Coach’s Log, Entry 3: The Importance of Negative Self-Talk

Coach’s Log, Entry 3: The Importance of Negative Self-Talk

March 22, 2022

You might have noticed that athletes tend to offer their own corrections when they finish a turn. Often, these corrections are valid; they fit the expectation of good feedback and provide proper direction for a better subsequent turn. Negative self-talk, however, can have dire effects on an athlete’s performance, and if pervasive enough, it can be detrimental to the entire class.

Inspired by a conversation with my long-time friend and trusted colleague, Jon Marek.

Many times, especially older athletes who have been in the sport for long, understand their bodies and technique well enough to know what needs to change in a skill to improve it. 

A concise discussion with the coach can lead to a helpful understanding of the changes required during these times. As coaches, we should encourage a critical approach to training from our athletes. And I emphasise the critical part because these discussions about self-regulation must remain short and respectful of the coach-athlete relationship.   

The effects of negative self-talk

Why negative Self-talk hurts

study published in the Journal of Sport Behavior concluded that “Cognitive anxiety intensity had a stronger relationship with negative self-talk than somatic anxiety intensity.” This conclusion shows something that may appear intuitive to many of us, that the way we talk to ourselves has a more significant cognitive impact on how we feel and act than what we hear from others. The study also revealed that the effects on anxiety brought on by negative self-talk are often debilitating. 

“Inner speech is a characteristic of human kind (Fields, 2002). Thoughts in the form of inner conversation deluge our mind and cognitive theorists have long emphasised the link between what people say to themselves and how they behave, suggesting that a person’s thinking can affect emotional and behavioral outcomes (Ellis, 1994; Meichenbaum, 1977). Meichenbaum (1977) viewed self-statements as indices of individual’s beliefs which may play a mediational role in behavioral performance.”

Journal of Sport Behavior, Vol. 31, No. 3

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And by offering a conclusion, I do not mean to imply that this conversation is over or in any way simple. There is much to say about this subject. 

Now, and here is where we turn a negative into a positive, realise that we can use negative self-talk to understand how our athletes genuinely feel about their performance. 

If self-talk is an index of an individual’s beliefs, it offers us accurate data about that individual’s frame of mind. We can use that information to formulate changes to training that are conducive to the emotional shifts we want to see in our athletes. 

This short write-up aims primarily to remind you to pay close attention to what your athletes say and how they say it. A disposition that will improve communication in the gym by opening everyone to the expectation of active listening and taking care of each other. 

This concept isn’t new; the scientific study of self-talk is decades old.

“Self-talk (ST) has been described as a “multidimensional phenomenon concerned with athletes’ verbalizations that are addressed to themselves” (Hardy, Hall, & Hardy, 2005, p. 905). Such verbalizations allow individuals to interpret feelings and perceptions, regulate cognitions and give themselves instructions and reinforcement.”

Hackfort & Schwenkmezger, 1993.

As I have many times before, I’ll submit that a willingness to pay more attention to what people say will improve overall life satisfaction. 

You may not ascertain what your athlete is feeling with much precision, but the mere act of listening better will get you closer to knowing how they see themselves and their place in the sport they love enough to give their time to. 

Thank you for reading. 

— Coach José

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