The importance of resilience in elite sport

Self-confidence is one of the most important psychological aspects in an athlete’s arsenal at the Olympics. While some athletes will report extremely high levels of self-confidence, others may report self-doubts. Self-confidence has been shown to have a direct positive relationship with performance, while successful previous performances in training and competition will develop strong robust confidence beliefs.
This is one of the reasons why some athletes show strong resilient confidence beliefs in that they can take a series of knocks and set-backs before their confidence suffers. Those with strong confidence beliefs tend to stay focussed even when performance is poor, and those with weak confidence beliefs tend to fall by the wayside.
However, until recently measuring such confidence beliefs remained elusive. A group of researchers at the Institute of Psychology of Elite Performance at Bangor University set out to design, validate, and test a self-confidence measure that taps into the construct of self-confidence resilience.
Three separate studies were conducted to validate the measure. In the final study they selected a group of participants who had performed badly in a team setting i.e., they thought they performed worse than normal and let the team down. The researchers found that confidence did not change from before competing to after competing in those athletes who reported to have high resilient confidence beliefs. Those who reported themselves as having low resilient beliefs seemed to suffer a dramatic drop in confidence. Further, their confidence stayed low for a number of days after the event.
Most athletes’ confidence fluctuates during events like the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Those who have to come through multiple events are more at risk to disconfirming experiences. Understanding who is ‘at risk’ of losing their confidence when things go wrong will be of special interest to coaches and athletes.
Training athletes to cope with failure and giving them the resources to ‘bounce back’ quickly help them develop a robust sense of confidence. When things are not going so good, athletes with that sense remain focused, dedicated and and are more likely to come out on top.