Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Truth about Self-Confidence in Sports

One of the most over-used concepts in sports and performance psychology is self-confidence. Nevertheless, this concept holds considerable legitimacy and power as a key ingredient in success and winning in sports, politics, business, and life.

The limitations of this concept lies in the individualistic nature of its use.  When we think if self-confidence, our view remains within the confines of the individual athlete.  Though some sports are obviously team sports and some are individual sports, the burden to maximize self-confidence lies in the individual performer.

Individually, perhaps no one had more self-confidence that Muhammad Ali, an individual boxer. We consider professional tennis players Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, the Williams sisters, and Maria Sharapova to have supreme self-confidence.  At the team sport level, we have assumed for years that the Chicago Bulls lived off of the off-the-chart self-confidence of Michael Jordan. Most people believe, that the New England Patriots live off the self-confidence of  Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.  Andy Murray, the new men's Wimbledon champion, is the new poster boy for self-confidence.   

Regardless of the sport, mental conditioning coaches and sports psychologist talk about self-confidence and mental toughness primarily in individual terms and typically intervene at the individual level.  Though somewhat effective, perhaps the truth of confidence lies at the group or organization level and beyond.  Even individual athletes in individual sports have coaches, trainers, agents, caddies, families, etc.  

If self-confidence is affected by how unsure an individual feels as a result of each setback or barrier to success, then their individual mindset is the unit of measure.  This maintains the burden to remove that feeling on the individual, and, perhaps, his or her willing to be influenced by others (coaches, teammates, fans, etc,). The ultimate focus and burden lies on his self-confidence and his performance.  

Self-confidence is commonly defined as the sureness of feeling that the individual (even if a part of a team) is equal to his or her task at hand.  The media and the fans as well as coaches and players tend to see the problem of self-confidence to ultimately lie at the individual level.  

A better definition of confidence is one offered by Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  It is the ability to envision a positive outcome.  This definition of confidence does not contain the limits of the individual but focuses on the outcome.    

But let's look at this systemically.  What if confidence were not placed at the feet of individuals to be collected individually like bowling scores?  What if the real burden of confidence and success were shared by all of the major stakeholders of the team, the players and the coaches as a collective entity?  

What if there were a greater collective score, called Collective Team Confidence, multiplied by the alchemy of all stakeholders in the outcome of a practice session, a game or a season?  Then, confidence would not be held in small buckets with little influence or interaction with other amounts in other buckets. Confidence would be free to interact, to influence the entire team, as a whole through their collective sense of confidence.    

With this new mindset, the responsibility for the level of confidence and, therefore, performance, could placed at a higher level, a more effective level:  at the system level, the social or community level. What if we really begin locate, measure, and hold the larger entity with the responsibility and burden of performance?   Then, confidence would no longer be held at the level of the individual athlete.

For example, if an individual athlete were no longer the locus of confidence, he would also no longer individually responsible for exihibiting, maintaining, and evaluating their level of confidence at a micro level. What if their swagger or the vibe they project was no longer the measuring stick. What if their individual play, through the ebb and flow of individual performance, mistakes, missteps and moment-by-moment was no longer the unit of measure or all to praise or ridicule. What if confidence were managed at the macro level.    
Experts in the field have concluded that Confidence is effected by six factors:  
  • Performance Accomplishments
  • Involvement in the Success of Others
  • Verbal persuasion
  • Imagery Experiences
  • Psychological States
  • Emotional States
Performance accomplishments are the strongest contributor to sport confidence. However, if we only see this happening or only evaluate this factor at the individual level, through individual scores, individual statistics, and individual accomplishment, we leave much to chance and leave much collective confidence on the table. Particularly, only team success should breed confidence, while only repeated team failure should diminish it. Individual self-confidence would then have little to do with it.   

Individuals who experience success while being involved with the success of others can also significantly bolster collective confidence.  It is contagious, regardless of the individual talent levels of the teammates.  

Verbal persuasion involves attempting to change the attitudes and behavior of those around us, and this includes changing their self-confidence. In sports, coaches often try to boost confidence by convincing individual athletes that the challenge ahead is within their individual capabilities: ‘I know you’re a great player so keep your head up and play hard!’  However, if confidence is not centered on the individual but the collective group, the task is more manageable and, once again, relies on contagion.  

Imagery experiences have to do with athletes recreating multi-sensory images of successful performance in their mind. This imagery also should be team rather than individually focused. Imagery that is focused on the team is more likely to be successful and less dependent on the abilities of accurate evaluation by the individual. Through creating such valuable team mental representations, mastery of a particular team task is far more likely. 

If the responsibility for confidence mistakenly lies with the individual, then, the physiological state of anxiety can quickly reduce feelings of confidence.  This anxiety in turn can affect performance through phenomena such as muscular tension, palpitations and butterflies in the stomach.  The psychological and emotional states that negatively affect performance at the individual level can be controlled more easily if the responsibility for confidence lies with and is shared by the team and the entire organization.

When we look closely at the concept of confidence in this way, it is much easier to manage and master.  

Next time you consider Self-Confidence in sports, consider Collective Team Confidence instead.  



Thursday, July 11, 2013

Derek Jeter: Peak Performance Case Study

"I don't know what it would be like, but I wouldn't change. Now don't get me wrong. I do understand it's a game of numbers and people are going to pay attention to your numbers, say you did this or did that. I would love to hit .400. That would be a lot better than .200. You take pride in how you play. But that shouldn't be your main focus. Your main focus should be whether you win or lose."
-- Derek Jeter, New York Yankee shortstop, discussing his attitude about winning and success.

In 2005, Derek Jeter hit .343 with 97 runs batted in and had a .417 on-base percentage. In 2006, he hit .381 with runners in scoring positions, had 14 home runs and, again, had 97 runs batted in.

"Everybody has always said that Jeter has all these intangibles and you can't measure him because he's got these other qualities that don't translate into numbers. But I thought this was the year (2006) you really could measure what he meant to the Yankees."

--Bob Klapisch, Hackensack, New Jersey columnist.

Relaxing with Derek Jeter: Success by Keeping It Simple and Cool

"You can tell he enjoys every aspect of the game. The good, the bad and the ugly, he thoroughly enjoys all of it."
--Doug Mientkiewicz, Yankee teammate.

From August 20, 2006 through May 3, 2007, Jeter had at least one hit in 59 of 61 games. That stretch began with a 25-game hitting streak, 14-game streak and a 20 game hitting streak. Since 1900 only one other player has had as many as 59 of 61 games with a hit. That was Joe DiMaggio who hit safely in 60 of 61 games in 1941, when he had his still-record 56 game hitting streak.

As of May 13, 2007, Jeter was leading the American League in hitting (.368) and hits with 50, despite the Yankees' poor start as a team.

With two outs and runners in scoring position early that season, Jeter hit .600, with nine hits in 15 at-bats, an indication of his pressure production and focus.

Leading the Yankees into the playoffs in 2007, Jeter finished the season batting .322, with 206 hits, 12 homeruns, and 73 runs batted in.

A Kid's Dream: To Be the Best Clutch Hitter of His Generation 

Timely Hits in Key Situations

"Even when you're a little kid you think about those situations. Every time you envision yourself in those situations, you come through. ... I like those situations," says Jeter, the long-time Yankee shortstop and team captain.

On September 16, 2007 Derek Jeter hit a three-run homer off Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox to break an eighth-inning tie as the Yankees held off the Red Sox 4-3 and cut Boston's AL East lead to 4 1/2 games.

"It's an honor to watch the best clutch hitter in history do his thing, and the best closer in history do his thing," said Roger Clemens, who in his first start since Sept. 3 dueled Schilling to a 1-all tie before leaving after six innings. "Jeter is one of the reasons that I got up off the couch and came back."

Jeter is batting .441 with runners in scoring position and two outs -- the best mark in the majors in 2007.

Schilling (8-8) outlasted Clemens but couldn't beat Jeter, who drove a 2-2 splitter over the Green Monster to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead. Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera, in typical fashion, held on, even after Boston cut the deficit to one and loaded the bases in the ninth.

Excerpts from ESPN.com.

Derek Jeter Continues to Have an Impact on the Yankees in the 2009 Playoffs
Captain October


"Our goal when we come into the season is to win a championship. That's how it is every year. You don't go home and celebrate regular-season championships. You don't go home and celebrate getting to the World Series. Our goal is to win it. That's been my mind-set since I've come up and it never change."

--Derek Jeter, captain and shortstop of the New York Yankees.


"The one thing that I noticed very early on in 1996 is that he had as much fun playing this game as anyone I've ever seen," said manager Joe Girardi, who played with Jeter from 1996-99. "The amazing thing is that he did it from Day One. It wasn't like he took a couple of years to do it. He did it right away."


He was the leadoff hitter for the best team in baseball in 2009 (103 wins), and the player most trusted to come through in the moments when the Yankees need it most.

"I try to get better every year," Jeter said. "I try to contribute and I try to be consistent."

Look at the career postseason leader boards in most offensive categories and you'll see that most of the top performers have had 50 or 100 plate appearances in the playoffs. Jeter's had 576. He's played nearly a full season of pressure games and enters this year's ALCS with a .311 average, .380 on-base percentage and 45 extra-base hits.

Jeter hit .412 in his very first postseason series, a Division Series win over the Texas Rangers in 1996. He was 22 and batting ninth. Jeter went 4-for-10 against the Minnesota Twins from the leadoff spot in his 26th October series in 2009.

In Game 1, he was on base four times and hit the first postseason home run at the new Yankee Stadium. In Game 2, he doubled and scored a run to draw the Yankees level in the sixth inning. In Game 3, he went 1-for-4 but made a critical -- and unusual -- play in the field to squash the Twins' best opportunity to tie the game in the eighth.


"He just gets it done," Jorge Posada, Yankees veteran catcher said. "He just gets it done always."

Every postseason game, every at-bat, every hit furthers Jeter's legacy as one of the best ever in the playoffs. He's played more games than anyone (124), had more hits than anyone (155) and scored more runs than anyone (88). His home run hitting power even seems to increase in the fall. He has 18 postseason homers, tying him with Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle for third all-time, behind Bernie Williams (22) and Manny Ramirez (28).

Does Jeter's way of playing baseball have an effect on the Yankees' opponents?

"I hate it when I play against them, but I do enjoy watching the way they play. They are professionals. They are baseball players."

-- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, talking about his envious thoughts about the Yankees.

Excerpts from MLB.com (10/06/2009), Newsday.com (10/07/2009), New York Post (10/12/2009), Westchester (N.Y.) Journal News (10/14/2009).

How Does Jeter Do It? 

KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

"I think that's where people get in trouble, when they start complicating things. It's really not that complicated. The more complicated you make it; the more difficult it is on you. You're playing a game where you fail more than you succeed. You've got to try to keep it as simple as possible."
-- Derek Jeter, discussing the essence of his ability to consistently perform at a peak level.

"Jeter is the most relaxed person that I've seen in the postseason. I would relate him to the way Ron Guidry approached it or Catfish Hunter or Mariano Rivera. There's a relaxed way to go about playing. At the same time, there's tension. You have to be mentally and physically alert. Jeter is always ready.

"The postseason is not just another game so you're not going to play it the same way. You're going to be nervous. There are going to be butterflies. But Jeter understands how to control the butterflies by getting them in the right formation. He does that very well.

"When you look across the room and you see #2 on your team, you know he's going to be ready. You know he's going to be calm. Everyone sees that and it makes them calm, too. The leader of all of this is Jeter. I put him on a high level as a postseason player."

--Famed major league baseball legend Reggie Jackson, talking about the calm approach Jeter takes to the game of baseball.

"Derek is the same person every day. He just seems to be able to play the game every day and not really concern himself with what it looks like as much as what the results are. And he's very unique in that regard."

--former New York Yankee manager Joe Torre, discussing Derek Jeter's approach to his high-level and consistent baseball performance.

Positive Outlook and Long-Range Vision

The Jeter Mentality

"I'm optimistic by nature. Even when things are going poorly, you've got to find something positive. You have to. Because if you get caught up in being negative all the time, you'll never get out of any kind of funk."

--Derek Jeter, discussing the value of positive thinking.

"I don't think about it, really. All I try to do, pretty much is to be consistent. I don't try to overanalyze anything. I don't try to sit back and say, you’re doing this and that. I just try to consistently help out every day.

"You look at it that way, especially when things are going bad, you're able to get out of it, because you're not concerning yourself with how you're doing individually.

"When the season's over, you get a chance to reflect on what happened during the season. One you sit around and start talking about what you've done, that's when you're in trouble. You always strive to do something better."

--Derek Jeter, discussing his anti-analysis approach during the season.

This Peak Performance Case Study was originally published in my book, Razor Thin:  The Difference Between Winning and Losing (2012).