We all know that athletes spend an insurmountable time physically preparing themselves for the sports in which they compete. What is often overlooked is an athlete’s mental “muscle”, a strength which has increasingly been understood to have a huge impact on the performance of any athlete, whether it’s a low performance or high performance sport.
An athlete’s inner voice or “self talk” is one of the most important contributors to an athlete’s mental toughness. It can have either a positive or negative impact on a person, depending on just what it is that an athlete is saying to themselves.
What Is Self Talk?
A number of psychological studies have revealed the link between one’s thinking and how they behave emotionally and behaviourally, both of which have a direct affect on an athlete. Human beings have an inner dialogue where thoughts are generated in the form of an internal conversation. What we often don’t consider is the fact that these private conversations we have with ourselves can have a large impact on how we behave and conduct ourselves publicly.
Anxiety: An Athlete’s Worst Nightmare
Athletes have a lot of pressure thrust upon them: their performance, their placement, and their competition are all reasons why they may suffer anxiety or worrying thoughts. Unfortunately, that anxiety and those worrying thoughts often lead to negative self talk. Studies have shown repeatedly that there is a clear correlation with anxiety and negative self talk, which then becomes a detriment to an athlete’s performance.
Negative self talk can occur at any time during an athlete’s performance. For example, an athlete who mentally beats him or herself up over losing points or having a bad serve will likely then continue to degrade his or her performance rather than improve.
Positivity Means High Performance
Here’s the good news: our brains can be reprogrammed so that they work for us rather than against us. Anxiety can be turned into increased focus and positive self talk that will lead to better performance and improve the development of an athlete. This is why, for example, the Australian Olympic, Paralympic and world athletes have a team of psychologists devoted to them during any event, to support them and ensure they remain relaxed and focused before, during, and after any event.