Even though they relate to similar things, self-confidence and self-esteem have different meanings. The way they affect our lives and the way we develop them vary, but they’re both important when it comes to how athletes see themselves and perform. 

Self-confidence is undoubtedly the mark of a champion. But all athletes seem to possess it at varying levels, no matter what level of sport they compete at. Some researchers have found athletes tend to have higher self-esteem. But things get a little more complex when we look at what they base their feelings on. Today, we’re looking at how athletes experience self-confidence and self-esteem, and how we might use these qualities outside of sports.

The difference between self-confidence and self-esteem

We often use the terms self-confidence and self-esteem interchangeably to refer to how we feel about ourselves. Although they’re similar, they are two different concepts. 

Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself overall. It’s talking about how much esteem, positivity, and self-love you have. Self-confidence, on the other hand, refers to how you feel about your abilities. These can vary from situation to situation, or sport to sport. 

You could have very high self-esteem but low self-confidence in the 100m freestyle. In the same scenario, you might be more confident in the 100m breaststroke. Another example might be if you had low-self esteem and don’t think highly of yourself personally, but you have a lot of confidence that you’re able to swim great as part of the relay team.

The two concepts are linked. It’s common for people with high self-esteem to be more confident, which in turn might increase their self-esteem further. People with low self-esteem tend to lack confidence. But there are any number of scenarios we can deal with. The question is, how do we develop these qualities?

Confidence in sport

If you asked anyone, “what do you think is the most important psychological factor needed to excel in sport?”, you would likely come across self-confidence and self-belief in the answers. Many people think self-confidence helps athletes thrive in their chosen sport, helping them to overcome obstacles they experience along the way. Some even consider confidence as the single, most-important mental factor in sports. 

We often think there are people who have it and people that don’t. However, confidence is a skill, which means you can learn it. Sport might be one of the best ways to help you develop the skill of confidence. As your strength, skills, and stamina increase through training, you’ll have more confidence in your ability because you’ll see them visibly improve.

How can we use our confidence for success?

What is especially useful about learning confidence through sport is it teaches you to base your confidence on the hard work you put in. In sport, you can’t hope to win if you don’t train hard and consistently. Your confidence comes from knowing your body and mind are in the best condition, so even when you’re up against tough opponents, you know you’re ready. You believe in your abilities because you’ve seen them develop. 

The same goes for the rest of our daily lives outside of sport. When you have self-confidence based on hard work, even when you don’t succeed, you’ll be able to keep morale high. You understand your ability to put the work in and improve. But importantly, being confident in your day-to-day life will make you more successful because people love confident people. When you go to a job interview, go on a date, or go to a party, confident people are the ones who stand out and the ones we are drawn to. It’s certainly a marker for success.

Self-esteem and sport

Like confidence, you can develop self-esteem through sport. One meta-analysis found that taking part in sport before university was directly related to higher self-esteem. Other studies in Switzerland and Latin America also show a relationship between sports participation and higher self-esteem, wellbeing, happiness, and reduced anxiety. 

However, with self-esteem, the relationship with sport can go two ways. If self-esteem is based on your ability to be successful or your skill, when you experience a loss, this can damage your self-esteem. Self-esteem, unlike confidence, shouldn’t be based on your skill. Rather, we should base it on self-acceptance and an understanding that even when we don’t succeed, this doesn’t impact our value as a person. 

This is easier said than done. Self-esteem is impacted by more than our ability in sport. Our appearance, past-experiences, and upbringing may also play a huge role in how we see ourselves. But one thing sport does particularly well is helping people develop a healthy mindset. When you play sport as part of a team, you experience continual encouragement and support. While there may be a lot of competition, this often drives you to be better. The competition behind sport is not malicious, but simply a driver for success. Support from your peers, coach, and family when you’re feeling low can be the boost you need.

Building better self-esteem

In your everyday life, this can be extremely useful. If you have low-self esteem outside of sport, your sports team can act as a place of refuge where you and your teammates go through similar struggles together, supporting each other. 

And, as you continue to develop better self-esteem through a better relationship with winning and losing, you’ll be able to use this in other situations where you might fail. Whether you don’t get the grades you want, you go through a rough breakup, or you mess up at work, you’ll understand these things don’t determine your own worth. 

There is an interesting relationship between self-confidence, self-esteem, and sport. Understanding the benefits sports can have on children in particular might drive more parents to get their children involved. It could help them stay healthy, happy, and be more prepared for the world as an adult outside of sport. There are so many different sports to choose from to suit everyone’s personality and goals. Perhaps you could try swimming? It might give you the boost you need. 

The swimming costumes at Maru ensure everyone feels confident in and out of the pool. With a range of vibrant designs and performance-enhancing features, our costumes are the right fit for the casual swimmer to the pros. Take a look on our website.