By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)

Working in professional sports, particularly with a team in sport psychology, the preseason performances and matches are important, not for the accumulation of points or to “win”, but instead they offer us coaches and sport psychologists insight into how our athletes are performing in match conditions so we that we can adapt our training plans accordingly. With help from my friends at CHEER Colorado, and a little inspiration from drag culture, I, Compete Sports Diversity’s resident Sport Psychologist, would like to help take you through building confidence for your performance.

In sport, confidence is the degree of certainty individuals possess about their ability to be successful. So, while we, as coaches believe in our athletes’ abilities as we’ve seen their capabilities during training; it’s up to us to help the athletes find that confidence within themselves and to express it during their performance. We know that sport confidence is influenced by achievement goals, social climate, emotional self-regulation, and the ABC triangle.


The ABC triangle is key here in that it involves three important processes, affect, behavior and cognition that influence sport confidence.

  • Affect
    • Positive emotions improve confidence.
    • Confidence moderates performance anxiety.
      • High Confidence + Anxiety = Good performance.
      • Low Confidence + Anxiety = Bad performance.
  •  Behavior
    • Confidence leads to increased effort and persistence.
    • Athletes will exert maximum effort to pursue goals if they believe there’s a reasonable chance of success.
    • Product achievement behaviors.
  • Cognition
    • Confident individuals are task focused and process oriented.
    • Confidence influences ability to cope to adverse situations.
    • Confidence correlated with more skill and efficiency in using cognitive resources to spur sporting success.

In my own experiences as an athlete, coach, and sport psychologist, I have experienced a lot of moments where I lacked the confidence in myself and my abilities. But, as an unapologetic gay man who has never quite “fit in” with a lot of the kinds of groups, I have also learned to harness the power of confidence within my daily life and activities that has helped me to overcome many barriers. That confidence came out of the crucial need for me to learn how to accept and embrace myself for who I was, especially during times when it felt like nobody else did. One of the most powerful things I’ve discovered is that the confidence in my own self-identity and authenticity in how I express myself as a person meant that nobody else would ever have the power to make me feel anything less than who I was.

In my work in sport psychology, I have often channeled inspirational figures into how I help the athletes learn confidence, especially from notable athletes of course. But more unconventionally, I have also used more than a few references to “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and drag culture in general as a key example in how to exude confidence. I am a big fan of drag culture, love attending drag shows, watching “Drag Race” and have many friends who are drag queens. Drag queens are some of the most intense and athletic performers I have ever seen, they will push the limits of their own capabilities during their performances to express themselves put on a show that leave you remembering exactly who that was. It is artistry in its own sense and to do what these queens do to express their art and own it takes a lot of strength, courage, and confidence. In short, those queens get up there and WERK.

From a sport psychological standpoint, performing in drag requires all the same skills and elements that athletes need when performing in their sport. The same can be said for people in other professions, acting, singing, dancing to performing surgery and flying a plane. These activities are vastly different in their own right, but to perform them adequately takes training, skills, motivation, and confidence. So, while working with my athletes, I am using the knowledge and experience I have in my professional training, athletic experience, and cultural knowledge, as an embodiment of my authentic self, to channel these skills, motivation, and confidence into my players.

Types and sources of confidence used by athletes.

  • Mastery (improving personal skills).
  • Demonstration of Ability.
  • Physical/ Mental Preparation.
  • Physical Self Presentation (athlete’s sense of self).
  • Social Support (Positive feedback, empowering climate).
  • Vicarious Experience (watching others perform successfully).
  • Coach’s Leadership (belief in coach’s skills and knowledge).
  • Environmental Comfort (feeling comfortable and safe).
  • Situational Favorableness (Perception of something happening that increases chances of success).

To be a performer in any sense, first and foremost, requires you to perform your task adequately in order to achieve your goal. To perform confidently is crucial in order to succeed as you are not only executing the skills you need, but you are able to drive your anxiety into pushing the capabilities of your training and increase your willingness to develop new strategies, try new things, and take risks in order to overcome obstacles to see it through. This is what it means to exude confidence, stand your ground and ultimately be dominant in your performance, so not only do you execute your task successfully, but you do so without any question or doubt of your abilities to get it done.

Whenever I look to an example of channeling confidence, I look to one of the most enduring and iconic performances in drag culture. I am referring to the one and only Tandi Iman Dupree. Dupree is a drag queen who competed at the 2001 Miss Gay Black America pageant in which her main performance was a lip sync to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero, become one of the most iconic, well known and sheerly impressive performances in drag hi(HER)story. “Holding Out for a Hero” was a very appropriate song to perform this routine to as to pull it off required every bit of skill, knowledge, training, athleticism, and confidence she had.

Without revealing any spoilers (watch the video of her performance), Dupree performed several stunts as part of her dance routine in front of a live audience, with help from her dance partner, Dee St. James. These stunts were very dangerous and risky, to the extent that, even today, you will be hard to find any dance performer (drag or not) be willing to perform them. To pull it off, Dupree had to be completely confident in her abilities, her timing, her routine, and her partner. No doubt she had anxiety leading into her famous entrance, but she was able to channel that anxiety into the performance. Had she any doubt, or second guess herself at any point, she could have (and would have) been seriously injured. Of course, it wasn’t just the stunts that sold it for us, the choreography of the routine and Dupree’s lip sync of the song were key in bringing it all together to bring it home. From the moment she hit the floor (literally), she didn’t just WERK it, she owned it. Over 20 years after her performance, and only a grainy camcorder recording as evidence it ever took place, Dupree is still remembered and talked about today.

High Sport Confidence is associated with…

  • Emotional control
  • Effective competition behaviors
  • Increased focus

Confidence is congruent with…

  • Positive thinking.
  • Effective competition focus.
  • Effective decision making.

Key Considerations…

  • Confidence going into competition must be high as athletes will not find confidence during competition if they don’t already have it.
  • Identifying culprit of underperformance and identifying improvement strategies is key to build confidence and performance.
  • Ask athletes to recall a time in their career when they felt most confident and least confident. Identify factors in both that contributed to their confidence.

When you look back at any and every success story in sports, whether it be Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Muhammad Ali and so many more, they all exuded the same confidence, courage, and skill to pull off a successful performance, but game time isn’t where confidence is built. Confidence building is most effective and crucial during training, and it is important to remember that factors that debilitate sport confidence are rooted in the sources of which they derive said confidence, so as athletes, coaches and sport psychologists, confidence requires that we identify the source and type of confidence to ensure we maintain them and nurture them during practice and competition.

CHEER Colorado is committed to raising spirits and empowering people into action that supports health and wellness and inclusion and diversity in the Colorado LGBTQ+ community and beyond. Learn more at

Photo Credit: Danielle Lirette Photography used with permission from Cheer Colorado