How to build up team confidence

3 Sep 14

Confidence makes a tremendous difference to performance, whether on the sports field or in the workplace, but you can’t touch it, hold it or buy it at the psychology shop. So how do you recover from those knockdowns and instil confidence in you and your team? Sports psychophysiologist John Neal discusses how to feel the fear – but do it anyway

Man-dev September


You can feel and see confidence in a person or a team by their body language, the way they deliver under pressure and the general vibe within the group. Equally you can see when it has gone. 

One moment an individual or a team is winning and delivering high levels of performance, the next they can hardly do a thing. In golf they get the yips, while sailors call it the fever. Many other sports and businesses have a name for that time when usually good and successful people lose all confidence and start to fail, and fail badly. It can all happen very quickly. 

The sources of confidence are many and varied. Most often it is in the subconscious and can relate back many years to a person’s upbringing. 

Some may argue that it’s in your genes … although that’s a discussion for another time. 

Character plays a big role in confidence, self-confidence and team confidence. While I have listed 10 top tips for building confidence, there is a bigger point to make. 

If you want people who display confidence, especially under pressure, choose people of good character, with strong values and an upbringing that supports confident attitudes and a drive for success. You can work at being confident and this is important, but even better is to select on the basis of character, where it is hard-wired. So many teams and companies select on the basis of skills and try to deal with character later, but that simply does not work. 

So before reading the rest of this article, ask yourself if you have the right characters around you. A star team will always beat a team of stars, and those who play for the front of the shirt will always beat those who play for the name on their back. 

Confidence is critical for top-level performance and, put simply, it’s a state of mind that makes you feel that whatever is put in front of you can be dealt with. It’s a challenge and not a threat – and it excites and doesn’t scare you. 

Bearing character in mind, here are 10 simple areas to consider, to build personal and team confidence.


1 Understand yourself 

We are complex animals with different backgrounds and experiences. We all see things and perceive things differently, so first of all understand yourself well, reflect upon who you really are, what excites you, what scares you. Most importantly, seek the real you. 

Psychometrics can help, but they really are only a guide and the start of a personal or ideally group discussion about the real you. Examine the experiences that have brought you to where you are now and then, of course, the translation to what that means in terms of how confident you are likely to feel in different situations. 


2 Develop good coping strategies 

When you lack confidence, the level of adrenalin increases as you perceive events to be a threat. In other words you do not feel that you have the skills and competencies to deal with the challenge. In reality this may or may not be the case. But if you perceive an event as a threat, then that is what it is and your body will initiate a fight or flight response. This leads to fatigue and tiredness. 

Make sure that you are fit, healthy and well rested. If you are struck with a lack of confidence and many challenging events throughout the day or week, you will recover your confidence much faster if you feel well, fit and strong. 


3 Competencies 

Know what you are good at and where you might have a fatal flaw. By that I mean something which could cause you to fail. If you want to improve your confidence, work first on the fatal flaws and get them right. Then move on to your strengths and develop them. 

Time spent working on your strengths is far better rewarded than working on minor weaknesses. Make your strengths into super strengths and you will progress faster and feel better about yourself and your confidence will grow. 


4 Cognition 

Quite often we react to what we perceive to be a situation rather than the facts. Our perceptions often let us down as they are often too fast and driven by perusal bias … ‘I have never been able to do that, I am not good enough.’ 

Seek out the facts, ask questions and challenge your perceptions both of yourself and the situation. Make decisions based upon facts rather than perceptions and give yourself thinking time. 


5 Confront 

Self-awareness is critical and the root of confidence but often we are willing to look only at the ‘positive’ elements of our personality or rather the ones that are considered ‘good’. The tougher approach is to look at ourselves as a whole and seek out the ‘negative’ elements  – often referred to as the dark side of our personality. 


6 Keep it simple – that’s the genius factor 

A lack of confidence often arises because we do not understand what it is we are trying to do. A complex plan is great in the planning stage but of little use when the pressure is on and we are less able to use our memory and think as clearly as we would like. Simplicity is the key, where everyone understands the plan, the strategy and their role. 


7 Celebrate wins and understand how and why 

Very often after a failure there is a great deal of analysis and reflection. This helps us to understand what not to do and what mistakes to avoid in future. Hence the statement that we learn more from failure than success. That statement holds true only if we analyse failure with such emotional intensity. 

What would happen if we analysed success in the same way? Emphasising the process and behaviours of success leads to confidence and a greater likelihood of success in the future.


8 Reflective practice 

One of the most significant skills in building confidence is the ability to reflect. Reflect upon success as much, if not more, than failure. We can reflect more effectively by learning a system. After any event or experience worthy of reflection (often one which has emotional content) consider these three areas: 

● Fact: what happened here? Record this in the third person. 

● What can I learn from this that will make me better at what I do? 

● How can I apply this going forward? 

Reflective practice is more powerful when you write it down. Ideally, you should share it with another person. 


9 Support and talk 

Confidence can be bred or grow through the people around you and those you talk to. It can also be destroyed. You only have to look at the impact of press reports on individuals to see this in action. So choose who you talk to and consider the type of people who you want around you. 


10Expect to be successful 

Expectation plays a big role in confidence and you can choose how you wish to think. Arrogance is unwelcome in our society. This is where you have not done the hard work or do not have the basic skills or they are insufficient to meet the challenges ahead, despite how good you are.

 Intelligent arrogance may be the answer. This is where you decide to be confident even though you do not think that you can perform a task. You act up and talk to yourself (keep it to yourself though or you might be considered a bit of a twit). If intelligent arrogance does not sit well with you, then consider a little bit of intelligent stupidity. This has worked for a great many sportspeople when they first compete at the top level.


John Neal is a member of faculty and director of the Sport Business Initiative at Ashridge Business School

This feature was first published in the September edition of Public Finance magazine





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  • John Neal
    leads mentoring programmes at Ashridge Business School, working with both public and private organisations

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