How to Increase Self-Efficacy in Sports

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Students have the opportunity to play many different sports if they choose to do so. In order to succeed, students need an appropriate level of self-efficacy. This lesson will discuss how to increase self-efficacy in sports to maximize success.


The Pressure is On!

It's the bottom of the ninth and the score between the Stevetown Chargers and Simonville Destroyers is 4-5. John is up at bat for Stevetown and he needs a run to tie the game and go into overtime. John's team struck out twice already so it's now or never. The team is worried because John typically strikes out. He doesn't appear confident in his ability as a batter but the coach has really worked with John to improve his accuracy. Incredibly, John hits a double and the Stevetown Chargers go on to not only tie the game, but win it! The coach is happy to see that John's self-efficacy seems to have improved.

What is Self-Efficacy?

Self-efficacy is a term that refers to one's belief in one's own abilities to succeed at something. Albert Bandura, a psychologist, came up with the self-efficacy theory in the 1970's. He proposed that people who have high self-efficacy and those who have low self-efficacy are identifiable by unique characteristics on which they have opposing outlooks. For example, people with high self-efficacy tend to:

  • Make a definite commitment to achieving high-level goals
  • Seek out tasks and opportunities which are difficult and challenging
  • Consider failures to be challenges which require additional effort
  • Approach challenging situations with confidence

In contrast, individuals with low self-efficacy are likely to:

  • Have weak goals to which they are only marginally committed
  • Avoid situations that are challenging
  • Focus on the potential negative outcomes of tasks which they are about to undertake
  • Play the victim instead of accepting responsibility for negative consequences
  • Take failures personally and hesitate to continue on a task

Self-Efficacy and Sports

Having defined self-efficacy and what differentiates individuals with high self-efficacy from those with low self-efficacy, it becomes evident that self-efficacy can play a vital role when it comes to students playing sports. When we think of sports like baseball, football, basketball, track, and soccer, for instance, we automatically envision successful athletes who are revered by spectators in the stands. These athletes, the ones hitting runs, scoring touchdowns, dunking basketballs, winning relays, and scoring goals, are the ones who have high self-efficacy. They are confident, accomplished, and get the job done. So, what about the players on the teams who are not so successful?

The Development of Self-Efficacy in Sports

Every team has them - the benchwarmers. These are the players who sit on the sidelines, waiting for their moment to shine. Among them are the players who lack confidence in their ability to play the game, or win the race. Some of the reasons for the development of low self-efficacy in sports include:

  • Past performance as an athlete during practice, scrimmage, or previous games or competitions
  • Watching the performance of other players and viewing them as clearly superior in talent
  • Poor coaching or coach specific feedback
  • Receiving little to no support or encouragement
  • Not being provided with the opportunity to demonstrate athletic skill
  • Witnessing favoritism in an unfair environment
  • One's physical and mental health

Increasing Self-Efficacy in Sports

Confidence and healthy self-efficacy are instrumental for successful athletic achievement in sports. There are several ways in which to increase self-efficacy in sports. Some examples are:

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