The truism "Nothing predicts future success better than past success" could easily be reworded to "What best enhances confidence in a task is previous success in that task." Clearly, athletes-like everyone else-gain the greatest confidence in their ability to perform through successful experiences in that sport. Legendary football coach Bill Parcells summed it up well when he said, "Confidence comes from demonstrated skill."
Albert Bandura, a renowned psychologist, developed a well-supported social theory about self-efficacy that explains and describes the phenomenon that Parcells and others have observed. Bandura’s theory, supported by many experiments, explains how higher self-expectations lead to higher performance.
Research on the relationship between confidence and performance confirms the following: The more a player expects to achieve, the more he actually will achieve. The confident player expects to shoot a high percentage, pass consistently well without turnovers, defend successfully, and get a lot of rebounds.
Bandura made another point that may seem obvious: Confidence is mostly based on past performance. In other words, the better players have performed in the past, the more confidence they’ll have in the future, and the better they’ll actually perform. This leads to the most obvious way to build confidence-that is, to play well consistently and expect to play well in the future. Thus, a very skilled and proven player should be confident. A player with weak skills and without a successful background is likely to be diffident-the opposite of confident. Confidence without ability is a false or unrealistic confidence. Following are some tangible ways to develop skills and competitive success in an effort to begin building confidence.
In high school and college, coaches usually meet with players individually in early September, and teams play their first game in late November. This means there is a period of approximately 80 days from the first meeting with each player until the first game, ample time for the athletes to work on and improve specific skills-and to gain confidence in those skills.
As we all know, the three-point shot has become an important part of most teams’ offenses. The early portion of the school year-before the first official team practice-is a golden opportunity for players to sharpen their shooting eye from the arc. When practicing, a repetitive shooting drill can be used to time how long it takes a player to make 100 three-point shots (working with a rebounder who passes the ball back). Perimeter players should be able to do this easily within 10 minutes. Bryce Drew, the former Valparaiso University guard who hit the famous buzzer beater to upset the University of Mississippi in the 1998 NCAA tournament, once sank 100 three-pointers in only 7 minutes 30 seconds when performing this drill.
Rules limit how much contact and oversight coaches can have with players in the preseason. Therefore, for shooting or any other skill improvement to occur, players must commit to performing drills on their own, without a coach monitoring them. Players who make that commitment can make great strides. A perimeter player, for example, can easily make more than 10,000 three-point shots during preseason workouts (i.e., a little more than 100 makes per day). And, based on what we know about the experience of success, that player should be more confident shooting from the arc when the season begins.
Proper conditioning of the body is also important, not only for the strength and stamina needed to compete at a top level throughout a game, but also for performing skills proficiently.
Strength gained in the weight room also tends to elevate a player’s personal and athletic confidence. Belief in oneself blooms as a result of consistently fulfilled daily goals in the weight room, increased strength evident in greater maximum lifts, and visible changes seen in a more muscular physique (everyone likes to look strong!). A hard worker and achiever in both the weight room and gym is often a more confident athlete.
Richard "Rip" Hamilton is one player who has benefited significantly during his career because of his dedication to off-season workouts. His outside and mid-range shooting prowess was developed through countless hours alone on the court. And when Rip decided to apply that same dedication to his physical conditioning in the midst of his NBA career, it resulted in improvement to his shooting, movement without the ball, and defense. These improvements came about not only because he was in better shape, but also because he had greater confidence in his abilities as a result of his tireless training regimen.