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Self-Efficacy and Sports Performance | Sports Psychology Today


Self-Efficacy and Sports Performance

Brisbane-CitySelf-efficacy is defined as the belief in one’s ability to execute certain actions in order to achieve a specific outcome. This theory, proposed by Albert Bandura, plays a significant role for athletes and athletic performance. As coaches, if we can figure out how to nurture our athlete’s self-efficacy, then we can begin to help them unlock their full athletic potential. The question is, how do we build practice plans and teach in a way that builds this self-efficacy? Fortunately, there are several sources of self-efficacy and examples of how to incorporate them into your practices. Below I have listed the sources and a few examples of how to implement them in practice. You may find that you have already been using a few in your practice plans.

Performance Accomplishments – Getting athletes to feel they have mastered a skill to influence their perception of their abilities

  1. For wide receivers on a football team, start each practice with them catching the football over and over. This repetition builds a sense of mastery and muscle memory and enhances self-efficacy at their position.
  2.  Baseball players who field numerous ground balls develop a sense of mastery in one aspect of the game of baseball in order to gain self-efficacy in that area.
  3. Hitting a ball off of the tee numerous times in order to practice mechanics leads to a sense of mastery

Vicarious Experience (modeling) – showing an athlete how to perform a task exactly how you want it done. Seeing someone perform a task allows them to believe they can perform the task, especially when they see someone of the same skill level perform. 

  1. Before wide receivers ever catch a ball, model the first steps to helping them catch the ball. Show them by extending hands out in front of the body, putting thumbs together for a ball above the waist and pinkies together for a ball below the waist. They then feel confident when they do it exactly how it is modeled knowing that their coaches have a mastery of the skill.
  2. When teaching a player to field a ground ball, mimic the skills and stance necessary for the action. Bend the knees, put the glove to the ground and the other hand on top, spread the feet out and move into the catch.
  3. When shooting a basketball, show the athletes exactly how to hold it, how your hand should follow through after the shot, how far apart your feet should be, and where your eyes and elbow should follow through.

Verbal Persuasion – encouraging and motivating through positive talk

  1. When athletes are performing tasks make sure that others, not participating at the moment, are being positive, encouraging, and hyping each other up.
  2. When fixing a problem, try to point out something the athlete did well first before giving them constructive criticism. This builds them up and then fixing the problem area becomes easier.
  3. At the end of practice, point out the players who worked the hardest and had the best day of practice. This encourages those players while simultaneously encouraging the other players to work for those words of affirmation.

Emotional Arousal – Changing a player’s emotional state through positive talk and showing you care

  1. A player who had a stressful day at school and is feeling defeated before a game could benefit from positive encouragement from a coach. Just telling a kid “hey you are great at shooting the basketball” or “I am happy I get to coach and know you” can change their whole emotional state.
  2. Kids who are angry about a play or a cheap shot in a football game would benefit from coming out of the game, getting some water, taking deep breaths, and talking to the coach.
  3. Telling an athlete a joke or just messing with them a little when they are sad or angry can completely change their mood.

Physiological State – controlling the anxiety and stress levels of athletes to enhance efficacy

  1. For nervousness, employ breathing techniques. Box breathing has been used and proven to influence anxiety and reduce stress. The athlete breathes in for a four count, holds for a four count, breathes out for a four count, and holds for a four count.
  2. Positive self-talk is beneficial for physiological control as well. Telling yourself positive mantras before a performance calms anxiety and reduces stress. Phrases like “you can do this” and “this is what you have been working and practicing for, you are ready” have positive influences on physiological state.
  3. Muscle tensing and relaxing also has a relaxing effect on physiological state. Tense up a muscle group for 5 seconds and then relax that muscle group.

Imaginal Experiences – imagining yourself being successful during a performance

  1. A baseball player will imagine themselves getting a hit off an opposing pitcher before an at-bat to build the belief that they can and will get a hit
  2. A quarterback will visualize throwing to an open receiver during a crucial play either before the game or when they are on the sideline
  3. A basketball player visualizes hitting the game winning shot while the clock runs down. Thinking of every little detail including sensory information and mechanics of shooting the ball


These are just a few examples of ways to enhance self-efficacy in your program. As coaches it is important to remember that our athlete’s deal with a vast array of emotional and psychological factors that influence their athletic performance. By fostering their mental game, we can better prepare them to achieve and unlock their full potential. It is our goal to help them achieve their goals.

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