– Self-Talk – Self-Talk

Self-talk is the quiet, and in some cases not so quiet, conversations that you have with yourself prior to, during, and after your performances. Self-statements like “way to go,” “you can do it,”or “you’re an idiot” are examples of self-talk during performances. What you tell yourself directly effects how you feel and perform. Positive self-talk enhances a your confidence and improves your ability to perform well. Negative self-talk often leads to feelings like doubt, fear, or anxiety which limit your ability to perform up to your true potential. By improving your self-talk, you can stay more focused during practice and competition, motivate yourself to perform better, and experience greater success.

I like to use the following analogy when I teach this skill. Pretend you are teaching a child how to shoot a basketball. You would demonstrate how, explain the important aspects of this skill, and then encourage her to do her best. If she made the shot, you would reinforce what she did well and give genuine praise. “Way to go Jennie, I liked your follow-through!” If she missed, you would encourage her and give her some brief instructional feedback. “Its okay, bend your knees and focus on your target.” This type of teaching comes natural when we keep the right perspective. However, many performers lose the proper perspective when they critique their own performance. When they do well they seldom praise themselves or minimize their success. They just expect to do well all of the time. “Finally, why couldn’t have I started playing better earlier in the game?” Nevertheless, performers tend to be very critical of themselves and their abilities when they do not perform well. They are impatient, negative, and engage in self-talk that lowers their confidence and their belief that they can succeed. “You can’t do anything right, you don’t belong at this level of competition.” Imagine talking to a young performer like you talk to yourself. In many cases, you would take the fun out of performing and ruin the youngsters confidence. The obvious conclusion is to use self-talk that teaches, inspires, motivates, and enables you to believe in yourself and have fun. You can be your greatest fan or your worst enemy. You decide, the choice is yours!

Awareness is often the first step to change. You can only change your self-talk when you can identify what it is that you are saying to yourself. Next time you perform, be aware of your internal dialogue with yourself. After the performance, journal how well you performed, your level of confidence, and what you said to yourself that impacted your performance in a positive or negative way. Think of past performances and try to remember your self-talk. Watch yourself on videotape to help recall your emotions and thinking. Have your coach or teammates help you monitor your verbalizations during practice or competition. These are all ways to monitor what you say to yourself.

To change your self-talk you simply need to stop your negative verbalizations and thinking as soon as you notice it happening. Say “stop!,” use a cue word or phrase to help you refocus such as, “be positive,” clear your mind by taking a couple of deep breaths, or replace your negative self-statement, “its over, give up” with its positive counterpart “keep fighting, you can do it.” The main point is to stop the negativity, be positive, and perform with a clear mind. Changing your self-talk requires desire on your part to use more positive self-talk, an awareness of your self-statements, and persistent practice and effort.

Self-Talk Exercise

Directions: Complete this written exercise shortly after a practice or competition. Your assignment is to identify important events that occurred prior to or during your performance, your self-talk about those situations, and the emotional and performance consequences. You will then identify new ways of thinking in the future under similar circumstances and speculate about how the new thinking will lead to better results. I will give you an example to follow.

What happened during my performance?
I missed an important free-throw late in the game.

What did I tell myself about the situation?
“You’re a choker, you blew your opportunity to win the game in regulation.”

What effect did it have on my emotions and performance?
My shooting confidence, especially from the free throw line, suffered during the overtime period. I passed up open shots even when I had good looks at the baskets and missed 3 out 4 free-throws during overtime. My muscles were tense and I was thinking too much instead of just relaxing and playing the game. The game wasn’t fun, it was stressful.

What could I do or say differently in the future under similar circumstances?
I could say, “hey, everyone misses a free-throw from time to time.” “I’ll make the next one.” “Just relax and enjoy the game.” “Trust in your ability to shoot the ball well, you are a good shooter.” “I love the pressure situation and will make the other team pay for fouling me.”

How might that improve my emotional state and performance?
I would probably play more relaxed and my confidence would not fluctuate based upon my makes. I would also enjoy the game more.

For assistance in identifying ways to improve your self-talk contact:
Ron Chamberlain, Ph.D.
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
(801) 422-8018