#93: Developing Self-Efficacy & Motivation in Sports w/ Exercise Scientist A’Naja Newsome

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We’re going to tackle self-efficacy and motivation in sports with our special guest A’Naja Newsome, Ph.D., CEP, a coach, and an educator with a lifelong career in sports performance and Exercise Physiology. She brings an amazing perspective to this topic!

So, get your notes ready as A’Naja shares her thoughts about a female athlete’s confidence, self efficacy, and why it’s vital in their development as an athlete and young woman.

Confidence and Self Efficacy

“There’s a difference between general confidence and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is specific to a task or activity that is done. Confidence is a personality…” —A’Naja

Self-efficacy is important in getting female athletes into sports. Confidence then follows. It is because when young female athletes are self-efficient in their sports they’d naturally develop specific beliefs in their own abilities to overcome anything. 

That belief and trust in themselves will be their confidence and assurance helping them to find a way through obstacles. 

Keys to Self-Efficacy and Development

There are two impactful sources of self-efficacy for young female athletes.

  • The first is “social support”. Having other female athletes, older mentors, coaches, or parents that are always there for them, helps develop self-efficacy. And moms have a very huge part to play in social support. You are modeling behaviors to your young female athletes.

 “My mom is a huge proponent of exercise, and being physically active, she played sports growing up, so she kind of mirrored that behavior for me. Seeing that and having that support in your own home, whether it be financial time, whether you have parents that are taking you here and their mentors that are pouring into you, that’s such a huge factor in self-efficacy because you have now this belief that other people think you can do it” —A’Naja

Research shows that social support, friends, and peers, are BIG factors in building self-efficacy in sports. When young girls feel that they are connecting to the important people around them, it creates a lot of positive experiences for them.

  • The second factor is “vicarious experiences and past experiences”. Self-efficacy is very specific to a certain activity, but if we have overcome an obstacle in the past or been successful at an activity in the past, it typically predicts our level of self-efficacy in the future. 

Motivation is a Powerful Psychological Concept

Motivation is important in helping female athletes to exercise and develop. It is a powerful psychological concept that we can approach in a lot of ways. 

  • The first thing that sparks motivation is talking about “what sports mean to them”. Have a good conversation with them about what they feel about their sports, and why they’re participating in them. 

There was a research study published about five years ago, where most women and girls attribute sport and exercise to physical performance, while men and boys attribute sport to fun, enjoyment, connection, and playing with their friends. 

That’s why we have to start understanding what our young girls equate sport to because if we’re trying to motivate them to do something, and they’re not making the connection between the purpose and the outcome, that hinders motivation.

  • The second is by having a healthy balance between “external and internal motivation”. 

External motivation or extrinsic motivation is the same as giving them rewards. You can reward them for participating, or for trying different things throughout the year. 

Internal motivation or intrinsic motivation is giving them the power to decide. You can give them a choice in doing what makes them happy. It is the same thing as letting them have the autonomy to pick what works for them and allowing them to experience it. 

You can also encourage them to evaluate the sports environment. Let them connect with the coaches and the team. It’s all about figuring out the type of environment that is motivating for them, an environment where they belong.

Another indicator of intrinsic motivation is being mindful of building competence and skill. Athletes tend to feel good about themselves when they see improvements whenever they work on it. They feel good when they do good at a task, and it fuels motivation. 

Redefining Success

One thing we can do as parents is really reevaluating how we’re defining success. When we redefine success, we help our daughters redefine their own definition of success too.

What does success mean to you as a parent? Is it winning?

Oftentimes we praise and reward them for winning the game. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what happens if they don’t win? What type of feedback are we giving them? 

This is why redefining success is important. Focus on the process more than the outcome. 

When you focus on the process, you focus on the tangible things that are in their control. It reaffirms their confidence in doing things that they can do on their own.

Young female athletes who focus on what’s in their control develop “Self Efficacy” which helps them focus on their tasks. Doing so will lead them into having “Self Confidence” as a part of their personality.

Give them a thumbs up even just for showing up today, showing up on time, and all the little things in the process they did on their own. Social Support and vicarious/past experiences are the most impactful source of self-efficacy. 

Part of creating positive experiences for female athletes is by connecting and figuring out their purpose in getting into sports. Knowing their purpose will motivate them to do more. And as parents, you can help spark their motivation externally and internally. Development and motivation follow when they are rewarded and when they experience autonomy, enjoyment, and competence in their sport.


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