By Richard Ferguson, Ph.D. - The elusive concept called confidence is one topic, which is continually bantered about in all sport pursuits. Does confidence lead to success, or does success lead to confidence? Is confidence believing you will never fail? Can confidence lead to less anxiety? All of these are questions, which are often discussed by athletes, coaches and sport psychologists alike. 

There is no question that confidence can be developed in runners. Confidence, for the most part, is a choice we make in our thinking. Certainly, past success will lead to confidence, but a runner doesn’t have to depend on success to increase their confidence. It’s really your choice whether you think and behave with confidence. Confidence is under your control! Confidence begins with YOU!  

Confident runners choose to think in ways that create positive emotions before they run. Thinking great thoughts and visualizing great performances really do lead to increased levels of confidence. When runners are confident, they are free to let their body’s function without the restraints of fear and over analysis. They trust their abilities and themselves to perform up to their physical potentials. 

There are a number of things we can do to help facilitate confidence.  First, and foremost, runners must make the decision to do their best to be physically prepared.  It’s hard to feel confident if you haven’t done the training. Training must also be done which will most realistically mimic the conditions of competition. Even imaging yourself competing during your hard training runs can be an invaluable asset in preparing you for the mental demands of racing. A critical point needs to be made here: to get the most from any training program you must believe in the program. Be sure your training program is physiologically sound and one you truly have faith in. 

Another critical factor in the development of confidence is being positive. How we think plays a very important part in how we physically respond to challenges. Positive self-talk is a must for any runner. Just think of yourself as your own best friend. Encourage and support yourself with your self-statements. Don’t bash and put yourself down. Negative self-statements do nothing but lead to a spiral of negative emotions which will hurt performance. Positive self-talk which is realistic and achievable can help running performance, and probably more importantly, running enjoyment. Negative self-talk is a habit. Try to get in touch with your self-talk and if you find yourself being negative, work to break the habit. Again, this is choice, which is under your control! 

For increased confidence you must not only have positive self-talk, you must have positive visual images as well. We all imagine things that could possibly happen in our lives. Too often we imagine negative things happening which are negative. Things like struggling late in a run, being beaten by a competitor, or having to drop out of a race are common negative visual images. Negative visual imagery leads to nothing but worry. Work to not only visualize yourself having success and enjoyment, but also “feeling” success and enjoyment. Really try to feel yourself running as you visualize. This type of imagery is known as internal imagery and has been shown to be the most effective type for improving performance. Again, it’s really your choice whether you choose to have negative or positive images. Make to the positive choice and you will reap benefits. 

One final way to increase confidence is simply having a high level of what I call  “faith in the self”. By “faith in the self” I mean allowing your true being to simply become a part of what we are doing. We allow ourselves to perform without analysis or fear.  When we give up trying to “control” every situation in running and just allow our selves to be free then we are free of the mental restraints to physical performance. In this state we have no expectations, doubts or fears. We focus on just what we are doing at the time and nothing else. So have “faith in the self” and let go of any expectations. By doing so you will create an environment in which you physical potential can be unlocked. 

So remember, it’s up to you to be confident. No one else can really ever give you this. I hope each and every one of you will choose the confidence path. Have a wonderful Spring of running! 

Dr. Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness and Sports Science Department at Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant.  He may be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.