The more we believe in ourselves and in that about which we are passionate, the more likely we are to follow through and to be successful. This can be no truer than for an ice hockey goaltender and a path always involves peaks and valleys of emotions, success, failure and more than enough criticism.
When discussing confidence as it relates to athletic performance what are we really talking about?
Basically when an athlete is confident he or she has absolute belief in their ability to execute that which is required to succeed in their sport. However, an athlete, like any individual, may be generally confident but not necessarily in certain situations, which is known in sport psychology as self-efficacy. Based on the work of Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is the strength of an individual’s belief that he or she can successfully execute a task under a certain set of circumstances.
In other words, self-efficacy is situation-specific self-confidence.
For example, a goaltender is going to face a penalty shot late in the third period that may likely determine the outcome of the game. The goalie has faced the shooter in the past and had success. The goaltender also has a very strong history of success with penalty shots and feels comfortable with the pressure.
There are clear reasons why the goaltender should have high self-efficacy in this critical situation. But a different goaltender placed in identical circumstances may become paralysed and fail due to negative thought patterns.
The interesting question is what contributes to confidence or the lack thereof? This is of critical importance for a coach or parent to understand for purposes of building or rebuilding confidence in a goaltender and how to proceed.
Psychologists have theorized about the nature of athletic confidence and contributing factors have been established by authors like Deborah Feltz, a Kinesiology Department Chair at Michigan State University, in her 1984 book, Cognitive Sport Psychology (pages 191-198).
One of the most important factors is effective and productive training sessions, both on and off the ice.
If a goaltender is lazy and is not putting forth effort to improve and prepare for competition, it only seems natural self-doubt may enter the picture when facing a well-prepared opponent. In other words, preparation is a huge factor in becoming and remaining confident. It is one thing to be naturally talented, but at the higher levels of any sport effort and preparation are vital to success. Jack Nicklaus validates these sentiments when, speaking of golf, he said,” Confidence is the most important single factor in this game, and no matter how great your natural talent, there is only one way to obtain and sustain it: work.”
Another consideration is that of performance accomplishments.
At a young age, goaltenders are introduced to many difficult techniques. With time, dedication and proper execution the techniques become refined skills. The importance of all this is that confidence is a gradual progressive process. As a goaltender achieves success at one level (like, say, catching the puck in the trapper) they become more eager to attempt more difficult things (like a trapper catch moving laterally from a slide), and so the process continues for many years.
The process can, however, be derailed at any time, with confidence lost and not to return.
The most important considerations to establishing high self-efficacy are past performance experiences and performance success.
This may include recent competition. For example, if a goaltender played a fantastic game against a certain rival a week ago and is now to play the same team again it seems only logical the athlete should be confident about the possibility of another good game. The goaltender may even have a psychological advantage over the opponent due to the last performance. In fact, this is the reason why a coach may start a certain goaltender versus a certain team based on history.
Previous overall competitive success – the kind a successful experienced veteran has – is the single most important contributing factor in the self-efficacy model.
For example, you are currently in a deep play-off run against a very worthy opponent and you won the league championship the last two seasons. It may be during a difficult time in a game, or with a series deficit, that you draw confidence from your past achievements which allows you to buckle down and make critical saves.
Why? Both because you know you have to, you want to and, most importantly, you have done it in the past.
It also transcends beyond your own performance and instils confidence in your teammates.
Comments from supporters and critics can have a tremendous effect on confidence. We’d expect family and friends to provide supportive comments in both victory and defeat. And we’d expect critics to sit on the sidelines, having the advantage of hindsight, and over-analyze everything. But it is the coach that can place things in the proper context by deciding what needs to be said and what is better left out of the picture. This contribution to self-efficacy is known as verbal persuasion.
The key word is persuasion.
If recent performances have not been successful then self-efficacy may be low and the persuasions, or “pep-talk”, may fall on deaf ears. Logical persuasion on the part of the coach citing specific examples can potentially make the difference in convincing the goaltender they can perform well.
Generic comments such as “you can do it” are worthless if the athlete’s mental outlook needs re-programming.
The comments must be very example specific.
An example of this could be found in the Olympic men’s gold medal tennis match between Roger Federer and hometown boy Andy Murray. Having lost less than a month earlier to Federer in the Wimbledon final, the easy road for Murray could have been to say he can’t beat someone most consider the greatest tennis player in history. If he sensed any self doubt from his player, Murray’s coach could have used persuasion like specific positive feedback that the Wimbledon match was very close (four sets including a tie breaker) and but for a critical point here and there, or a service break, the outcome could have been different.
Being involved with the success of others may also contribute to over situational confidence; however, it has to be peer-related confidence so the goaltender in question relates to the success of the other individual.
If a pee wee-aged goaltender sees the accomplishments of someone with whom he or she believes they are athletically equal to or better than, this can serve as a motivating force propelling the goalie on to greater success.
The state of arousal is also a contributing factor in performance success and therefore adds to self-efficacy.
This is an interesting topic to be addressed in more detail elsewhere. However, it is reasonable to state that which is desired in any athlete to succeed is optimal arousal. Some athletes get too pumped up while some remain too flat emotionally.
Muscle tension, sweating, palpitations and gastro-intestinal symptoms suggest poor stress management requiring coping strategies.
Trial and error based on experience with success and failure is necessary to determine what thoughts and emotions are facilitative and detrimental to performance. In one situation relaxation techniques like breathing control may help decrease arousal while playing energizing music, or visualization exercises, may help increase the athlete’s physiologic and emotional readiness.
To be success in any life endeavour you need to be confident in your ability to succeed and this includes competitive sports.
The intent of this article is to introduce the reader to the concept situation-specific confidence, or self-efficacy, and contributing factors. It hopefully provides coaches, parents and goaltenders will some general insight into how confidence is developed and how to promote it if (or when) performance self-doubt arises.