In this article I aim to outline a clear and important distinction between the concepts of belief and faith. In the world of sport the importance of having belief is regularly emphasised, however I argue that having belief is not as powerful as one may think.
What is belief?
Belief by definition is to “have confidence in the existence of (a person or a thing), or the occurrence of (an event)” Oxford English Dictionary.
Beliefs are directly related to the events that are happening around you. This means ‘seeing is believing’ with what you experience working as evidence to prove or disprove your beliefs.
Therefore in competitive sport, the athlete’s belief in their ability is usually dependent on how well they are performing.
If the athlete is performing well positive beliefs about their ability are reinforced, whilst during times of defeat and setback, belief in the athlete’s sporting abilities is likely to be damaged.
If belief is dictated by performance, it can be argued that belief holds no or little value of its own, as it is only a commentary of how well the athlete is doing at a given time.
By definition belief cannot exist if the object of this belief is not visible. For example if an athlete continues to play badly for a significant length of time then it becomes increasingly difficult for them to create high levels of belief in their ability, because of this lack of evidence and reason to do so.
Is it possible for the athlete to have a deep rooted belief in their sporting abilities even when they are performing badly?
The answer is ‘yes,’ however what was once called belief is now referred to as ‘faith.’
Faith is believing in the absence of success, Nideffer (1992)
Faith is knowing that whatever your sport throws at you, you will still achieve your professional goals.
The real power of faith comes from its unmovable properties. While belief is dependent on what is actually happening in the realm of sport, faith remains fixed in place, irrespective of the surrounding circumstances.
During times of loss, faithful athletes are able to remain confident and committed to their cause, while athletes that only have belief, allow the quality of their performances dictate how they subsequently feel.
Here are 2 flow charts that show how faith can impact on performance when an athlete makes a series of mistakes in the field of play:
Series of mistakes----- Creates a lack of belief (No Faith)----------Unmanageable feelings of self doubt------------Start playing conservatively---------------Opponent takes control of the game---------Increased chance of losing
Series of mistakes---- Unmoved level of belief (High level of faith)---------Manageable feelings of doubt----------Playing with assertiveness and courage-------Regain dominance in the game-------------Increased chance of winning
The flow charts show that faithful athletes never compromise who they are and how they play in the face of challenges and tough situations.
The power of faith in action
In 2001, the Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanisevic won the grand slam Wimbledon, despite being entered in the tournament as a wild-card.
Before 2001, no wild card had ever won Wimbledon!
Ivanisevic was given little or no chance of winning the title that he had desired throughout his career, having lost in the final three times prior to that year.
He entered the tournament following two disastrously bad seasons in 1999 and 2000, during which his world ranking slumped from 12 to 97.
Much had been speculated about the reasons for Ivanisevic’s unprecedented success that year.
After being quizzed about his unlikely achievement, Ivanisevic attributed his success at Wimbledon that year to a deep rooted sense of faith.
He talked of how he made a pact with God to give him ‘one more chance’ of winning the title that had eluded him throughout his illustrious career. Apparently from the onset of the tournament with all the evidence pointing towards him being out of form and at the end of his career, in his own words he still knew that he was going to lift the trophy.
If you can cultivate an unmoving sense of faith in your abilities as a professional, any challenge can be met.
Ivanisevic’s experiences in the 2001 Wimbledon Grand slam highlights how having faith in your abilities moves the athlete beyond the realm of believing and into the realm of knowing.