4 Cs of Psychology

Stress in competition can cause athletes to react physically and mentally in ways that can negatively affect how they perform. They may become tense or worry about the outcome of the competition and, then find it hard to concentrate on what they need to do.

The Four C's

Concentration, confidence, control and commitment are generally considered the main mental qualities that are important for successful performance in most sports.

  • Concentration - ability to maintain focus
  • Confidence - belief in ones' abilities
  • Control - ability to maintain emotional control
  • Commitment - ability to work towards specific goals

Athletes can use the techniques of relaxation, centering and mental imagery to help achieve the four C's.


This is the mental quality required to sustain attention on the task at hand. If an athlete lacks concentration, then their athletic abilities will not be effectively or efficiently used. Two types of attention focus are:

  • Broad Narrow continuum - the athlete focuses on a large or small number of stimuli
  • Internal External continuum - the athlete focuses on internal stimuli (feelings / thoughts) or external stimuli (eg. ball)

The demand for concentration varies with the sport:

  • Sustained concentration - distance running, cycling, tennis, squash
  • Short bursts of concentration - golf, archery, many athletic field events
  • Intense concentration - sprinting events, downhill skiing

Some common distractions are:

  • Anxiety
  • Mistakes
  • Fatigue
  • The opponent
  • Negative thoughts

Strategies to improve concentration need to be tailored to the individual. For example, focus is maintained by setting a process goal for each session. An overall goal is determined and a set of of process goals that help support the main goal are defined. For each of these goals, the athlete may use a trigger word (a word to refocus the athlete's concentration towards the goal). For example, while sprinting, to focus on being tall, relaxed and drive with the elbows - trigger word could be "Form".


Confidence results from the comparison an athlete makes between the goal, and their ability. The athlete has self confidence if they believe they can achieve their goal. When an athlete has self confidence, they will tend to persevere even when things are not going well, be positive, and take responsibility for their success or lack thereof.

To improve self confidence, an athlete can use mental imagery to:

  • Visualise a previous successful performance to remind them of how it felt
  • Imagine various 'what if' scenarios and how they will cope with them

Proper goal setting (challenging yet achievable) can bring feelings of success. If athletes can see that they are achieving their short term goals which moves them towards their long term goals, then confidence grows.

Confidence is a positive state of mind, and a belief, that you can meet the challenge - a feeling of being in control. The situation does not directly affect confidence, rather, it is the thoughts, assumptions and expectations that build, or destroy, confidence.

High self confidence

  • Thoughts - positive thoughts of success
  • Feelings - excited, anticipation, inner calm, elation, feel prepared
  • Focus - on self, on the task
  • Behaviour - maximum effort and commitment, willing to take chances, positive response to setbacks, open to learning, responsibile for outcomes

Low self confidence

  • Thoughts - negative, defeatist, doubt
  • Feelings - tense, afraid
  • Focus - on others, on less relevant factors (referee, conditions)
  • Behaviour - lack of maximum effort, easily give up, play safe, blame others / conditions

Control (emotional)

It is important to identify when an athlete feels a particular emotion and to understand the reason for the feelings. This is an important part of helping an athlete gain emotional control. It is essential that an athlete maintain control of their emotions and remain positive in order to have a successful outcome. Emotions often associated with poor performance are anxiety and anger.

Anxiety comes in two forms - physical (butterflies, sweating) and mental (worry, negative thoughts, lack of concentration). Relaxation techniques can be used to reduce anxiety.

When an athlete becomes angry, the cause of the anger often becomes the focus of attention, rather than concentration on the task. Performance deteriorates and confidence in ability is lost, which may further fuel the anger. Stopping this negative trend is critical.


Sports performance depends on the athlete being committed to numerous goals. For more serious athletes, the athlete will have many aspects of daily life to manage, such as work, studies, family, etc.

Commitment can be undermined by:

  • A perceived lack of progress
  • Not understanding the goals of the training program
  • Injury
  • Lack of enjoyment / boredom
  • Anxiety about performance

Setting goals with the athlete will give them joint ownership of the goals, raise their feelings of value, and therefore become more committed to achieving them. Many people such as the coach or friends, can contribute to an athlete's levels of commitment, especially during stressful times.

Successful emotional states

The following are emotional states associated with successful performance:

  • Happy - felt that this was my day, could beat anybody.
  • Calm and nervous - Felt nervous but ready to go.
  • Anxious but excited - Felt excited to compete yet a little nervous.
  • Confident - I recalled my successful training sessions and previous good performances