Great athletes have incredible beliefs in their ability to perform. “With hard work,” Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps noted, “with belief, with confidence, and trust in yourself and those around you, there are no limits.”
Self-confidence equals success. Outstanding athletes are truly self-confident. Athletes and coaches desire it most. They want to understand it; they want to learn how to enhance it. It ranks high on their list of priorities.
Confidence exudes optimism. It is described as “a tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation.”
A confident athlete thinks differently about things than other athletes. Confident athletes learn not to trust their conscious minds. They understand that the conscious mind is not their friend. The conscious mind must be trained and discipline much like the way they train their physical body. These confident athletes think they can—and often do—perform well under the pressure of competition. They imagine themselves as winners. They never give up.
In Martin Seligman’s 1991 book, Learned Optimism, he notes Zinsser, Bunker, and Williams said that “the predisposition to keep one’s mind on the positive aspects of one’s life and sports performance, even in the face of setbacks and disappointments, is a hallmark of the successful athlete.”
Seligman’s study of athletes and professional sports teams revealed that the individual with a more “optimistic explanatory style” after a defeat usually goes on to excel and win in the next competition. Seligman observed that the competitor “will win because he will try harder, particularly after defeat.”
Consider these “optimistic explanatory style” from professional baseball players as they describe the circumstances for their defeat:
- “We lost because they made the plays tonight.”
- “The ball really carried. I just about got my glove on it” [but missed catching a fly ball].
- “Sometimes you go through these kinds of days” [after a pitcher gave up a home run].
When justifying a loss or miss play, the reasons apply only to that game; blame was not placed on their performance but circumstances beyond their control. Seligman concludes thusly, “Success on the playing field is predicted by optimism. Failure on the playing field is predicted by pessimism.”
The greatest achievement in which confidence was exhibited in athletic performance was Roger Bannister in 1954 in breaking the four-minute mile. It was believed the four-minute mile was an impenetrable barrier. Bannister, on the other hand, believed it could be done. Furthermore, he believed he was the only person who could do it. Not only did he physically practice but engaged in mental rehearsal with so much intensity and conviction that he saw himself over and over again achieving this goal.
With optimistic self-confidence, the athlete can control his or her thoughts. They learn to use self-talk to facilitate learning and performance. Bannister’s greatest achievement was not only proving that through confidence that he could break the four-minute mile, but he inspired others so much that within a year 37 others also surpassed that mark.