Self-talk is a valuable tool, one of the most effective methods of instilling self-confidence. Talking to yourself, despite being the first sign of madness, is also capable of improving performance.
Self-talk is used by most elite sportspeople to instil confidence, increase motivation and to help them to ‘get into the zone’. It is accepted that self-talk can boost productivity. Research has shown that effective self-talk can enhancement performance by as much as 3%, knocking around 90 seconds off a 45 minute 10km race.
For self-talk to improve performance, there are factors that are important to follow.
Specific self-talk for the situation is important. For example, you won’t be repeating the same mantra at the start, middle and end of a marathon. Having different phrases or quotes such as, for the beginning “start steady” and for the final few miles when you’re tiring “keep going, you can do this” “the quicker you run, the quicker it’s done” is a more effective method and constantly repeating “run faster”.
Like any other skill, self-talk needs to be practiced and rehearsed to improve. It is also important to ensure that what you are saying is actually effective and not damaging to your performance. It will also improve your confidence in using self-talk, as for some it is not a natural thing to do. Going over previous races or matches and analysing what you said and what helped is a good place to start. At the end of competition in the car home is a good time to consider what you have said and what you should use again. Often the things said on the spur of the moment can be the most effective, but self-talk practice can only benefit your performance.
Crucial to success is making the self-talk personal to you. It does not need to rhyme, it does not need to be an inspirational Muhammad Ali quote, it needs to be what works for you. Anything from a long poem, to a single word repeated, as long as it benefits your performance. Trial and error is the most effective way to establish what works for you. For some, negativity may work. Swearing and verbally punishing yourself may motivate you to push on, as long as it expresses itself in a positive way on your performance. Excessive negativity could create a confidence crisis which would be detrimental to performance. If you find negative statements work in a positive light for you, continue but keep in mind the fine line between an improved performance and a confidence melt down.
There is no need to be embarrassed about using self-talk. You don’t have to verbalise your self-talk, you can mentally say your phrases. If it helps, verbalise them, it may even distract your opponent and give you an advantage but don’t be embarrassed. Remember, if it works for you, it is right.