Self-Talk — How to Excel Off the Field/Court
The game is over and you underperformed. You know you can do better and you might feel like you’ve let your team down. Maybe you play an individual sport and you’ve just finished a tournament where you felt below par.
With a grueling week of practice ahead before you have another shot at performing well, your mind may begin swirling with many competing thoughts. These are the times when you feel the need to improve in order to not repeat the same mistakes. This is when you are prone toward negative self-talk.
The thoughts running through your head could vary considerably. You might feel down and think everything about your performance is poor. Or perhaps you are thinking critically about specific parts of your game. A few little tweaks to your technique and you’re right back on top.
Your self-talk — the thoughts and words you use in reference to yourself — is a key component in performance.
Generally, negative self-talk links to worse performance and positive self-talk connects with better performance. While there might be exceptions to the rule, these notions are generally accepted.
The Spectrum of Self-Talk
Self-talk, actually, exists within a spectrum between negative and positive thoughts. You can divide self-talk into 4 quarters — negative, neutral, technical, and positive. While negative and positive are self-explanatory — “I’m not good enough at” or “I really crushed this,” neutral and technical are a little more nuanced. When we think about neutral thoughts, we are considering self-talk with no connection to the work you are doing. These thoughts work best when you engage in mind-over-matter activities. If you’re running a half-marathon, it can help for your mind to find its inner beach.
Technical self-talk, on the other hand, focuses on proper technique. These thoughts center on the right way of performing a specific repetition during practice.
In between games/performances, your tendency will be toward practicing toward improvement. In these instances, your self-talk can lean toward negativity. When you take a critical eye toward your biggest athletic flaws, it is very easy to slide into negativity, which might have a deleterious effect on your practice and performance. So how can we shift toward the positive?
Well, the people with a tendency toward negativity might find a shift toward positivity to be difficult. You can’t just decide to think differently; that’s not how we are wired. You need to impart specific strategies in order to shift from the negative to the positive.
Changing the Conversation
If you find it incredibly difficult to tell yourself you are good at something when you continue finding flaws in your performance, try shifting toward technical self-talk. You might not “believe” you are good at it, but you can motivate yourself through proper technique. Instead of seeing deficiency; see opportunity. When you enter the specific movements during practice, tell yourself about the perfect technique needed to perform the movement. It’s a small but necessary shift toward positivity.
At deeper level of intentionality, start journaling your thoughts. You’ll begin to sense the trends of your self-talk and you can better diagnose the areas prone toward negativity. A level of mindfulness around those areas will allow you to nip the thought before it grows into something more destructive. Replace it with something more constructive. A heavy mind equals a heavy body. A cluttered brain equals a body of disconnect.
Your time between games/performances is a time for improvement. But to get the best performance, start practicing your mental edge as well.