Remember Karl Malone’s mouth moving mantra before he shot free throws later in his career? Ever notice Tiger chattering pre-putt or post-shank? If you’ve been watching various Olympics events, you may have observed many athletes muttering or moving their lips as they get ready to run, swim, or vault.
American hurdler Lolo Jones (who wanted to put pressure on her opponents in the 100m semifinals) and others have mentioned that they talk to themselves to keep them psyched up for the imminent and intense competition. No, the talking doesn’t mean they’re insane – it’s actually a mental technique that athletes utilize to stay at the top of their game.
In psychological terms, the talking is referred to as self-talk (not a very complicated term, huh?). It’s also known as verbal persuasion, a component of Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy theory. Verbal persuasion, which can be initiated by oneself or a third party, entails triggers or statements of encouragement that are repeated to a person with the idea that, the more one hears something, the more one starts to believe it. In a sense, one learns to develop or maintain a mental rhythm of vocab.
Athletes use self-talk or verbal persuasion to increase self-efficacy (otherwise known as situational self-confidence). They may also employ self-talk to motivate, focus, or regulate athletic arousal. Often, self-talk is applied during a mental routine to prepare the body for movement or combat negative thoughts and unfavorable emotions.
There has been a wealth of research in psychology that supports the advantages and usefulness of self-talk, especially when combined with other peak performance strategies.
Athletes are involved in running conversations with themselves all of the time, but they may not even realize it. They really need to ask, “What am I saying and is it effective?” The heightened awareness will help them create a mental game plan, and hopefully one that parallels the 80-20 approach emphasizing the positives.
Learn to talk to yourself the right way -- it's a valuable performance tool. At the very least, tell yourself that.