Athletes are always looking to gain an edge in mental toughness and on-field success, but did you know one of the easiest ways to do this is to simply improve upon self-talk? Yes, the dialogue we have with ourselves has a dramatic impact on our focus, confidence level, motivation, and resiliency — yet the value of positive self-talk is something that is often minimized by athletes who erroneously think it is not very important.
Sport psychologists often encourage athletes to engage in positive, productive self-talk in order to minimize anxiety while increasing self-confidence. For example, rather than cursing and saying terrible things to yourself after an on-field mistake, try to instead say things like “stay up and keep focused – I’ll do better on the next play.” Yes, there is nothing magical about keeping self-talk positive as it is something that every athlete can do, but you might be amazed at the overall impact this one skill can do in the heat of competition.
The impact of negative self-talk
When athletes engage in negative self-talk and call themselves all kinds of profanities (or other negative names), they actually disrupt the much needed mind-body synergy that leads to automatic, precise, muscle memory movements. Delving deeper, an example might be when an athlete misses a play and swears at himself in disgust — in that very moment not only does focus go to a negative place (usually the last bad play rather than the next play coming up), but the negative energy expended on the personal insult often increases breathing & heart rate, tightens muscles, creates butterflies in the stomach, and can even increase perspiration —- all things that usually take away from the calmness needed for athletic success.
Adding a cue word
Athletes of all levels can benefit from positive self-talk, but sometimes it’s difficult to remember this in the middle of an action-packed game. To avoid this from happening athletes can decide upon a cue word (a word, phrase or acronym used to trigger automatic positive thoughts), and write the word in places where it will easily be seen – like on a shoe, hand, or other piece of equipment. The cue word can be as simple as the word “focus,” or an acronym like RMFP (reach my full potential).
Using positive self-talk is a must for any athlete serious about their game, and the best part is that using cue words is something that is 100% under the control of the athlete. Remind the athletes you parent or coach of this fact, and help them begin to use this very important sport psychology technique if they want to take their game to the next level.
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