Athletic Insight - The Online Journal of Sport Psychology

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Subj:  Wrestler Needs Boost of Self-Confidence
To:  [email protected]
        I need some help building up the moral of one of my athletes. I coach wrestling and have a returning state undefeated champion. He lost two matches this year one a while back and one just this past weekend. He will face this same kid who beat him this coming up week and he has lost all confidence. He has never been the same kid since his first loss. It is hard when you don't lose a match for over 2 seasons, then lose twice in one month. Any suggestions?

Anthony A.

Dear Anthony:
       Based on the information in your letter, it sounds like your wrestler is struggling with an issue of self-confidence. Many of the sources of self-confidence including previous outcomes and the expectations of others are outside of the control of the individual. However, only the athlete has control over his thoughts, which are often referred to as self-talk, and this is another major source of self-confidence.
       Self-talk can have either a positive or negative effect on confidence. If an athlete is having an internal dialogue that indicates negative expectations or an excessive level of self- doubt, then this will result in lower self-confidence. Examples of negative statements include:

       Although it is often necessary to criticize athletes, the criticism must remain focused on performance or behavior and not extend to the individual. That is to say, as a coach you should focus on the technical aspects of the physical performance that should not be repeated rather then making blanket statements about the individual like the ones above. Occasionally, negative self-statements about expectancies such as “Don’t choke again” can be used for motivation and increased effort, problems with self-confidence can arise if they begin to dominate the athlete’s self-talk. Instead, there other methods of enhancing motivation would probably be more effective with fewer negative consequences. It sounds like the use of positive self-statements would help to reinstill some of the confidence that you say he has lost. Examples of these are as follows:
  • “You can do it.”
  • “You are a warrior.”
  • “You’re good enough to beat anyone.”
       Always remember, athletes, like all human beings, work best when they feel they are supported. The best place to begin to feel supported is with your self. Good luck to your athlete!

Miguel Humara, Ph.D.


Subj:  Home-Field Advantage
To:  [email protected]
        Why is it that some teams that do well at home can’t seem to win a game on the road? I am thinking of my son’s high-school basketball team which had a perfect record at home this year, but were only able to win once on the road. I just can’t figure it out. Please help.

George J.

Dear George:
       Not a great deal of research exists on the phenomenon of home field advantage or audience effects. It sounds like they have the ability to win everywhere they go but they are not playing up to their level consistently. One plausible reason is deviation from an established pre-competition routine. I’m sure that your son has some sort of routine that he uses prior to a home game (although he may not even be aware of it). For example, the night before a game, he might stay at home and try to get additional sleep so that he is well rested for the next day. When he arrives at the gym he goes directly to the trainers room to be taped up. In other words, he does things that are familiar to him. When you take individuals out of an environment that is familiar to them, consistency decreases and performance declines. Perhaps establishing a routine that the whole team uses prior to a competition, whether it is home or away would help with this consistency problem. Many pro teams have already done this. In the N.F.L., players stay at a hotel the night before a game regardless of whether it is home or away. Typically, players are paired with the same room mate for the entire year. In other words, they try to minimize the number of variables that are going to result in an unfamiliar situation for the individual. Another explanation is that they lack the confidence in themselves to win on the road. If that is the case, I suggest you look at the letter above. Hope that this was of some help.

Miguel Humara, Ph.D.

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