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Leveraging Self-Talk for Enhanced Performance

Self-talk, the internal or external dialogue athletes engage in, can significantly influence their performance, resilience, and motivation. Our performance is impacted by what’s called the Thought-Performance Interaction. This states that our thoughts affect our emotions, which affect our physiology and ultimately our performance. They all interact with each other, but usually, all things lead back to the way we talk to ourselves. We would like for our thoughts to be productive versus unproductive.

Productive vs. Unproductive Self-Talk

  • Productive Self-Talk: This type of self-talk enhances performance by boosting confidence, sharpening focus, or maintaining a positive mindset. Productive self-talk can also foster neutral thoughts that prevent performance-damaging mental patterns. Examples include strategic affirmations like "Stay focused, just like in practice," or calming reminders such as "Keep calm, you know how to handle this."

  • Unproductive Self-Talk: This involves self-dialogue that undermines performance, such as doubt-inducing or critical thoughts. Unproductive self-talk often emerges when athletes do not consciously manage their mental dialogue, leading to increased stress and distraction. Examples include "I always mess up in these situations" or "I’m not good enough to be here."


By strategically using self-talk, athletes can enhance their mental toughness and achieve their performance goals. Here’s how to effectively utilize self-talk in sports:

  1. Positive Self-Talk:

    • Motivation and Encouragement: Use affirming and positive statements to boost your confidence and drive, especially under pressure. Phrases like "I can handle this," "I’m well-prepared," or "I’ve got this" can help maintain high levels of self-assurance and motivation.

    • Focus on Strengths: Regularly remind yourself of your abilities and past successes. Before a competition, reinforce your self-belief with thoughts like, "I am strong," "I excel under pressure," and "I am a skilled player."

  2. Instructional Self-Talk:

    • Technique Improvement: Use self-talk to focus on and refine specific technical aspects of your performance. For example, a golfer might repeat, "Keep your eyes on the ball, smooth swing," while a sprinter could tell themselves, "Explode off the blocks, quick feet."

    • Strategic Planning: During games or matches, guide your actions with strategic self-talk. A soccer player might think, "Pass then move," or a basketball player could focus on "Find space, stay alert."

  3. Combating Negative Thinking:

    • Reframe Negative Thoughts: Actively challenge and reframe perfectionistic or catastrophic thoughts. Instead of thinking "If I don’t succeed, it’s over," remind yourself "Every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow."

    • Thought Stopping: When negative thoughts intrude, use a mental or verbal "Stop" to halt them, redirecting your focus to positive or neutral thoughts.

  4. Managing Stress:

    • Calming and In-Control Phrases: When nerves strike, employ calming self-talk to manage anxiety and maintain composure. Saying "Relax and breathe," "Stay calm, and focus on the present" can help reduce symptoms of stress and refocus your mind.

    • Resetting After Mistakes: Use self-talk to manage setbacks or errors. Remind yourself, "Next opportunity," or "Let it go, focus on now," to quickly recover from mistakes and prevent dwelling on past actions.

  5. Performance Review:

    • Constructive Feedback: After performances, use self-talk for self-assessment and growth. Reflect with thoughts like, "What did I learn today?" and "How can I use this experience to improve?"

    • Celebrating Successes: Don’t forget to acknowledge your achievements. Positive reinforcement can be as simple as, "I did well today; I'm proud of my effort."

Implementing Self-Talk Strategies

Start by identifying negative or unhelpful patterns in your current self-talk. Mental performance coaches can help athletes find ways to actively replace these thoughts with more constructive or supportive messages. Practice regularly during training, before competitions, and in everyday life to make positive self-talk a deeply ingrained habit.

Personalize Your Phrases

Develop and refine self-talk phrases that specifically address your personal challenges and align with your performance goals. This makes the self-talk more effective and relevant to your needs.

By consciously practicing positive and instructional self-talk, athletes can enhance their focus, reduce performance anxiety, and improve their overall effectiveness in their sport. Harness the power of your words to transform your mental game and elevate your athletic performance.


How Do I Get Started?

If you’d like to get started, but have some questions, schedule a free introductory call with me to see if we’d be a good fit by clicking here!

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