Post By: Nastasja Minja | Wednesday, July 1, 2020

sport psychology performance self-talk

We all have that inner chatter in our head that sometimes lifts us up and at other times gets in our way. But all in all, it is present all the time. The key question is whether we notice it or not. This flow of our thoughts or inner dialogue as we call it, is referred to as self-talk in sport psychology.

First we will take a look at different types of self-talk and as we do that, I would like to encourage you to try and identify your own most common examples for each type and write them down on a piece of paper.

Secondly, we will see how we can use self-talk as a mental skill to help us with performance enhancement.

4 types of self-talk (ST):

1| automatic vs. strategic

Automatic ST refers to the things we say to ourselves without any preparation in advance. This type of ST can be negative, neutral or positive (see n°3).

Example: “I forgot to put the paper in the printer again. Why am I always so distracted?”

Strategic ST refers to the cues and inner dialogue that we use as a part of a plan to achieve a certain goal. This type of ST can have an instructional or motivational nature (see n°2).

Example: “Breathe, focus, power; breathe focus, power; breathe, focus, power.”

2| instructional vs. motivational

Motivational ST is aimed ad psyching us up and lifting our energy levels for performing a task.

Example: “I can do it!”

Instructional ST is used to remind us of the technical aspects with regards to performing a task.

Example: “One breath, second breath, ball, elbow, throw.”

3| negative vs. positive (+ neutral)

Negative ST refers to the automatic inner dialogue where we criticize ourselves or anticipate a negative outcome.

Example: “I'll fail once again, I'm sure of it.”

Positive ST refers to the automatic empowering inner dialogue that often leads us towards a successful performance.

Example: “This is going to be fun and I'm going to nail it!”

Then there is also neutral ST where we talk to ourselves in a neutral tone.

Example: “What should I buy at the store today?”

4| internal vs. external

Internal ST refers to the inner dialogue going on in our heads.

External ST refers to the things we say to ourselves out loud.

These two refer to all the examples above.

There are actually more types and subtypes of ST that I will most likely mention in some of my future articles. For now, let's focus on the four types and their subtypes. I hope you wrote your examples for each one of them. In case you have, it means that you have just become more self-aware of your inner dialogue that can play a key role in enhancing your performance.

We will devote the second part of this article to strategic ST and the subcategories mentioned under n°2 – motivational and instructional ST. That is where we can create a simple start for embracing ST as a mental skill and see the benefits it can bring to our performance.

I would like to depict this with a story of an athlete who decided to test out the power of motivational ST when performing crunches. I was there to do the measurements and help her pick the best possible ST cue for the task. We started off by her performing as many crunches as possible in 30 seconds. The number she reached was 37. Then we took a one minute break during which we picked the combination of two motivational ST cues: “I can do it” and “just one more” for the second trial. After a minute rest she went on to do the next set of crunches for 30 seconds, this time using the two ST cues internally while performing the task. She went from 37 to… 46 (!!). The power of ST. It really does work and once you realize that, you end up more or less thrilled as the athlete from this story was when she heard about the results afterwards. If she hadn't used the ST cues, she would have probably repeated the 37 crunches or even more probably, have done a couple less due to the tiredness from the previous set. Instead she conquered the physical obstacles and used the power of her mind to improve her performance by a significant number of crunches. And that's just one story! There are tons of research papers reporting about hundreds of individuals who improved their performance with the help of this simple, yet powerful mental skill.

So, why not test it out?

Find an activity or a task that is important for you at the moment and pick a motivational or instructional ST cue that will instantly boost your performance. If not instantly, then in a short amount of time. Persistence is key to everything and mental skills training makes no exception. If you're automatic internal negative ST looks something like this now: “Nah, if I have to try hard, then it's a no-go”, let me suggest some strategic external positive ST to counter it: “I will try hard and succeed!”

“Watch what you tell yourself, you are likely to believe it.” – Russ Kyle

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