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"Be Confident" Is Bad Advice

Basketball is Psychology XLIV


Have you ever been sad and had someone tell you, “Be happy”?

Chances are, when someone told you that, you probably didn’t instantly transform from being sad to happy. The person who told you to be happy probably had good intentions, they want you to be happy, the problem is, just saying, “Be happy” doesn’t actually fix anything. Saying, “Be happy” isn’t the magical phrase that can turn our happiness switch on; the same is true for confidence.

According to Tami Matheny, author of The Confident Athlete and The Confidence Journal, saying, “Be confident” causes you to think, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I not confident?” which can cause you to get more upset with yourself, which builds more pressure. Tami says players aren’t trying not to be confident, confidence is not something that can be turned on or off by saying, “Be confident”.

So what DO you say to someone who you want to be more confident?

The most effective leaders have the ability to see the greatness in people and they bring it out of them. Great leaders instill confidence in those around them by pointing out their greatness. They don’t do it by telling them to be confident, but by telling them something that makes them feel confident.

For example, in just about every late game time-out situation when a team needs a bucket, you will hear the coach say, “Be confident and knock it down”.

What would actually make the player feel confident enough to knock it down is saying something like, “You’re the best shooter in the league, you have put up more shots than anyone, you’re ready for this.”

Author Tami Matheny says some effective things you can say instead of “be confident” are to tell them something more specific such as to fix their body language or change their self talk.

It’s hard to feel confident when your head is down and you hang your head. Fixing your body language literally changes your brain. When you show confident posture (chest puffed up, head held high, shoulders back), the chemicals in your brain change. Your brain increases testosterone levels and decreases cortisol levels.

By carrying yourself confidently, you gain a significant performance advantage. Increased testosterone leads to higher confidence, better mood, and increased mental focus. Decreased cortisol means your stress and anxiety levels will go down. These chemical changes put you in a much better position to perform at your best.

Self-talk also plays a major role in your confidence level. You can prepare all you want, but in the heat of the moment if you are telling yourself that you’re not ready or you’re thinking about how scared you are, you won’t have the confidence you need to make the shot. As Tami Matheny says, you have to think positively and productively.

Action Step:

Don’t tell someone to be confident, give them a reason to be confident.

People rise to the level of who you tell them they are.

If you tell a teammate they are a play-maker, they’ll probably make big plays.

If you tell a teammate they are a lights-out shooter, they’ll probably shoot the lights out.

Instead of telling someone they need to be more confident, tell them who they really are and they’ll rise to that standard.

Anyone can point out the negative, but great leaders point out potential and make those around them better by instilling confidence.


Special thanks to confidence guru Tami Matheny for sharing her wisdom in this article. Follow Tami on twitter and check out her website for more tips on confidence:


You can purchase Tami’s books on confidence here:


Written by Julie Fournier

Founder & CEO of Basketball is Psychology


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