Self Talk: How you talk to yourself, will dictate how you perform
All athletes talk to themselves during competition, but it’s the content of what is being said that will determine their level of success. Performance is not random and learning to control self-talk can help athletes manage the information they are feeding themselves on a regular basis. Just as athletes regularly train their body to execute precise skills or maintain a certain pace, they need to regularly train the mind to think precise thoughts and focus on specific things.
Self-talk becomes an asset when it enhances the self-worth and performance of an athlete. It can also help the performer stay focused in the present, not dwelling on past mistakes, or projecting too far into the future. Self-talk, however, becomes a liability when it is negative, distracting to the task at hand, or so frequent that it disrupts the automatic performance of skills. It also becomes particularly destructive when an athlete evaluates his or her performance and then engages in self-labeling, such as believing they are a “loser” or a “choke artist”. When athletes hold these negative perceptions of themselves, their behavior will often reinforce these perceptions and confirm to themselves that they are correct; in essence becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When athletes do not control their self-talk, they are unable to eliminate the dysfunctional and self-defeating thoughts that lead to worry, poor performance, and a reduced level of confidence. They essentially allow their minds to program failure through self-doubt and negative statements, and as a result, the body will merely perform what the mind is thinking. Therefore, in order to eliminate the counter productive thoughts, they must first be identified.
When working with athletes who’s self-talk is negative, I attempt to teach them how to convert these thoughts into positive self-talk. For example, if a golfer just hit a bad shot and his or her first reaction is to say to themselves, “How could I make such a bad shot, this is going to be an awful round.” I encourage them to convert that thought to a positive one, such as, “Everyone hits a bad shot occasionally, just concentrate on the next one.” This keeps the golfer positive and focused on the next shot, not dwelling on the last one.
Another method for helping self-talk is the Tic Toc technique. This strategy allows an athlete to switch attention from non-productive to productive thoughts, feelings, or actions, by using the words Tic Toc to trigger the response. I instruct athletes to identify any irrelevant or negative statement or thought as a Tic, which they will then convert into a positive and relevant thought, or a Toc. I instructed them to be aware of the Tics and make them into Tocs. Athletes do well with this technique as it challenges them and taps into their innate competitiveness. The next time you are on the links, or playing on a court, see how many tics you can make tocs.