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Cultivating Confidence in Athletes- Embracing Constructive Growth:

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Ask any dedicated athlete, and they'll express a relentless drive to improve and seek an edge in their game. However, it's essential to reflect on whether excessive self-criticism is beneficial. While athletes aim to achieve greatness, their pursuit often leads to self-sabotage and negativity. This article explores the importance of striking a balance between accountability and self-compassion, emphasizing constructive criticism and positive language to foster sustained self-improvement.


  1. The Pitfalls of Self-Criticism: Athletes who constantly engage in self-criticism spiral into negativity, hindering their confidence, productivity, and energy. A lack of self-support amplifies these detrimental effects, making it vital for athletes to navigate this complex terrain with care.

  2. Constructive Criticism: A Better Approach: Instead of dwelling on shortcomings, athletes should focus on acknowledging their achievements and learning from failures constructively. By employing positive language, optimism, and clarity, athletes can maintain their confidence, productivity, and overall well-being.

  3. The Role of Coaches: Coaches play a crucial role in facilitating effective communication and avoiding the pitfalls of criticism. Encouraging constructive feedback and fostering a growth mindset are essential for athletes' development, ensuring their confidence remains intact.

  4. The "Good is Never Good Enough" Mindset: While the pursuit of growth and improvement is commendable, adopting a mindset of perfectionism can be detrimental. Striving for perfection denies the existence of imperfection, leading to imbalanced emotions and an inability to accept credit for achievements.

  5. Toxicity of Self-Criticism: For athletes, coaches, and parents, self-criticism can become a destructive habit that erodes confidence and limits potential. Such toxic patterns, often perpetuated unknowingly, can stem from lifelong ramifications, particularly if negative language was prevalent during an athlete's upbringing.

  6. Breaking the Cycle: Becoming self-aware of these patterns is the first step toward breaking free from excessive self-criticism. Surrounding oneself with positive influences, shifting mindset, and letting go of the pursuit of perfection are essential for personal growth and improved performance.

  7. Embracing the "Be-Your-Best" Mindset: Rather than constantly striving to be at one's best, athletes should shift their focus to wanting improvement. This mindset incorporates self-improvement, positivity, and giving oneself credit for successes, enabling athletes to recognize their strengths while aiming for continuous growth.

  8. Confidence as Action: Instead of fixating on how one feels, athletes should concentrate on their actions and game strategy. This shift helps maintain confidence, allowing athletes to approach each moment with clarity, problem-solving abilities, and effective body language.

  9. Celebrating Victories and Defeats the same & Embracing Objectivity: Whilst athletes should celebrate and acknowledge even the smallest victories, avoiding constant self-judgment, its the art of how athletes look at defeats that sets them apart. Quality athletes use the pain to fuel motivation and take the time to emphasise objective and constructive feedback, focusing on measurable stats, gaps in performance and controlling what is within their power; this enables athletes to develop healthier coping mechanisms and sustain a balanced approach to improvement. Strive to always see your successes and failures as just parts of a rich pattern of life. "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same"

Lets look at these points in a little more detail.


But first - Take a moment too reflect and ask Are you happy with where you are as a person and with your game? Because most athletes would answer “no”, it leaves them vulnerable to self-criticism instead of constructive criticism, simply because they want to achieve more. Obviously, accountability for standards is crucial as the goal of every athlete is to achieve the feeling of being the best they can be, and hopefully along the way get as much out of their athletic potential and human fulfilment as possible. Interestingly, many athletes think that the best way to improve and hold accountability is to never be satisfied or content with a performance or training session. This is a wrong move. You see, these athletes will spiral into a pattern of negativity and engage in self sabotage through constant self-criticism to try and improve their game or performances. As humans, we are complex and this is very dicey area for athletes to navigate, especially if they have no support system in place. Self-criticism and general negativity never lead to sustained self-improvement. Sure you want to make yourself accountability and hold responsibility for your training standards and performances but know that there is a right and wrong way to go about it. Most times, its about seeing what you have actually done right instead of what you have done wrong. Of course, you want to learn from your failures and see what you can do to improve areas of your game, but this needs to be constructive with positive language and optimism and a lot of clarity. You see self-criticism leads to lower confidence, less productivity and less energy for yourself. You will start to feel defeated and that nothing you do is ever right. It's not sustainable practice.

Critisicm only works for some athletes and will not work for others. You have to coach differently to each indivudial to get the best out of them. Thus the art of communication becomes key. Now you may be thinking. Why would any athlete or coach settle for their current level of play or performance? This statement makes sense and is a good thing – you want to have a mindset of growth and improvement. Most athletes and coaches would say if you want to be your best, shouldn’t you always try to be better? But there is one major issue with the “good is never good enough” mindset. Subconsciously, the brain is seeking perfection and never allows imperfection or underperformance. This is true especially for male athletes. Because this belief often underlies the mindset of perfectionism - where performance is either perfect or failure, the seesaw effect of emotions really takes a hit – there is no balance, an athlete is either up or down. We know that since perfection is impossible, the athlete always feels like they failed, and if the athlete feels like they were perfect, the subconscious will say "I need to play perfect to win today' or "I have to feel like this to win today' We know that great athlketes find a way to win regardless of how they feel or how they play. Instead they focus on 'how they compete' when they are not laying or feeling great. Perfectionism is toxic in elite sport. The notion undermines one’s confidence because there is no room for imperfection and thus the athlete might not accept credit for the things they do well and the decisions they got right. There is no positive language. Simply put, like the see saw analogy, the bad always outweighs the good parts of performance. For athletes, coaches and parents, self-criticism becomes a toxic and destructive habit that will erode confidence and will eventually block an athlete from his or her potential. And this will happen unknowingly. To mitigate this - coaches may want to coach in a ration of 3;1. Three positive remarks to one negative. The toxicity becomes evident and the most damaging when it takes place in the middle of competition. You can see it, a player or athlete has no belief, they have always been told or have always told themselves something negative. They are never good enough in their own subconscious, they subconsciously feel that they don’t deserve to win. In my years working in high performance sport, self-criticism and negativity, shown in body language, general language, is a reflection of their support system and the way the athlete was brought up as in the middle of a competition, mistakes that are made live on in an athlete’s mind because it triggers trauma thus and takes away their focus on the next play. If you feel that this is you, the first step is to be self-aware that this is your pattern. This is your relationship with yourself. Thus, excessive self-criticism will hold you back from elevating your game to the next level. In order to grow your confidence, get some good positive people around you and make change. Work on shifting your mindset and practice the art of letting gO and stop striving for perfection as it doesn’t exist. Don’t worry about looking and always having to be at your best each and every game. It simply is a recipe for disaster. It’s the want that is the difference. Instead of having, change the language to wanting. This wanting to “be-your-best” mindset involves both self-improvement, positivity and giving yourself credit for your successes that encompass things that you have done right and being clear in what creates winning and improving. Confidence is a feeling. Try not to focus on how you feel and focus on what you are going to do. Your confidence will stay in intact, thus you will be in the best possible position to improve and elevate your game. Enabling improvement Without Excessive Self-Criticism is key to longevity and enjoyment Know that there is a time and place for everything, every thought, every response to a situation. Thus, during competition, acknowledge that you should focus on your game strategy, problem solving and body language to stay in the present. Have the ability to forget and move forward after a mistake. There is nothing there in the past. It's done. avoid judging your game moment to moment. Celebrate and acknowledge little victories and wins. Use objective and constructive feedback rather than negative self-deprecating criticism. Consistency in this is crucial. Practice it. Being objective requires maturity and discipline and that you look closely at your measurable stats, what you can control, and deciding how to move forward with clarity in respect to what to emphasize in learning during the next practice session. By being more objective and focusing on improvement and successes, not failures, you re wire your brain in healthy ways of coping with stressors and challenges. This will maintain a sustained balance between improving your game, being kinder to yourself, but also being accountable.


Enabling improvement without excessive self-criticism is crucial for athletes' longevity and enjoyment in their chosen sport. Striking a balance between self-accountability and self-compassion is essential for sustained growth. By embracing constructive criticism, adopting positive language, and celebrating victories the same as handling losses,, athletes can cultivate confidence, unlock their potential, and elevate their game to new heights.

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