When it comes to improving performance. building self-esteem, good sportsmanship, and camaraderie, one of the most important aspects of sports psychology is positive self-talk. Research suggests that positive self-talk is associated with better performance. In fact, the Australian Sports Commission has carried out research that demonstrates the detrimental impact negative self-talk has on performance and having a positive attitude when it comes to athletic endeavours improves performance.
Young people, in particular, can benefit from learning more about positive self-talk. Improvements in their inner dialogue can improve both their attitude and performance and can have a positive influence on their interactions outside the sporting sphere. Quirky Kid has developed a program designed at young people aged 10 to 16, called Power Up.
A common presentation for our young athletes is an inner dialogue that is dominated with doubt and negativity. Common expressions we hear from our young athletes are
“I’ll never be able to do it!”,
“I am no good at it,”
“there is no point trying.”
This type of negative self-talk can prevent a young athlete from performing well and create a negative cycle of poor self-esteem and poor performance. If a child feels they can’t be successful at a task, they often accept, and even expect failure. Negativity can turn a child’s insecurities into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The good news is that positive self-talk is a skill that children can learn and utilise with practice. By using positive self-talk, young athletes can build the confidence they require to accept new challenges, maintain a healthy self-esteem, and build on new skills, even when the task is personally challenging. The first task in helping children challenge and change their self-talk is to support them in recognising negative self-talk patterns and identifying unhelpful language such as “can’t” or “never” in their internal dialogue. Some children put themselves down by referring to themselves as “stupid” or by using other put-downs. Once a child has identified negative self-talk, they can be assisted in challenging and replacing those thoughts.
Like many habits, the process of replacing negative self-talk can take some time. Children need to learn to interrupt patterns of self-doubt with more realistic and helpful thinking. For example, a young soccer player who tells herself, “I’ll never score this goal,” can replace this thought with a more helpful and realistic thought such as “I’ve made the goal many times during practice and I can do it again!”. Just saying happy things is not enough, children must believe the positive thought and thus the key is to replace negative thoughts with thoughts that reflect reality and that are helpful.
One way to practise positive thinking is through practising self-talk out loud each morning in front of the mirror. Write a daily affirmation on a Post-It note and stick it on the child’s mirror so they can start each day in a positive frame of mind. Ask them to say the affirmation out loud in the morning, and to remind themselves of it whenever they’re thinking negatively throughout the day.
Interrupting and replacing negative self-talk can be a challenging task for children who suffer from low self-esteem, but with practise, young athletes can learn to accept challenging situations without putting themselves down and can and learn to feel good about both their strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re interested in learning more about how sports psychology can help children develop their self-esteem and athletic skills, and be positive teammates, please contact us.
Purchasing Power up
Austin, M (2016). Listening to the voices in your head: identifying and adapting athletes’ self-talk. Volume 28 Number 4
Bunker, L, Williams, JM and Zinsser, N 1993, ‘Cognitive techniques for improving performance and self-confidence’, in JM Williams (ed.), Applied sport psychology: personal growth to peak performance, Mayfield, Mountain View, CA. pages numbers?
Carlson, R 1997, Don’t sweat the small stuff, Bantam, Milson’s Point, NSW.
Carlson, R 2005, Easier than you think, HarperCollins, New York, NY.
Hardy, L, Jones, G and Gould, D 1998, Understanding psychological preparation for sport: theory and practice of elite performers, John Wiley and Sons, West Sussex, UK. pages numbers?