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UK Coaching Team
Developing Mindsets

Developing Self-Belief in Your Participants

Self-belief is the belief that you will succeed in a specific task or experience. Ex-professional tennis player Marius Barnard explains that, as it affects your ability to perform tasks, it's an important and valuable quality to have

What is self-belief? It’s having the belief that you will succeed in a specific task or experience. 

Self-belief is not fixed. It varies dependent on the activity and the context surrounding the activity. For example, an individual may have the belief that they can swim 1,500m in a pool but not in the sea. 

In Volume 6 of the UK Coaching Applied Coaching Research Journal, ex-professional tennis player Marius Barnard shares his journey towards self-belief and the importance of developing it, not only to elevate sport performance but also for life in general. 

Why is self-belief important?

Self-belief is important because it influences an individual’s confidence to participate and how hard they try. If an individual believes they are unlikely to succeed, they may not take part in an activity or may appear hesitant. It also impacts on an individual’s resilience and how likely they are to rise to the occasion when faced with a challenge.

One example of where self-belief is important is in taking a penalty. A player needs to have the self-belief that they are able to score. Negative thoughts and fears result in a player feeling stressed and tense, and ultimately will have a negative impact on performance. 

For Marius, changing his mindset was key to having the self-belief he could beat any player during his career. This self-belief meant that he did not fear his opponents even when he was faced with the likes of Roger Federer, and he was able to rise to the occasion. 

What do you notice about the self-belief of your participants? Where do you think self-belief is most important in your sport/activity?

What influences self-belief?

Within sport and physical activity, self-belief is influenced by:

  • Previous experience: if a person has had a positive experience previously (whether that is being successful or making progress), they are more likely to have positive self-belief 
  • Knowledge of the activity: how familiar an activity/task is to an individual will impact on their self-belief to perform. Activities/tasks that are unfamiliar may result in less self-belief
  • Coach expectations: high expectations can negatively impact on your participants’ self-belief as they may feel unable to meet your expectations
  • Support from coach and peers: when individuals feel that they have support from others, they are more likely to believe that they can fulfil a task and overcome challenges 

The relationship between confidence and competence 

Confidence builds competence and vice versa. Participants who have confidence and self-belief are more likely to have a go and expect to succeed or improve. In turn, their competence increases. 

Similarly, if an individual knows they are competent in a specific task, they will receive positive affirmations when they perform the task, which leads to an increase in self-confidence. As a coach you can use a participant’s self-belief or competence to boost the other.  

How can you use your participants’ competence to increase their self-belief to perform a new task, or the same task in a different situation (such as serving without an opponent versus serving when their opponent has match point)?

Through his Clear Links Model of Self-Belief, Marius emphasises the role of previous experience via memories and how those who are able to forget about bad experiences or mistakes and remember the positives (for example, rather than focusing on losing serve, a player could focus on how they managed to break back straight away) have greater self-belief. In turn, our memories create our narrative: the story we tell about ourselves. 

Focusing on the good helps to develop positive narratives, which inform the future. If a participant banks positive memories where they have been able to perform a skill or overcome challenges and succeeded, they will develop a more encouraging narrative, which will help to provide the self-belief and optimism necessary to face challenges and succeed in the future. 

What can coaches do? 

In his article, Marius highlights the role of the coach in supporting participants to develop self-belief. As a coach, there are several ways that you can boost the self-belief of your participants:

  1. Express the belief that they can succeed. Hearing that someone else believes in you can be a real confidence booster.
  2. Provide the right level of challenge. Sessions shouldn’t be too easy so that your participants are never challenged, but they also shouldn’t be so difficult that participants will never succeed.
  3. Embrace failure. Show your participants that it is ok to make mistakes and help them to learn from setbacks.
  4. Give feedback that focuses on learning and progress rather than outcomes. This will ensure that your participants feel that they are developing and will encourage them to persist.
  5. Promote peer modelling opportunities. Involving participants in demonstrations enables people to observe others performing a task, which can enhance their belief that they can perform it too.

In your next session, try out some of the self-belief boosters and see how they influence the self-belief of your participants. 

Research Journal

Marius Barnard wrote a piece on self-belief for Volume 6 of our Applied Coaching Research Journal.

Read the journal or download the article PDF.


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Related Resources

  • Applied Coaching Research Journal: October 2020 Volume 6

  • How to Build Self-Confidence in Your Participants

  • Self-Regulation: ‘The Bedrock of Healthy Psychological Functioning’


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