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Mental Equipment
January 1996 Article

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Mental Equipment Archive

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The Art of Confidence

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Dr. John Murray

Athletes have long recognized a relationship between confidence and performance. Sometimes it appears that only the greatest athletes have access to that magical confidence, while all other inferior beings can only wish for it. Fortunately, this is wrong! Everyone can increase their level of confidence and perform better.

Although confidence is difficult to define, it is usually described as thoughts, feelings and actions reflecting self-belief and expectations of success.


Confident athletes entertain a rich variety of successful thoughts. The notion of failure simply never occurs during competition.


Confident athletes believe deeply in their abilities, love challenges, and feel strongly that they will prevail.


Confident athletes expect success and show it in their body language. They rarely give their opponent a confidence boost by appearing discouraged or threatened.

It is often asked what comes first, confidence or success? Although it is true that success breeds confidence, it is equally so that confidence increases one's probability for success. Success is never certain, but self-doubt, negativity, and low expectations guarantee failure.

Belief in oneself prevents harmful distractions such as anxiety, allowing for a more efficient performance focus. Confidence also adds security during slumps and helps the athlete sustain effort. Finally, self-belief prompts athletes to set higher performance goals, as greater achievements are expected and appear more attainable.

Athletes who lack confidence worry needlessly about mistakes, lose concentration, allow dangerous levels of arousal to intrude, and hasten failure by giving up. After all, there is nothing to gain by trying.

Although confidence is desired by all, there is no replacement for competence. The most confident athlete in the world still needs skill and experience to succeed. Confidence just helps make everything go more smoothly, often providing the decisive competitive edge.

Some describe the relationship between confidence and performance as an inverted U, similar to the relationship between arousal and performance. Maintaining an optimal level of confidence is important because overconfidence, or a false belief in one's ability, can also lead to reduced effort and performance.

Here are some techniques to help you develop and maintain confidence:

  1. Frequently image successful performances.

  2. Increase your level of physical fitness, as this will enhance your technique and self-image at the same time!

  3. Beat up on players slightly below your level occasionally to keep confidence alive. Some players never learn to win or develop confidence because they are always overmatched.

  4. Make a list of your strengths. Review this list regularly to remind yourself of how great you really are.

  5. Eliminate negative thoughts and memories. When they occur, replace them with positive self-statements (e.g., "I'm at my best under pressure").

  6. Have a general strategy going into each competition. Confidence will grow as your plan is executed.

  7. Keep you head up and maintain positive body language regardless of the score. The way you act will often influence the way you and your opponent feel. Act confidently, be confident!

  8. Improve on areas of weakness in practice so that you'll have more to believe in during competition.

Effort invested in self-belief will help you reach your potential. Confidence is not a luxury reserved for the divine ... just another tool for success...compliments of sport psychology. Believe in yourself and prosper! Until next month...

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Mental Equipment Archive

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This column is copyrighted by Dr. John Murray, all rights reserved.

Dr. John F. Murray is currently a licensed clinical psychologist and sport psychologist in Florida. In addition, he is a tennis professional (having taught tennis internationally in North America, Hawaii, Europe, Middle East), formerly certified with both USPTA and USPTR. He has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and masters degrees both in Clinical Psychology and Exercise & Sport Sciences from the University of Florida. He maintains a personal web site at http://www.johnfmurray.com/.

Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to John by using this form.


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