Using Self-Talk in elite or amateur sport is arguably the most under-rated performance enhancer available to the athlete. Self-Talk is your inner voice and thoughts which at times can be extremely powerful and effective but can also be completely debilitating. Various studies have shown the powerful nature of positive thoughts both in day to day life, but also in athletic endeavours. If you chat to any athlete in the sport of track & field; it can be one of the loneliest sports to train for and one which requires an enormous amount of intrinsic motivation and dedication to continue to strive for the next personal best .
In the winter months, during the GPP, when the weather sucks; this is the time when these habits need to be started, developed and instilled. It needs to be ongoing and habitual, at most if not all practices to ensure it becomes second nature to the athlete. The athlete(s) need to be able to defer to this in the heat of competition when the ‘going gets tough’, things do not go to plan, or just to affirm all the hard work they have done to date. Having spent years training with a few athletes at the elite level; their level of self-talk is highly evident; there is no self-doubt; they fully back themselves that their preparation is sound and the performance and subsequent results should reflect this.
All you can ever ask of an athlete is to perform to their potential at that point in time (or perhaps exceed this). When the performance declines, or is unexpectedly poor and not due to overtraining or other stressors, often this can be put down to a fragile mental state of the athlete. I am a firm believer that once an athlete takes to the field (assuming they can hold it together) their level performance(s) was ultimately determined within the training they put together over the previous 6-12 weeks. If they perform to that level then all is well. If they do not; then questions should be asked of either the preparedness, readiness to compete, or the mental state. Self-doubt is the ultimate enemy (see the state of Tiger Woods at present; up until this past weekend). The ability to remove self-doubt or negative thoughts is an art in itself and requires practice over months or even years.
Try replacing your negative debilitating thoughts like:
“I can’t make that shot”
“I’m not as fast at her”
“I’m not as talented as him”
With positive affirmations about yourself which acknowledge all the hard work you have put in to get you to this point:
“I have made this shot many times and I am confident I can make it again”
“I am a very fast athlete with fantastic running form”
“I am as talented as the other players and I can compete with them”
These statements probably sound pretty silly to those who have never tried ‘Self-talk’ or think it is a waste of time.
Within the past three weeks, I attended two major athletics events on the Australian calendar, the Australian National Track & Field championships in Brisbane, QLD, and the Stawell Gift in Stawell VIC. There are commonalities with those who make the finals at these events; although the talent and performance level can be quite different. At the beginning of the event, whether it is for Pole Vault, on the Long Jump runway, or before the Gift final, you can physically see these athletes mumbling words of wisdom, rehearsing mantras and giving themselves affirmations, preparing their mind to allow their body to achieve their best possible outcome.
Of course not everyone will be able to cross the line first, or jump the furthest, but it is about performing to the best of your ability when it counts.
Through the hard months of winter training, this is the ideal time to prepare yourself for the competition season by using Self-talk. Develop some easy-to-remember, positive, specific statements, which you can use when the going gets tough… And if you think this is all rubbish and nonsense; when you are in a major competition which has ‘a lot on the line’ (or when the weather gets poor during the winter and you want to quit); tell yourself how much of a terrible athlete you are, how it is freezing, how you don’t deserve to win and how all your competitors are superior… see how you go then
The mind is a powerful tool. Use it effectively.