Self-talk: how to use this to increase performance

Self-talk is one of the most popular “mental skills” available across all sports, extensively used by sports teams and athletes, and administered by qualified sports psychologists.

In case you’re wondering, self-talk refers to statements of speech where an athlete refers to themselves, said to themselves. And no, before you ask this isn’t some seventeen-century witchcraft, it’s a highly effective and accessible sports psychology skill.

Before you dive nose-first into telling yourself you want to be like Christiano Ronaldo, it’s important to make the distinction between “self-talk” and “positive self-talk.” When performing self-talk, it’s important to only talk positively to yourself.

For example, if you get anxious when taking a freekick, don’t say to yourself, “I’m really nervous,” instead tell yourself statements such as “relax” or “I’m calm, I’ve got this.” Using statements like this, and practicing these in training increase familiarity when put to use in-game, reducing anxiety and increasing confidence.

The basics of self-talk 

Self-talk is one of the most basic but effective mental skills available to athletes of all abilities. 

To get the most out of this skill, we recommend creating a self-talk script. If possible, you should match self-talk statements to those you struggle with in-game or during your sport, or even areas of motivation you suffer with.

Then, once you have the script wrote, practice this until you feel comfortable, later using these exact statements in real sporting situations e.g. in-game, to reduce anxiety and improve sports performance.

Regular practice is a must

The more consistent you are practicing your new self-talk script, the better. Aim for at least 2-3 times a week of rehearsal, allowing these statements to become second nature when both training and performing in your sport.

However, for some athletes, repetition is a must – especially those who suffer a lack of motivation. Let’s say you struggle waking up for training at 7 am every day, you should re-word your existing thoughts or feelings into positive ones – see the example below: 

Current feeling: I’m too tired to train; I want to go back to bed.

Positive self-talk: It’s early, and I’m tired, but that means I’m training when nobody else is.

As you can see, there is room for imagination when creating these self-talk scripts. The more personal and tailored to you these are, the better.