July 21, 2010
Top Athletes talk themselves into incredible Performances by Coach KathyToon
Top athletes talk themselves into incredible performances. What goes on in their mind has a direct effect on their body. Our thoughts prompt certain emotions that in turn have bodily or physiological consequences. Self-talk is that little voice in your head - the one that may have just said, "What little voice in my head?" Self-talk messages often come from our childhood - we hear the voices of our parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, etc., anyone who influenced us in the past. Self-talk goes on all the time and is nearly impossible to turn off. Unfortunately, most of the messages are critical or negative.
It is almost impossible to eliminate negative self-talk. But it can be replaced. Coaches and parents often tell athletes to, "Change your negative attitude," "Stop saying that, it's negative," or "Be more positive!" While this may be good advice, it leaves the athlete with questions. "How do I change my attitude?" "What else should I say?" "How can I be positive when I just messed up?" It is important that we teach our athletes how to change their attitude and how to transform their negative self-talk. Here's a powerful three-step process I helped develop with the Positive Coaching Alliance to transform negative self-talk. Let's use the expression, "My backhand slice sucks," as an example.
1. State the negative self-talk as a feeling: "I feel like my backhand slice sucks."
This is a more accurate statement. "My slice backhand sucks" may or may not be true. What's absolutely accurate is that the athlete feels like he or she can't hit their slice in the moment. Tomorrow is a new day and with practice feelings can change.
2. Enlist the "Power of a Big But".
What happens when the word "but" is used in a sentence? "Jan, I really like your shirt, but the color is a bit much." Whatever comes before "but" is devalued leaving the recipient waiting for the negative ending. Usually we say the positive first and then devalue it with "but." BUT, we can turn that around by using "but" to devalue the negative self-talk. Teaching our athletes to use the word "but" to their advantage can help transform their negative self-talk. "I feel like my backhand slice sucks, BUT…"
3. End with an "I'm-the-kind-of-person-who" statement. "I feel like my backhand slice sucks, BUT I'm the kind of person who never gives up." Whenever an athlete catches himself or herself using negative self-talk, he or she can use this tool to transform it.
Coaches and parents plant the seeds for these positive statements. Our athletes will rarely come up with them on their own. But they will repeat what they hear from people they admire. Our job is to fill in the blanks for them.
Top competitors are extremely disciplined in what they think and say. It is important to teach our players to control that little voice in their head and to teach them to talk to themselves the way a good coach or teacher would.