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.
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?
While Australia’s elite sportsmen are aiming for top form in the footy finals, young Australians are also striving to achieve their best: It’s now the ‘business end’ of the year, when kids take to the field in sports finals, school students knuckle down to study for final exams, and young performers prepare for end-of-year eisteddfods.
But how to get the most out of high achievers without overdoing it? A new resource from one of Australia’s leading child psychology practices, The Quirky Kid Clinic™ helps young people perform at their best while maintaining balance and perspective, and not getting burnt out.
‘Power Up!’ is a step-by-step program that enables schools and clubs to adopt the type of performance psychology used by elite athletes, performers, and musicians. Young people striving to perform at high levels in sports, performance, music or academia (including the end of year exams) can benefit from these techniques. They include goal setting, self-talk, imagery, arousal regulation, focus and competition planning.
Quirky Kid Clinic’s principal child Psychologist, Kimberly O’Brien says: “Know- ing how to reach your performance peak is more effective than endless hours of coaching. Power Up! is about avoiding burnout and enjoying what you do best”.
Power Up! will be distributed by the Australian Council of Educational Research. ACER’s National Sales Manager Eirini Lamni says the program is an “innovation in the way we approach high performing kids. By focusing on the path towards goals rather than just the end-point, young people are armed with useful, healthy strategies to perform at their best. It’s an excellent resource.”
Power Up! was launched on the 26th of September at the Sydney Academy of Sport and Recreation, in partnership with Football United. Football United organizes soccer matches, tournaments, and camps, providing opportunities for young refugees, or kids from disadvantaged backgrounds to socialise, form networks, and to excel on the sports field.
Power Up! was recently awarded the Best Student Resource (Primary) in the Arts/Humanities category of the 2014 Educational Publishing Awards.
In the words of the judges at the recent 2014 Educational Publishing Awards, Power Up!…
“… is unique in its approach in helping students enhance performance to achieve success by identifying and improving cognitive strategies. Clearly presented, well designed and practical in its application, it delivers contemporary and relatable video content.”
View some pictures of the launch event on our Facebook Page
More information about Power Up! is available at http://powerup.quirkykid.com.au
To register to a workshop visit our workshop registration page
Purchasing Power up
Top 4 Tips for young performers:
Don’t put all your eggs in one basketAlthough you might feel like you should do nothing but train or practice it actually won’t do you any favours regarding your performance. You are much more than just your athletic talent or creative ability. Remember to develop yourself as a whole person and keep your studies, job, social life and family relationships as normal as possible.
Use setbacks as opportunities for learningThere is no doubt that reaching the elite or professional level as a teenager means that you have a lot of talent! You can make every experience count, even if your performance was dismal! Take note of your strengths and identify your weaknesses, and then set about learning from your mistakes.
Don’t buy into the hype!
Athletes and performers who achieve long-term success usually stay well grounded, keeping everything in perspective. Work with your coaches, teachers, agents, psychologist or media trainer to feel confident and in control in the public arena.
Look after yourself
You dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to train and practice to achieve success and reach your potential, however like everyone else; you can become ill or injured. Make sure your decisions are keeping your long-term future in mind as well as your present needs. Always consult with medical professionals when making decisions about coming back from illness or injury.
Kimberley O’Brien, our principal child psychologist, discussed ‘Tiger Mums’ and academic pressure with 6pm with George Negus reporter, Danielle Isdale. You can find more useful, practical and informative advice about academic pressure by visiting our resources page, – or discussing it on our forum.
If you have a story and would like to discuss it with us, please contact us to schedule a time. Kimberley O’Brien enjoys sharing the best of her therapeutic moments with the media. View our media appearances to-date