True or False: We can never have too much confidence? Performance problems always come from having too little confidence.

False! Although confidence is often talked about in black-and-white terms, as either having it or not having it, confidence is actually not that straightforward. Having either too little or too much confidence will hurt your performance.

This is an excerpt from “Between the Ears Skills: Building Mental Muscle for Athletes” available for free download at

The Confidence Curve

Think of confidence as a hill (or upside “U”). To the left of the hill, confidence levels are low but they keep increasing as you get closer to the top of the hill. At the top of the hill is your perfect amount of confidence. But if you keep on increasing your confidence level, you’re prone to becoming overconfident and your performance starts to decline. Yes, too much confidence hurts.

If things are feeling easy and you’re not getting stretched and out of your comfort zone, you’re at risk of experiencing a plateau or standstill in your growth. You might want to consider taking your game up a notch. We all like swinging at easy pitches from time to time. But what does it feel like to connect with a wickedly fast speedball that’s flying straight at you? That’s exhilarating and exciting!

Confidence (Kind of) Deconstructed

Confidence is a complex concept and research has identified a number of different factors that contribute to it (much more than will be covered in this book). The main factors that are tied to confidence include both internal and external factors.

Internal factors related to your confidence level are:

  • thoughts and feelings
  • mindset
  • behaviors
  • history of success

Later chapters of this book will delve more into thoughts and feelings, mindset, and behaviors connected with success and confidence. For now, just be aware that all of these factors can influence a person’s confidence.

External factors that can have an impact on your confidence include:

  • coaches
  • peers and teammates
  • family

Who are the five people that you spend most of your time with? Do they bring you up and support you? Through what kind of lens do they perceive the world – is the glass half full or half empty)? It’s okay to have some view the world with the glass half empty perspective, but if everyone around you sees the glass half empty, you might want to consider spending time around those that see the glass half full, too. An important part of learning is falling flat on your face from time to time. A good support system will laugh and/or cry along with you. Your social environment can be a source of can be drama and distraction. Or, it can be a buoy and a boost to your confidence.

Does it matter where your confidence comes from? Yes. It is crucial to have your confidence come from internal sources (e.g., self-appreciation, openness to learning from failure, acknowledging our effort and work).

Confidence built upon external factors, such as the number of awards you’ve received, the type of car you drive, is likely to crumble and become unstable during life’s challenges.

True confidence helps the healing process after such situations. Individuals with externally based confidence are more at risk of shame and self-degradation. Not only does this interfere with the healing process, these individuals often don’t give themselves the opportunity to learn from their experiences. Painful experiences are swept under the rug and they return to their old behaviors and fail to learn new, more effective ones.

Often, people confuse confidence with receiving approval from others. Although getting a high five from a coach or teammate  are good, positive strokes, solid confidence comes from the ability to continually pat your own back.

When it comes to confidence, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Choose a “growth” mindset that allows you to be open to new experiences, getting out of your comfort zone, and remember that failure is an acronym for “First Attempt In Learning” (more about the “growth mindset” in chapter three).
  • Choose who you spend your time with wisely. Make sure that you share similar goals and your interactions create a warm, positive environment. A toxic environment can hinder confidence, motivation, focus, and ability to perform at your best.

There is a difference between conceit and confidence. Conceit is bragging about yourself. Confidence means you believe you can get the job done.

—Johnny Unitas


Quick Tip: Child Athletes & Confidence

For talented child athletes, it is recommended that their trophies and awards are kept outside of their bedroom. Let them act like “normal” kids their age and reinforce that who they are is more important than what they are good at or have accomplished.


Nicole Pacheco works as a peak performance coach and consultant for individuals, athletic teams, and business organizations. She has presented at local and national levels on the topics on a range of peak performance and mental health topics. She received her doctoral and master’s degrees from the Adler School of Professional Psychology and has authored a number of writings, on-line articles, a peer-reviewed journal article, and an e-book, “Between the Ears Skills: Building mental muscle for athletes.”
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