Saturday, January 10, 2015


About three weeks ago, I saw an instagram post by Andreas Schreiber. The photo was of Kevin Garnett and read, "WHAT IF YOU HAD UNLIMITED CONFIDENCE?" The photo comment included a link to his blog, and there I found an article by Dr. Mitch Smith, (find it here: The article discussed confidence and Smith's (2014) assessment of it's sources.

So I began thinking about confidence in general, confidence in sports, and then confidence in professional athletes. I am a person who spends a great deal of time thinking about thinking. I think about my own thoughts. I think about what others might be thinking. I think about what I might be thinking if I were in another person's shoes. So i'm thinking, "What if I were a professional athlete?" My first assumption would be that making it that far with my athletic ability would give me quite a bit of confidence in and of itself. But really, if you think of a professional sports organization along the same lines as any other business, and professional athletes as the businesses employees, they're just people doing their jobs, right? I mean business people, lawyers, doctors, etc. they have all made it to where they are based on their skills and abilities too. No one expects them to have 100% confidence in themselves ALL the time. So why would I assume athletes would be infinitely confident? They are professionals, but that doesn't make them anything but human beings. 

Confidence is an intangible we all manage on the reg. It is built up through positive feedback obtained from one's environment. The first example that comes to mind has to do with social situations. As children if we have positive experiences interacting with others, chances are we will grow up with the confidence to make new friends, go to parties, speak up in class or in a meeting. If the opposite is true, say as a child our social interactions include being bullied and eating lunch alone, there is a good chance we will continue to have anxiety in social settings.  

This concept can be applied to sports. If an athlete receives positive feedback from his environment regarding his athletic abilities, his confidence level will increase and he will be more likely to continue working to get even better. A kid picks up a football, throws it, and someone says, "Wow, you've got a great arm." The kid wants to throw the ball again. He does, positive results, he keeps trying. He keeps getting better. Positive feedback from the environment, whether that be throwing a touchdown pass, or receiving a compliment from someone else, is the first step in building a solid foundation of confidence in an athlete. 

Let's shift gears just for a moment, and talk about Peyton Manning. He is among the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. As of this season, 2014-2015, he has thrown more touchdown passes than any other professional football player, EVER. Going into Sunday's playoff game against his former team, the Indianapolis Colts, he has 530 career touchdowns. He has now been in Denver for three seasons and has led the Broncos to the playoffs all three years. However, after last season's complete embarrassment at the Super Bowl and given the fact he has only one Super Bowl title to his name, the question of Manning's playoff competence looms. 

More stats: Peyton's playoff record is 11-12. While in the NFL, he has played in 9 Divisional playoff games and has a losing record of 4-5. The good news (if you're a Denver Broncos fan) is, when he makes it to Conference playoffs he is 3-1. I had also planned to mention Peyton's seeming incompetencies in cold weather games, but upon further review have realized statistically, his numbers aren't as bad as I would have guessed when it comes to below average temperatures. Pat Graham of the Associated Press (2014) said, "Although Manning's record is sub-.500 in chilly conditions, his overall numbers really aren't that ghastly. He's thrown 43 touchdown passes and 27 interceptions while completing 62.6 percent of his passes, according to STATS. His completion percentage since joining the Broncos in 2012 is 67.7." (para. 10). I'm assuming he means in sub 40 degree weather, which is what most sources use to define "cold weather" games. 

So what's the struggle? Why is it that Peyton can't seem to bring the heat in the playoffs like he does during the regular season? My natural tendency is to consider how I might think and feel in his position, which leads me to ponder whether it's an issue of confidence. OKAY! I know you're probably shaking your head at me right now. Peyton has every reason in the world to have confidence spilling out from every crevice. But hear me out:  I have already discussed positive reinforcement as a factor in building confidence, Smith (2014), breaks it down into three sources of confidence for athletes. The first source of confidence is achieved through positive, verbal affirmation from others, as mentioned above; you've been encouraged and praised by coaches and teammates. The second is through visualization of prior success, again, mentioned above; you throw a touchdown, you visualize doing so when trying to repeat it, you throw another. The third source is gained through the knowledge of one's own hard work and dedication to greatness; you've worked hard in preparation, you know you've done all you can, you have a sense of preparedness. (paras. 5-7). 

Now, let's consider the even more plentiful, confidence crushing factors. Earlier, I talked about positive feedback from one's environment. Smith (2014), refers to a "feedback loop" (para. 9). The idea that affirmation from others, the visualization of prior success, and a sense of preparedness is on the forefront of your mind. When attempting an athletic feat, in Peyton's case throwing a touchdown pass, he has all three things happening. The problem arises when something interrupts that loop, say an incomplete pass or worse, an intercepted pass. Now, rather than the positive visualization he needs, the most recent image in his mind is this failure, along with all the negative feedback from the environment that will simultaneously occur. 

My conjecture here is when it comes to the playoffs, Peyton is afflicted with a negative feedback loop due to so many past failures at this point in the season. I realize Peyton Manning is a professional athlete. I know he works with a psychologist to overcome game day anxiety, nerves, and has likely tackled the issue of confidence. I encourage you, however, to consider the stakes of each playoff game for him. Put yourself in his shoes and think about the incredible amount of pressure he must feel, regardless of the countless mental exercises, relaxation techniques, and other psychological tasks he does to deal with it: (1) He is constantly reminded of "the window" as he is getting older, in which to win another Super Bowl. (2) He has been incredibly close the past three years in Denver but hasn't achieved the ultimate goal. (3) He is aware of his reputation in the media for "choking" in the playoffs. (4) Despite the fact football is a team sport, and he has a hell of a support system in both the Denver Broncos offense and defense, the failures of the team are absolutely reflected onto him as the quarterback and veteran of the sport. (5) Finally, there has to be a part of him that wants to match his brother, Eli's Super Bowl titles. 

I, for one, know I couldn't deal with that amount and level of pressure and I am absolutely astounded at his ability to handle it as well as he does. He is a professional football player, but he's still a human being. No matter a person's profession, they are always going to have psychological battles to fight in addition to physical feats to overcome. If Peyton truly struggles with this each time he goes to work, imagine the plight of your average athlete... your average person for that matter. The goal has got to be to overcome the negative feedback, and strive to see positive outcomes in one's future. 

Look for my post next week, and Let's go Broncos! 

p.s. The weather in Denver is currently 43 degrees, 21% chance of snow (increasing tonight, but not until after the game), and 3 mph winds.

*Fact checking and editing by: Patrick O'Brien and Ryan Finger

Graham, P. (2015, January 8). Cold Feat: With Weather  Turning Frigid, Peyton Manning Leads Balanced Offense  Into Playoffs. Associated Press. Retrieved  from:  tml?page=all&prepage=1&c=y#continue

Smith, M. (2014, December 15). Mental Skills in Basketball:  What if You Had Unlimited Confidence? Retrieved    from:  basketball-what-if-you-had-unlimited-  confidence/#.VLKactLF_m4

1 comment:

  1. I agree that confidence comes from competence, but does competence come from confidence? Also, completing a touchdown pass requires a receiver. Having confidence in the receiver is a whole different animal. Is it possible to have false confidence? Or can you be over confident? Very interesting!!! I like it!