesses about his or her ability to be successful in sport in general (trait sport confidence) and in specific sport competitions (state sport confidence). Self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986) refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capabilities to be successful in executing specific tasks and skills in specific situations, and is measured in terms of the strength, level, and generality of self-efficacy. Banduras (1986) self efficacy theory and Vealeys (1986) sport confidence model present quite diverse approaches to confidence. Self efficacy is very much a situation specific conceptuilaistion in comparison to the sport confidence model which is far more generalised. An explicit strength that the sport confidence model exemplifies is is its parsimonious approach, this is proven on the basis that its logical and in turn an accurate tool for sport psychologists to use. However at a more contextual level the specificity of self efficacy can be used more efficiently. Feltz and Chase (1998) stated that Vealey’s notion of sport-confidence shares similarities with Bandura’s conceptualization of self-efficacy on the basis that they are both built around the social cognitive theory. Subsequently, both can be regarded as cognitive mechanisms through which individuals mediate their motivation and behavior within a goal context.

2.2 Self efficacy:

Self efficacy is an identifiable and important attribute within sport. Coaches, players and psycholoigists all recognize the power-full and imperative effects that this psychological construct can have on behaviour, feelings and thoughts (Feltz,short &Sullivan 2008) . It is important to understand that expectation of efficacy will by no means produce a desired performance, providing that the component cabilities are lacking.

A study that has become increasingly accepted is that of Bandura’s (1977) self efficacy theory, this theory was initially progressed within the construct of social cognitive theory (Feltz & Chase,1998). The theory proclaims that individual self confidence derives from self efficacy levels. Self efficacy simply represents a form of situation specific to self confidence (Hardy ,Jones & Gould,1996).

Feltz states that the terms “self confidence” and “self efficacy” have been used to describe ones perceived capability to accomplish a certain level of performance. Bandura defines “self efficacy” as;

“The conviction one has, to execute successfully, the behaviour required to produce a certain outcome and thus, can be considered a situational specific slef confidence”.

Whereas, Vealey (1986). Defines self efficacy as “the belief or degree of certainty individuals possess about their ability to be successful in sport” (p.222). Short & Stewart (2008, p223) states that Self-efficacy is defined as “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (Bandura, 1997: p.3).

Both self confidence and self efficacy relate to individuals’ perceived capability to aquire a certain level of perfromace (Bandura, 1986; Feltz, 1988). The fundamental principle surrounding the self efficacy theory is that different levels of self efficacy in turn predict actual performance assuming that necessary skills and incentives are present ( Weiss, Weise and Kilint 1989). Self-efficacy is not considered, by Bandura (1977, 1986, 1997), to be a synonym for self-confidence. However, many people concerned in area of sport psychology often use the terms interchangeably since the latter is far more familiar to athletes and those not in the academic arena. Short and Stewart (2008) claim that Bandura (1997) prefers the use of self-efficacy over self-confidence ( p.224).

In relation to athletes Hardy, Jones and Gould (1999) suggest that elite athletes with high levels of self efficacy put under a high pressured situation should in turn allow them to maintain their commitments to difficult goals, and increase persistence. This will in turn allow them to attribute their failure to unstable factors appose to stable factors this therefore can draw comparison with how non elite athletes attribute their failure which inturn are down to factors such as; stable factors. Different people who inhabit similar skills such as an elite athelte, or undeniably the same person under different situations might perform poorly, adequately or exceptionally well depending upon fluctuation in their personal effeicacy beliefs (Hays et al, 2007). This is sustained by Bandura (1997) who states that self efficacy beliefs are an important contributor to performance accomplishments, whatever the underlying skill of the performer is (Hays et al 2007).

Similar to other subject topics in sport psychology the focus of self-efficacy research studies has varied over time and is reflective of the paradigmatic evolution of the field, Short & Sterwart (2008). Bandura (1997) states that the study of self efficacy beliefs in sport should not be limited to physical proficiency it can include all aspects of performance, like game situations, selecting effective strategies, predicting opponents’ actions, using imagery, managing pressure and distractions.

Bandura (1977) questioned how efficacy beliefs are formed, Bandura (1997) theorizes that they are a creation of an intricate process of self appraisal and self persuasion that therefore depends on cogniotive processing. He then branded these sources as past performance accomplishments, Vicarious experiences, Verbal persuasion and Emotional arousal.

According to Bandura (1986, 1997) past performance accomplishments is said to be the most significant source of efficacy information for athletes because they are based on their own experiences. There has been overwhelming support for the influence of past performance accomplishments on self-efficacy beliefs (Short & Stewart, 2009). Moritz et al. (2000) established, that as an athelete increases thier experience on a specific task over time, performance consequently develop’s into a stronger predictor of self-efficacy than self-efficacy is of performance. Secondly there is Vicarious experiences, this is derived through observing and comparing oneself with others or with norms (Feltz et al., 2008). It is apparent that through sport, athletes will always be “sizing themselves up” against other athletes (Short & Stewart, 2009). An example of this is based on Weinberg et al. (1980) results, Bandura claimed that ‘a formidable-looking opponent instils lower efficacy beliefs than does one who looks less impressive’ (1997: 18). Consequently, an opponent who appears intimidating will as a result cause their opponent’s efficacy beliefs to instantly decrease in comparison to an opponent who did not exhibit those qualities.

Another source of efficacy, verbal persuasion, takes place when significant others express their support for one’s capabilities to succeed. This can comprise of, coaches’ positive feedback, parents’ encouragement, and self-talk. Verbal persuasion is an essential factor in motivating individuals to persist in their efforts, if persuaders assessment is within realistic bounds, although on its own is limited (Bandura, 1977). The last source is, physiological efficacy this can manipulate self-efficacy, due to the association people make between the level of physiological arousal/specific emotions and their performances. To illustrate this, an athlete can associate nervousness (e.g. sweaty palms) with a bad performance, feeling nervous about a game could lower his/her self-confidence. Therefore as a result of this it is apparent, that how arousal is interpreted by an athlete influences people’s self-efficacy.

Performance accomplishments

Vicarious experience

Verbal persuasion

Emotional arousal

Efficacy expectations

Maddux (1995) and Schunk (1995) have since proposed there are six sources of efficacy predictors. They have created a separate category for imaginal experiences instead of including it as part of vicarious experiences and have split physiological states from emotional states. Thus, developments from Bandura’s (1997) self-efficacy theory have led to more sport specific models being introduced (Vealey, 1986, 1998).

2.3 Vealey’s Conceptual Model of Sport Confidence

Although the theory surrounding self efficacy advanced the area of self confidence enormously it was applied through the wide field of clinical psychology. Vealey (1986) proposed a more applicable and conceptualised model, which has been evidently expanded within the discipline of sport psychology. Vealey believed that the sport confidence model would allow for a more consistent prediction of behaviour across the diverse sporting situations.

Delving in more depth in to the subject topic of sport confidence shows that there are three constructs. Firstly trait sport confidence this is considered by (Weinbourg & Gould 1999,p,286)

“the belief or degree of certainty individuals usually posess about their ability to be successful in sport”

A trait in an individuals personality is predominately stable. Then secondly state sport confidence is (Vealey, 1986, p. 223).

“state sport confidecnce which is defined as “the belief or degree of certainty individuals possess at one particular moment about their ability to be successful in”

To further this model an extra construct was added, which is comepteive orientation, this progresses from the proposal that success means different things to different people. This construct accounts for individual differences in defining success in sport (Vealey,1988). Competitive orientation was incorporated within the model based on Maehr and Nicholls (1989) idea that success equates to different things and subsequently to different people. Vealey (1998) predicted that SC-trait interacts with competitive goal orientation to elicit a SC-state that directly influences behaviour and performance.

Vealey developed three tools in which would allow to test the relationship shows within the model; firstly the state sport confidence inventory (SSCI), Trait sport confidence inventory (TSCI), and the competitive orientation inventory (COI). It has also become apparent that researchers have used the competitive state anxiety inventory-2 (CSAI2), to measure confidence levels in sport situation.

A limitation of Vealey’s (1986) conceptual model of sport confidence was that it withdrew from compriseing social and organisational factors on the development of athletes. For example, significant others such as coaches and families can have an momentous impact on many athletes’ confidence levels and research has supported that perceived cultural appropriateness of an activity has been shown to affect confidence levels in males and females (Clifton & Gill, 1994; Lirgg, 1991; Lirgg et al., 1996). Vealey et al. (1998) suggested that athletes rely on sources of confidence depending on the activity they are engaged in. Therefore a new model was proposed by Vealey (1998).

2.4 Sources of sport confidence

There have been two programmes of research that have investigated the sources of sport confidence. Sources of sport confidence can be defined as the sources that athletes use for judgment of their confidence, for example, where they derive their confidence from. Firstly, Vealey’s model of sport confidence which was originally developed over 20 years ago, has now been refined to include sources of sport confidence. The model predicts that demographic, personality characteristics and organizational culture can influence athletes’ sources of sport confidence. Demographic characteristics include any personal characteristics, such as: age, sex, type of sport. Personality characteristics, attitudes and values of athletes comprise of competitive orientation and self-esteem. The organizational variables encompass motivational climate, competitive level, types of sport, goals, structural expectation of particular sport programmes (Vealey, 2001). Secondly Hay et al.’s (2007) recently published a qualitative study on the sources and types of confidence in sport. Short et al (2008) drew comparisons and similarities with Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy (see table 1). In addition, they also contain unique sources that are specific to athlete populations.

The connotation of investigating the sources of confidence in sport has been speculated to have practical and theoretical implications. Firstly theoretically, these sources provide a foundation for levels of self-confidence and subsequent affect (e.g., how an athlete feels), cognition (e.g., what athletes’ think about during sport) and behaviours (e.g., how an athlete responds). Then looking from a practical standpoint, self-confidence is viewed by numerous athletes as unstable; this over time would seem to be a function of the sources upon which confidence is based (Vealey & Sinclair, 1987). It is crucial therefore that when assesing athletes that the investigator identifies the most important aspects to the athlete, before intervening to enhance that confidence.

In Short & Stewart’s (2008) chapter it is identified that Vealey et al (1998) sought to recognize the sources of sport confidence for athletes. Her data was based on samples of high school and intercollegieate athletes. This instantly draws comparison with Hays et al (2007) who sought after sources and types of confidence for identified world class performers. Nevertheless they both illustrate similarities between each other as they both sought after the most important and most valued sources of sport confidence employed and utlised by athletes within a sporting context (short&Stewart, 2008).

During a study of 500 high school and collegiate athletes from a variety of sports, Vealey et al. (1998) identified nine sources of confidence. These were mastery (i.e., improving or mastering skills), demonstration of ability (i.e., demonstrating or showing off abilities to the opponents), physical/mental preparation (i.e., feeling physically and mentally prepared for competition), physical self-presentation (i.e., one’s physical self-image), social support (i.e., perceiving support, positive feedback and encouragement from significant others in sport), vicarious experience (i.e., watching others perform successfully), coach’s leadership (i.e., believing coaches’ leadership abilities), environmental comforts (i.e., familiar with surroundings in environment) and situational favourableness (i.e., feelings that situations are going their way) (see table 1). It is apparent that these sources overlap with the sources that were identified by Bandura (1997) highlighted in the self-efficacy theory, though are more specific to the context of competitive sport, and also see that there is similairites with Hay et al (2007). Vealey et al. (1998) further examined which sources were the best predictors of sport confidence levels. Futhermore within Vealey’s study it was found that several sources were deemed more important than others such as; physical/mental preparation,social support and mastery among was rated in their top five. Vealey also found that other characteristics had an impact on the sources, Vealey identified an aspect such as gender affected the salience of the sources of sport confiedence, (Vealey et al 1998).

These nine sources formed the sub-scale structure of the Sources of Sport Confidence Questionnaire (SSCQ; Vealey et al., 1998). Presently, the SSCQ is the only questionnaire designed to assess athlete’s sources of confidence. Nevertheless, justification for the SSCQ is based upon high school and collegiate athlete’s and therefore can not be generalised for all athletic groups. Wilson et al.’s (2004) study considered the sources of sport confidence in master athletes and even though results were similar, it was infact unsuccessful in replicating the nine sources of confidence in Vealey’s et al. (1998) SSCQ. As an alternative then, there were fewer items and the situational favourableness factor was removed. Participants in phase four competed in a team sport. This inventory does not compute self-confidence as a multidimensional construct as it only accounts for the sources of sport confidence, and also does not take into account different types of sport confidence that is evident in more recent research on world class athletes (Hays et al., 2007).

Hays et al (2007) suggested that the organisational culture of world class sport differed from other results within previous studies taken out by psychologists such as Magyar & Duda,(2000) where they used intercollegiate athletes. It was proven that they differed in terms of where their confidence derived from and whether it is from alternative sources. Flecther,Hanton & Mellalieu,(2006) who also identify that organizational culture of world class sport, reinforce that it is likely to differ significantly from that of high school athletes, due to reasons such as; world class athletes are constantly being subjected to additional organizational stressors that will most probably not be present in lower level competition, Hays et al (2007, p436).

Demaine and Short (2007) also conducted a study on the sources of sport confidence to examine differences in the sources of sport confidence according to sport involvement factors (i.e., age, total years playing, playing time and athletic scholarship). Participants used were 265 female college basketball players they completed the TSCI and SCI. It became evident thro Results showed that the most popular sources, in order, were: social support, coaches’ leadership, physical and mental preparation, mastery, demonstration of ability, vicarious experience, environmental comfort, situational favourableness and physical self-presentation. The sources identified by athletes did not differ according to the sport-involvement factors; however, these variables together predicted sport confidence. All of the studies identified in this section refer to quantitative methods. More recently qualitative methodologies have been adopted.

2.5 Individual Differences

As well as the research analysed above, many studies have been conducted to understand individual differences such as gender, performance level, and sport type.

Results from studies that scrutinize gender difference in self-confidence have been ambiguous. Several studies present that male athletes demonstrate a higher self-confidence than female athletes (Meyers & LeUnes, 1996; Trafton et al., 1997), yet, other studies account that there is no apparent gender difference (Cox & Whaley, 2004; Perry & Williams, 1998). Even though the disparity in the level of confidence between male and female still is uncertain, gender difference seems to subsist in sources of confidence. Within the study by Vealey et al. (1998), females perceived social support and physical self-presentation as more important than the male participants. Previous studies have supported this (e.g., Jones et al., 1991). Hays et al.’s (2007) and Gill (1998) studies established that in fact male athlete’s sources of confidence centred around competitive outcomes. In contrast, the females identified good personal performances as a source of their confidence. However, looking aside from gender and any other characteristic said to affect ones self confidence, Williams (2006) states that if athlete is sufficiently motivated and have become aware of the relationships between their thoughts and behaviour they can in turn develop their self confidence. Self confidence is not only critical to sport performance but also to central to a wide array of behaviours in the wider world out side of sport.

An additional individual difference is skill level, it can have a immense influence on levels of self-confidence. Early research conducted by Mahoney et al. (1977) established that the level of pre-competition self-confidence was one of the important differences between US gymnasts. It was reported that the Olympic qualifiers alleged higher, more stable levels of self-confidence in comparison to non-elite athletes. Studies by George (1994) and McPherson (2000); have also supported this statement. Another investigation by Perry and Williams (1998) looked into to the comparison of levels of confidence within different skill levels of tennis players (novice, intermediate, advanced). It was found that the advanced skilled level athletes had significant higher self-confidence than that of the intermediate and novice skilled athletes, however the difference between novice and intermediate athletes deemed no noteworthy difference. A study more recently investigated by Hays et al.’s (2007) explored how important world class performers rated self confidence. It was exposed that for them have a sense of feeling self-confidence in turn was associated with a triumphant sporting performance, therefore when experiencing low levels of sport confidence, the athletes were probable to a poor performance. It is noticeable that Elite studies principally engage in male athletes (Gill, 1992) and therefore more studies including females would be desired.

2.6 Rationale

The literature that has been conversed in this chapter demonstrates the predominate finding that those who possess high levels of confidence are more likely to be successful. The early quantitative research of Vealey has been used as a foundation of sport confidence, recently Hays et al (2007) identified the need for specific research to be specific to elite and non elite athletes. Individual differences such as gender, sport types and performance levels need further investigation. It is therefore the intention of the author to illustrate a comparison of elite and non-elite female netball players of their sources and levels of confidence along side with how important they deem it. It has been devised to try and illustrate the diversity between an athlete who plays under high pressure and strict regime to a player who plays socially, training once a week and occasionally competing in friendly games. Vealey (2001) suggests that more research is needed to fully understand how self confidence is manifested in the unique context of sport (Hays et al, 2007, p,436).This therefore has a direct impact of the study being taken out as Netball is predominately female led and in relation to the study only female participants will take part.


That elite will have higher levels of self confidence and non elite and that elite athelets will rate different sources of self confidence higher and lower than that of non elite ethelets and that there should be a considerable difference

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