Friday, July 3, 2015

Self-Talk: Whether You Think You Can, Or You Can't, You Are Right

Nobody talks to you more than you do.  All day long you have a subconscious running dialogue with yourself.  What you think and what you say to yourself can have a great influence on your performance.  You want to get to a place mentally in which you feel so internally positive that you can maintain a winning attitude through times of adversity during the game. The key is incorporating a sports psychology technique into your game preparation known as “self-talk,” which can eliminate state anxiety and increase your self-confidence.   
Self-talk can be described as the key to cognitive control as it refers to internal dialogue, including thought content and self-statements.1 It is up to you to decide if you are going to engage in negative or  positive self-talk.  For example, when you are in the heat of the game and you miss a shot, what do you say to yourself?  If you are dwelling on the missed shot and the disappointment you will most definitely lose self-confidence, anxiety control, and concentration, all of which will certainly lead to poor performance.  Like-wise, if you regain your composure and remind yourself of the countless shots you have made in practice every day, you will experience the opposite effect.  Some of the reasons athletes employ negative self-talk are as follows:
  • tuning in to errors so they can fix them, but then dwelling on them
  • being a perfectionist and setting unrealistic standards
  • engaging in all-or-nothing thinking (‘I can’t shoot’) or over-generalization (‘I always miss those shots’).
It is important that you are aware of these dangerous thought patterns and instead shift to more positive thinking.  It is easier said than done, but here are 3 steps of action you can take to begin developing positive self-talk habits.
  1. Choose a mantra
To get started with creating a more positive self-talk, choose one of two mantras you can use during your training. This could be a simple affirmation, such as "I feel strong," or the mantra "I feel explosive," or another simple, positive phrase you can repeat over and over.2
  1. Practice multiple scenarios
Once you have developed the habit of repeating this phrase during practice to the point where it is automatic, start expanding the dialogue so that you have familiar and comfortable statements for a variety of situations during your sport. For example, after a missed shot in basketball you might say, "I’m a great shooter," or "next shot, best shot."2
  1. Create a positive mental image or visualization
The phrases and words you choose should be those that you can immediately call up and create a visual picture of yourself doing exactly what you say. The image along with the words are a powerful combination that creates a positive message tied to a belief.2
Practicing this sort of sports psychology skill is one way to take your athletic performance to the next level.2   
1Bunker, L, Williams, JM and Zinsser, N 1993, ‘Cognitive techniques for improving performance and self-confidence’, in JM Williams (ed.), Applied sport psychology: personal growth to peak performance, Mayfield, Mountain View, CA. pages numbers?
2Quinn, E. (n.d.). Positive Self Talk and Sports Performance. Retrieved June 29, 2015, from

1 comment:

  1. Self-talk is an aspect of sports that allows one to truly "master their craft". Many times athletes like to play mind games with their opponents, but they are on another playing field once they can make a statement to themselves and raise their level of play. I recently watched Serena Williams win her third Grand Slam of the year at the Wimbledon. It was said that the turn of her career was made when she transitioned the way she spoke to herself. After reading your article I realize that in her younger years, Serena would get caught up in negative self-talk. This was because she wanted to be a perfectionist and when things went wrong she would implode. As she has matured, she has turned to positive self-talk regains her confidence and handles adversity well.