The mental side of sports is an often overlooked training skill that all athletes should develop. One of the first skills an athlete--or anyone who exercises--can begin is with the messages they tell themselves.
Researchers have found that the self talk an athlete uses can significantly change their sports performance. A meta-analysis of 32 sports psychology studies published in Perspectives on Psychological Science looked at how the specific thoughts athletes tell themselves works both for and against them. Some of the highlights include:
- For sports requiring improved skill and technique, instructional self talk (Keep your eye on the ball) was more effective than motivational self talk (You can do it!).
- For sports requiring strength and endurance, motivational self-talk was more effective.
- Positive self-talk is more helpful when learning a new skill than when performing a familiar, well-learned task.
Ongoing research in sports psychology continues to find support that practicing positive self talk can improve sports performance. Sports psychologists explain this link by pointing to the idea that thoughts create beliefs that ultimately drive actions. In this way, if we are better able to control, or manage, our thoughts, we may be better able to improve our behaviors and ultimately, our sports performance.
Some common ways to practice positive self talk include reciting a positive mantra, and using visualization exercises in which you mentally rehearse a positive outcome.
Learn more about how to start developing positive self talk.