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Posted 11/08/2018 in Category 1

How to Overcome Self Doubt in Sports

How to Overcome Self Doubt in Sports

Self-doubt in sports refers to the lack of confidence or belief in oneself to perform well in a particular sport or athletic activity. It can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  • Doubting one's ability to perform specific skills or techniques required in the sport.
  • Questioning one's fitness level or physical ability to perform at a high level.
  • Feeling anxious or nervous about competing or performing in front of an audience.
  • Comparing oneself to other athletes and feeling inferior or inadequate.
  • Believing that past failures or mistakes define one's abilities and potential for success.
  • Feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by the pressure to perform well.

These feelings of self-doubt can have a significant impact on an athlete's confidence and ability to perform at their best. It is essential to recognize and address these feelings to overcome them and perform with confidence and success.

How Does Self Doubt Affect Performance in Sport?

Self-doubt can affect athletic performance both positively and negatively depending on the individual and their mindset.

Positive effects of self-doubt in sport:

  • Motivation: Self-doubt can be a powerful motivator, driving athletes to work harder and strive for improvement in their performance.
  • Humility: Self-doubt can keep athletes humble, allowing them to recognize their weaknesses and work to improve them.
  • Preparedness: Self-doubt can encourage athletes to be more prepared and vigilant, leading to increased focus and attention to detail.

Negative effects of self-doubt in sport:

  • Anxiety: Self-doubt can lead to anxiety and nervousness, which can negatively impact an athlete's performance by causing them to doubt their abilities and overthink their movements.
  • Lack of confidence: Self-doubt can erode an athlete's confidence, leading to poor decision-making, hesitation, and a lack of assertiveness.
  • Self-sabotage: Self-doubt can cause athletes to undermine their own performance, either by not pushing themselves hard enough or by giving up too easily.

Overall, self-doubt can have both positive and negative effects on athletic performance. The key is to learn how to manage self-doubt in a healthy way, leveraging its motivating power while minimizing its negative impacts. This can be achieved through techniques such as positive self-talk, visualization, and focusing on the present moment.

Example of Self Doubt in Sport

One of our favourite sporting quotes is from Nick Faldo recalling the 1996 Masters Golf Tournament. He recalls what he was saying to himself on the first tee in the final round when paired against Greg Norman.

“The wheels are going to come off every minute … No, no, no. Don’t you believe it. Just focus on what you have to do … What shot do you want to hit here? … I want to hit a solid drive, a touch of fade … Fine good that’s more like it … Now, where exactly do you want to land it? … left side of the fairway.”*

Of course this Masters tournament is famous for Greg Norman losing a six shot lead to Nick Faldo who eventually won. It paints a picture of nerveless Nick Faldo triumphing over someone struggling their emotions. Yet this quote is interesting because it shows Nick Faldo had doubts. It also shows how Nick Faldo combated those doubts by talking to himself. This is an example of how controlling his psychological state and remaining focused was an active process and Nick Faldo was able to keep his focus on what he had to do. In many situations positive self-talk can be useful tool to counteract doubts and keep focused on what we wish to achieve and maintain performance.

How to Overcome Self Doubt in Sport

Self-doubt is a common feeling that athletes experience from time to time, and it can have a negative impact on their performance. Here are some ways to overcome self-doubt in sports:

  • Recognize and acknowledge your self-doubt: Acknowledge that you are feeling self-doubt and accept it. Understand that it is normal to have doubts, and it does not mean that you are not good enough.
  • Focus on your strengths: Instead of focusing on your weaknesses, concentrate on your strengths. Think about the skills and abilities that you excel at and remind yourself of the successes you have had in the past.
  • Practice positive self-talk: Use positive affirmations and self-talk to boost your confidence. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones, such as "I can do this" or "I am capable."
  • Visualize success: Picture yourself succeeding in your sport. Visualization can help you build confidence and increase your chances of success.
  • Set realistic goals: Set achievable goals for yourself and focus on the process rather than the outcome. This can help you stay motivated and build confidence as you work towards your goals.
  • Seek support: Talk to your coach, teammates, or a mental health professional if you are struggling with self-doubt. They can offer guidance and support to help you overcome your doubts.

Remember, self-doubt is a normal feeling, and everyone experiences it at some point. The key is to acknowledge it, and use these strategies to overcome it and perform at your best.

If you would like advice on mental skills in sport and overcoming self doubt we would strongly encourage you to speak to a specialist. You can find sport psychology consultants listed on our site, by visiting our home page and using our searchable directory of sport performance specialists.  


*Quote Source - Matthew Syed (The Times – 16th July, 2008, p.66).

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay