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Effects Of Self Talk In Sport Psychology

Updated on February 14, 2013
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer, he ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

Self Talk Can Greatly Affect Sporting Performance

Positive self talk can help your sporting performance.
Positive self talk can help your sporting performance. | Source

How Can Self Talk Affect Your Sporting Performance

We all talk to ourselves during each and every day. We procrastinate, we praise or simply provide a running commentary in our heads. The effects of this self talk can have a significant impact on our performance.

Self talk in sport psychology is a relatively simple aspect of performance to develop. However it takes hard work and dedication to master

What Is Negative Self Talk?

Self-Talk is our internal dialogue. Those conversations we have with ourselves through day and night. You're commenting on this in your mind as your read it.

Controlling our self talk is one of the hardest things many athletes will attempt- harder than any physical torture you could put your body through in the name of sport. For an athlete, negative internal messages are amongst the biggest contributors to pre-race nerves, performance anxiety ,poor decision making and the most dreaded thing for many athletes- choking.

Negative self talk can be an extremely limiting factor for many individuals in both life and sporting development. Many people when they delve deeper into sport psychology wish to reduce their negative self talk it, make it less intrusive with their sports and or even take charge of it for positive use.

For an athlete self talk can greatly influence both behavior and ultimately performance. Self talk can strongly affect our mood state. It features particularly strongly in negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, and panic. Situations where an athlete needs to react and make the right decision can be greatly influenced

Negative Self Talk In Action- A Case Study

How anxiety can negatively affect performance.

Scenario Richard, a runner is worried about his upcoming marathon event.

In the period up to Richard's marathon event he consistently negative self talks about how hard it will be on his body and starts to visualise lots of 'worst-case scenarios'. He mental rehearses his event to go badly. This increases his feelings of anxiety and subsequently increases the chances that his marathon will go poorly.

Do You Talk Yourself Out Of Running?

Do you find that it's easy to talk yourself out of doing things? That's negative self talk in action
Do you find that it's easy to talk yourself out of doing things? That's negative self talk in action | Source

How Self-Talk Works In Sport

Our thoughts play a critical role in our response patterns in life and sporting situations. Many people incorrectly believe that their reactions are only shaped by their emotional and physical responses to a particular event. However these events in the themselves are unlikely to cause your specific frustration and anxieties. It is actually your interpretation of a sporting event that determines self talk in sports psychology terms.

Self talk generally follows the pattern of

  1. Environmental Stimulation
  2. Perception and evaluation of the event
  3. Emotional, behavioral and physiological response emitted.

Self Talk In Action- Tennis

Environmental Stimulation
Perception Of The Event
Emotional, behavioral and physiological response
1. Missing an important shot in a tennis game
"I'm an idiot. I'll never win this game now!"
Feelings of anger and frustration leading to heightened muscle tension
2. Missing an important shot in a tennis game
"This match is still alive, I can win this!"
Improved concentration leads to calmness and focus.
Adapted from Weinberg and Gould (1999)

The Importance Of Self Talk In Sports

As the above example shows- self talk in sport can be vital for your concentration. It also has potential to improve performances in other ways.

Motivation. Self talk can be a great motivator. Just by reciting positive words can you increase your motivation. You can almost hear the self-talk in a gym environment as exercisers scream at themselves to push "harder, HARDER".

In a gym environment there's a lot of self talk towards sustaining effort. Positive motivational self talk can really spur on endurance performance. In a time trial cycling event riders will be consistently talking to themselves to ensure calm yet powerful technique while pushing hard towards a fast time.

Coaches often encourage athletes to use self-talk as part of their sporting development. While learning a new skill we all experience self-talk and analysis of results and how we feel performing an activity. Positive self talk during development of skills can help to enhance learning.

Techniques To Improve Your Self Talk For Enhanced Sporting Performance

Aim to change your negative self talk into positives by making a list.

Negative self talk is inevitable for us all. We need to analyse performance and subsequently we can have negative thoughts. The trick is to aim to turn negatives in positives,

You can do this by thinking back to a recent sporting performance and listing the negative thoughts you can remember. Your aim is to establish that circumstances will lead to a selection of negative thoughts.

Once you have a list of negative self talk thoughts, aim to replace the negative with a positive statement in a similar manner to those thoughts in the table below.

Change Negative Self Talk Into Positives

Negative Statement
Positive Statement
"I'm a fool. How on earth did I miss that shot?"
"We all make mistakes. I need to focus and be ready for the next shot."
"I'm going to take things easy today and put more effort in tomorrow"
"I'm going to work out hard today, then tomorrow I can take things easier."
"I never cycle well in wet conditions"
"I can race well in the rain, everyone has to deal with it."
"I've never kept to an exercise program in the past"
"I'm going to take it one positive day at a time, It's time to change."
"That shot was definitely in! Why does this always happen to me?"
"Everyone loses out on tight decisions. The next one will go my way I'm sure"
Statements to improve self talk in sports psychology.


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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks Tony. Psychology is quite off putting to many athletes and as such it's an often neglected aspect of personal performamce that can seriously make a difference. I have a few more psychology related articles planned as feel its an area we all can improve dramatically.


    • capon profile image

      Tony Capon 5 years ago from Upminster, Essex, United Kingdom

      Liam, I tend to shy away from "Psychology" type things, but your article wasn't heavy and is full of common sense. Tony