Great Athletes Possess Great Confidence

Great Athletes Possess Great Confidence

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.

Dr. Kevin Goddu, Ph.D.
Head Golf Professional
Butter Brook Golf Club
Westford, MA


Positive Self-Talk: “Why not say something positive about yourself?”

Our thoughts determine our feelings. Our feelings determine our actions.

Words and thoughts we say to ourselves, commonly referred to as Self-Talk, can be used to direct attention to a particular thing to improve focus or in conjunction with other techniques.

Self-Talk is generated within our minds or it can be verbalized. It can improve behavior depending upon how we interpret its words.

Negative Self-Talk produces adverse feelings, anxiety, and physical tension with performance. It affects our intensity regulation, confidence, and concentration. Positive Self-Talk, however, produces constructive feelings and improve performance.

“The Tale of Two Wolves” is a Cherokee legend that illustrates the choices we have to think either positively or negatively.

As the story goes, an old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

“Staying positive in negative situations is the hallmark of mentally strong individuals,” observed mental strength coach, Gregg Swanson. Sport psychologist Jim Afrenow noted, “Understanding that this choice [positive Self-Talk] is yours alone is very empowering and important.”

Talking to one’s self isn’t a sign of mental problems. Having an internal conversation is normal and useful. Self-Talk is more than just building self-confidence. It allows you to use your talents to the fullest. It is neither a mindless positive affirmation nor only happy thoughts nor self-delusion. It can give you a handle for controlling moods. It can help you understand why you react the way you do. And, it helps you repeat success and curtail shortcomings.

Restructuring negative to positive Self-Talk is vital to a successful athlete. An athlete who misses a scoring opportunity may say, “I can’t believe I messed up” or “I stink a this, and I’m no good” can change the focus to “there are better scoring chances” and “bring it on!”

“The ultimate purpose of examining what is going on inside your head is to change actions that are self-defeating,” wrote Swanson. “Thinking correctly does alter your negative moods, but enduring change comes only with modifying your behavior.”

How do we do this? Keep your Self-Talk phrases short and specific. Speak to yourself in the first-person and in the present tense. Say what you want done not what you do not want done. Say these positive words to yourself with meaning and intensity. Finally, speak kind to yourself. Don’t berate yourself if something goes wrong.

Both positive and negative Self-Talk are certainly options for the athlete. The negative Self-Talk focuses on the past (anger, regret, and frustration) while the positive Self-Talk thrives on the present and overflows with optimism (strengthen focus, excitement, and relaxation).

“The mind guides actions. If we succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our behavior,” noted psychologist Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis.


Dr. Kevin Goddu, Ph.D.
Head Golf Professional
Butter Brook Golf Club
Westford, MA


Positive Self-Talk










Sport Performance

Feel Good About Your Sport Performance

Many great players have pursued honing a perfect technique in order to improve their consistency and improve results. Players like Tiger Woods and Serena Williams are perfectionists. They have learned how to get away with the “perfectionist mindset.”

Sport Psychologist Patrick Cohen noted perfectionists have an intense work ethic. They are driven. They have desire. They are motivated. Perfectionists have a great practice mentality. They are always on time. They have a love for practice. They are comfortable in their practice routine. They want to get better. And, they are coachable. In fact, coaches love them, because they hang on everything they say. Great things can happen with being a perfectionist.

However, the problems of perfectionism seem to emerge during competition. Suddenly, it begins to influence how an athlete plays and thinks. Why does this happen? “At its core are the setting of unrealistic goals, a self-focus on performance, and self-criticism over flaws and mistakes,” wrote Jeff Elison of Adams State College and Julie Partridge of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The athlete tries too hard to be perfect. The perfectionist carries a high, often unrealistic expectation during competition. Outcome focus results rather than process focus. Suddenly, the athlete worries too much about what others think—coach, parents, friends, competition. Over thinking interferes with performance, a “paralysis of analysis” syndrome induces underperformance by over thinking. Confidence becomes fragile, and emotions oscillate. The athlete becomes easily upset. “Shame is one of the many emotions that can result from an athletic performance,” noted Elison and Partridge.

When perfection interferes with competition, the athlete needs to trust in his skills and be free to perform. As Bob Rotella said, “Train it and trust it.”

We need to understand the difference between skill and technique. Technique is an efficient way of performing a task. Skill is the ability to get a task completed, irrespective of style or technique. Skill is a feeling and more freedom focused; technique is rigid and compartmentalized.

Most athletes who strive to be perfectionist have some level of skill, but in their quest to improve their consistency, they over focus on technique and as a result their skill diminishes.

The desire to play perfectly, consistently, and mistake-free (like a machine) is an emotional one. Mistakes become painful.

Athletes, who attach their self-confidence to playing abilities, need to first trust in themselves, second trust in their skills, and third trust their technique.

So do we abandon technique and focus on skill? No way! Just as we want to improve skill, so we want to improve technique by focusing on improving technical competence while avoiding perfection. “Ultimately,” wrote Lynda Mainwaring, “a positive and perfect performance is about doing one’s best, feeling good about the performance, and feeling good about one’s self. This is about adaptive performance perfection, or mastery, not adaptive perfectionism.”


Dr. Kevin Goddu, Ph.D.
Head Golf Professional
Butter Brook Golf Club
Westford, MA




Best Game

Your Best Game is All In Your Head

What allows an athlete to play the best possible game ? His ability to visualize the outcome in his mind.

Your brain is the physical expression of your mind.

“Your mind is the most powerful weapon you have,” wrote Darrin Donnelly. “It affects everything.”

Elite athletes and sports psychologists know that talent and hard work will get an athlete in the door, but attitude will be the greatest measure of success. Lawrie Montague and David Milne noted that one of the biggest challenges an athlete faces is to stay true to their “course of learning without being side-tracked along the way.”

Thinking interferes with performance. The more you are distracted, the less you are capable of learning. So if you strive toward success, you must decide how to think on the field of competition. Your mental focus becomes your destiny. Success begins in your mind. But, so does failure.

Certainly, you can focus on the mechanics. All athletes know practice hones specific skill sets. The idea that “practice makes perfect” is a false concept; practice makes permanent. Yet, practice does train the brain not to overthink. It reinforces, repeats movements, and is proactive. For example, a golfer hitting balls on the practice range reinforces his or her timing and technique to create a repeatable swing.

However, hard work does not guarantee success. Doing the wrong things in practice can ruin your performance. Poor techniques become ingrained in the mind and difficult to overcome. Additionally, tweaking with technique may correct one fault but may produce problems in other areas (usually from overuse or neglect in other areas).

Tweaking techniques cause inconsistency. You may not immediately see the results. Thus, more tweaking is done because you see no noticeable change. No change erroneously means more tweaking must be done. Every time you tweak, and change is not noticeable, you lose trust.


Best Game

Bob Rotella said, “To improve, you must practice. But the quality of your practice is more important than the quality.”

The best way to improve your game is to improve your mental game. To be successful, an athlete must work hard and work smart. Tim Grover, a trainer to elite athletes as Michael Jordan and Dwayne Wade, noted, “to be the best, whether in sports or business or any other aspect of life, it’s never enough to just get to the top; you have to stay there, and then you have to climb higher.” You need to be relentless. You need to be mentally tough.

Improving your mental side of the game is just as important as the physical side.

To develop mental toughness means to improve your confidence, play with trust, sharpen your focus, keep your emotions in check, stay in the present, reduce anxiety, improve learning, and build trust. Athletes, who practice and acquire strong mental skills, learn to sharpen their minds and focus on the little things.


Here are eight mental training tips that can help.
  • Set goals — Realistic and measurable.
  • Commit to your sport — Do what it’ll take to be the best physically and mentally.
  • Be confident — A positive attitude and success begin in the mind.
  • Mental composure — Anxiety and pressure can be overcome. Become aware of what you are feeling and decide how to respond. Turn anxiety into positive energy (“I care about this …”).
  • Coping through difficult situations — Choose how to respond in different situations.
  • Challenges are opportunities — Rise to the challenge and view challenges as opportunities for positive outcomes.
  • Visualize — Imagine becoming successful at a task. There is no risk of physical injury. See yourself successfully winning a race, batting a ball, scoring the winning goal.
  • Relax — Learn to breathe. Practice relaxation techniques.

These eight tips are not the only tools an athlete can use to improve his or her mental game. However, they will provide the beginning of the strong foundation of success. As Glover noted, “Decide. Commit. Act. Succeed. Repeat.”


Dr. Kevin Goddu, Ph.D.
Head Golf Professional
Butter Brook Golf Club
Westford, MA





Improve Mental Game

How Can I Improve my Mental Game?

Any top performer, during practice might feel prepared and relaxed, but when the competition starts he finds himself under-performing.

The reason for his weak results it is his mental game, witch needs to be improved.

As a golf professional, my lessons often take place on the driving range. There, a student will rake a ball and pound it until he or she gets a satisfying result.

Unfortunately, I often hear this: “I hit great the balls on the range (especially under the watchful eye of an instructor), but when I get to the first tee, I lose my swing. Suddenly, I’m hitting balls in every direction but straight.” It is a frustrating experience. And, it happens a lot.

Bob Rotella noted that there are three fundamentals in the game of golf. “There are physical fundamentals (how to hit the ball), strategic fundamentals (how to play a golf course), and mental-emotional fundamentals (how to think under pressure.)”

The key to success is to think correctly. Bobby Knight said the mental is four times more important than the physical.

We play poorly because we place an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves. Everything suddenly changes when you have to count every golf shot. You become conscious of every technical move. Confidence begins to wane when you need it most. There is a big difference between making perfect golf shots on the range and putting a low number on a scorecard.

Patrick Cohn noted that confidence is why we struggle. “When you perform in practice, you play freely without worry. You have no qualms about taking risks,” he said. “In competition, you feel nervous and play it safe.”

Once you decide to take a risk and it doesn’t pay off, you play more cautiously. You are afraid to make more mistakes. A mindset develops, “I always make mistakes in competition.” This notion begins to seep into your brain, and it becomes part of your mental game.

Why do you do this? It’s because you see the competition more important than practice. It is a perception problem, not necessarily your game.

When you place more emphasis on the competition, you place more pressure on yourself. Ask yourself, “how do you feel when you practice?” You feel powerful, smooth, quick, and loose. What about the competition? You tighten up, become apprehensive, and become controlled by the circumstances.

To overcome pressure you have to learn how to take your practice to the course. Sense what you are feeling on the practice range.

  • How does it change when you reach the first tee box?
  • What fears or expectations are you experiencing?
  • How can you minimize the feeling?
  • Can you approach the first tee with the same light and confident feeling you had at the driving range only minutes before?

No matter how much you practice on the driving range if your mind isn’t in the right place your swing will not work efficiently when it matters. The thoughts you let into your mind and the way you talk to yourself determines your mental potential.

Success begins foremost in your mind. Play to your strengths. Focus on what what you do best. Focus on what motivates you at practice. And, enjoy the practice. Self-talk yourself into greatness. Snap out the negativity and think positive.

The people who succeed aren’t the ones who avoid failure; they’re the ones who learn how to respond to failures with optimism. Confidence will follow optimism; it’s not the other way around. A positive attitude delivers positive outcomes.

Dr. Kevin Goddu, Ph.D.
Head Golf Professional
Butter Brook Golf Club
Westford, MA




What Are Your Dreams?

“A person with great dreams can achieve great things,” wrote sport psychologist Bob Rotella. Your belief about yourself dictates the direction you are willing to go.


Research has steadily proved that positive thinking results in positive outcomes. And, nothing feels more fulfilling than achieving a life-long dream of becoming whatever athlete you desire.


Greatness is inspirated by dreams . Dreams allow a clear vision of what it take to achieve success. A person with a dream has a direction in his or her life. A person with a dream knows what it’ll take to be successful. A person with a dream knows the road ahead is difficult, but he or she is undeterred by it. Your dream will determine the level of commitment.

Dreams are powerful motivators. William James, nineteenth century philosopher and psychologist, said that “people by and large become what they think about themselves.” Unfortunately, many people have difficulty defining their dream. A dream is your measuring stick. It is your destination.

The dreams of athletes are not the ones that creep into your subconscious at night while you sleep. They are not the ones that mimic life. They are the goals and aspirations you carry around in your conscious head. They are the ones that say, “I will be a [fill in your desired sport or profession].

An athlete’s potential depends on attitude. Your dreams should excite you all day long. They are your passions. They may be your goal but big enough that you don’t have to write them down to remind yourself. Sport psychologist John Perry noted, “it doesn’t matter what you’re born with, it’s how you work.” Talent can take an athlete far, but one who doesn’t mind working hard and building the mental toughness can succeed.

Many professionals and coaches noted that hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard. Muhammad Ali noted, “Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them—a desire, a dream, a vision.” What goes on inside an athlete’s head determine his or her success. “Dreams are the emotional fuel that helps people take control of their lives and be what they want to be,” Rotella explained. Great performances are not necessarily the result of talent or innate athleticism but the mind.

What would it take to achieve your dream? Take some time to think through it. What would your daily routine look like? How much practice do you believe is required? What specific activities or behaviors do you see yourself doing? Identify those things that you see are extremely helpful. Rid yourself of the obstacles that interfere with your dreams. The world is full of “nay-sayers.” They will tell you that your dreams are unrealistic.

However, be cautioned. Improvement does take patience and time along with practice. Will you sacrifice for what you want or retire to a comfortable place? Will you put your best foot forward even when you don’t want to anymore? “Your vision of how you perform will become clearer and stronger,” noted sport psychologist Jim Afremow.

It is the process and not the end result that will enrich your life. However, the ability to take your dream and use it to create a process is what separates success from failure. Rotella wrote, “Without making and sustaining a commitment to an effective process, an individual cannot know her potential.” Case in point: University of North Carolina soccer coach was driving to work one morning. Passing a deserted field, he took note of one of his players doing extra training by herself. He later left a note in her locker: “The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched with sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is looking.” That player was Mia Hamm.

Whether you prefer to call it a dream or goal, the important thing is that it leads to a process—whatever you imagine it to be. Keep the dream alive and make it come true.


Dr. Kevin Goddu, Ph.D.
Head Golf Professional
Butter Brook Golf Club
Westford, MA