SELF-EFFICACY AND SPORTS PERFORMANCE
Self-confidence is a relatively global and stable personality characteristic. Self-efficacy is a situation-specific form of self-confidence that involves the appraisal of one's competence to do whatever needs to be done in a specific situation. It is not concerned with the skill of an individual but with the judgments of what an individual can do with existing skills. It is specific to a given time and setting and may fluctuate greatly. For example, a sculler may be very confident when rowing a heat at a regatta. However, because of events surrounding other scullers' performances, feelings of being tired, and several rumors being circulated about the prowess of another finalist, that sculler may feel much less confident for the final than for the heat. Self-efficacy can be considered to be a person's perception of his/her abilities to successfully perform in a particular sporting activity.
Feelings of high self-efficacy raise the duration and strength of effort in aversive situations while low feelings lead to lowered efforts even to the point of giving up or not engaging at all in the threatening situation (Bandura, 1977). This means that when athletes face very difficult sporting challenges it is necessary for them to have high self-efficacy to produce a sustained effort. The strength of an athlete's convictions in his/her own potential effectiveness will affect whether coping with a given challenge will even be attempted (Bandura & Schunk, 1981; Weinberg et al., 1981). Self-efficacy influences an individual's effort and persistence in the face of difficult challenges, potentially aversive situations, and events with high probabilities of failure.
If an athlete believes that he/she will fail due to an inability to complete a competitive task or because of past performances on the same or a closely related task, he/she will likely avoid the contest or will quit after the first difficult challenge. Self-efficacy is lowered markedly if failures occur at the beginning of the learning process. For continued application to new tasks it is important to have initial successes in the learning progression.
During competition preparations if weaknesses or a lack of readiness are perceived by an athlete, one should not expect much of a performance standard from that athlete. Such a situation is not healthy for developing a positive "attitude" towards competing. When losing or inferior levels of performance are likely, it is best to alter the specific goals for a performance to include factors which are under the athlete's control and can be achieved. For example, rather then trying to win, an athlete might be "challenged" to execute a particular aspect of technique for the first time, "practice" a new strategy in the competitive setting, or attempt to follow a particular sequence of strategy elements. That approach alters the nature of the competitive performance and sets the reasons for competing to be ones which can be controlled and attained.
The proximity of goals also affects self-efficacy. It has been shown that individuals who strive for goals that are likely to be evaluated within a short time increase their self-efficacy to a greater degree than individuals who have goals set for a more distant time in the future (Bandura & Schunk, 1981).
Self-efficacy is based on four major sources of information; i) performance accomplishments, ii) vicarious experiences, iii) verbal persuasion, and iv) physiological arousal state.
During competitions the witnessing of teammates' successes can have a positive effect on the viewer. However, failures have an equal, and in some cases more, detrimental effect on self-efficacy. Thus, watching other competitors prior to a competitive performance is risky if positive outcomes are not assured.
There are times when self-efficacy is not beneficial. Situations where there is not a high incentive to perform maximally (e.g., when playing a particularly weak opponent), there are social constraints (e.g., "new" rules are applied for a particular contest that do not allow the athlete to fully exploit his/her skill repertoire), and when there are physical constraints (e.g., playing the role of a specialist substitute rather than a game-starter) serve to lower performance levels. Self-efficacy will be unpredictable when a competitive situation is ambiguous, lacking in information, or contains a high degree of uncertainty (e.g., poor organization). This means that in a sporting situation, self-efficacy becomes important as a performance modifier when the competitive circumstance is quite well defined and the level of importance of the competition is quite high (Grace, 1983).
Information about efficacy is processed by athletes and will influence the relationship between future efficacy assessments and behavior. For example, the strength of the consequences, whether they be successes or failures, will produce a varied impact. Individuals who place a high negative valence on failure are likely to be more affected after a failure than those who do not. Persons who perceive successes as having a high level of reinforcing strength will increase self-efficacy to a greater level than those who treat success with obvious and sincere "humility." The perceptions of individuals of what are "successful" performances vary markedly. Before one can assume that a success is perceived as a success by a particular athlete it is necessary to verify that perception. It has been shown that coaches and athletes perceive the standards of athletic performance usually in more different than similar ways (Rushall & Fiorini, 1982).
Self-efficacy is usually described according to three parameters.
There are a number of tools that have been developed to measure self-efficacy. However, in practical terms, it is highly unlikely that athletes will be able to answer tests just before a contest to be able to determine an inexact indication of self-efficacy. In serious athletes verbal self-reports are as accurate as any other form of measurement. Thus, it becomes important for coaches to listen to what athletes are saying before competitions, in change-rooms, and in the warm-up area to determine self-efficacy. The nature of the verbal content, the balance between positive and negative predictions, and the enthusiasm shown by the athlete while preparing for the upcoming contest reveal valid information for assessing an athlete's state of self-efficacy. When high levels of self-efficacy are obvious there is no need for a coach to react. However, when low levels are interpreted, it is time for the coach or attendant sport psychologist to react with a crisis management technique.
Self-efficacy is a factor which must be considered when attempting to have athletes achieve their best readiness states for a competition. Its variation will produce performance inconsistencies.
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