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Talent and Performance Developing Mindsets

Understanding Self-Talk: What do Athletes Tell Themselves?

In the sixth of a series of eight resources, Performance Psychology Consultant Philippa McGregor explores the concept of self-talk and offers top tips for coaches keen to support their athletes to use self-talk to improve performance

Self-talk refers to what athletes say to themselves out loud or internally (Van Raalte, 2013). 

We all have internal dialogue with ourselves, which most of the time we aren’t even aware of. 

Given the strong links established between thoughts, emotions and actions, for sport performance it is important to regulate the information we provide to one’s self, via self-talk (Wilson & Hugh, 2011). 

Self-talk is used to interpret feelings and perceptions, regulate and change evaluations and cognitions, and provide instructional and motivational reinforcement (Hackfort & Schwenkmezger, 1993; Hardy, 2006). 

For sport performers, self-talk has been proposed as a cognitive performance enhancement strategy through the regulating of how athletes think and what they tell themselves (Hardy, Comoutos, & Hatzigeorgiadis, 2018).

Self-talk affects performance by causing emotional and/or cognitive changes (Zinsser et al., 2010):

  • Emotional changes help athletes maintain levels of motivation, reduce negative emotions and increase self-confidence.
  • Cognitive changes direct attention to the appropriate movement and help athletes correct errors, focusing effectively on the task.

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