Find out what positive self-talk is really all about.
Identify what that looks like for you and/or those you work with.
Never say "don't" in a phrase that is meant to be encouraging.
Figure out what positive performance cues are and how to use them.
Talk highly of yourself to yourself (and have those you work/play with do the same).
Make positive self-talk a part of your life.
Know who your influencers are and why they matter to you and your game.
NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes is confident. USWNT soccer star Megan Rapinoe is confident. One of the NBA’s all-time great’s Lebron James is confident. Are they confident because they are good or are they good because they are confident? Of course these athletes have extreme physical gifts so you have to account for that in their ability to perform. However, if one of these athletes stepped onto their respective field/court and they were not confident in their ability to perform, they would not play up to their potential.
Everyone in sports knows the value of confidence but we rarely focus on its development. Some may say that it comes with the development of individual skill, and to an extent that is true. But how many of us have watched a highly skilled athlete morph into an average player at game time because of a lack of confidence? If you’ve been around sports long enough you’ve seen this time and time again. Why does this happen? I believe that coaches, parents, and players do not directly address confidence often enough. If people want to weaponize the strength of this invaluable attribute, they have to learn how to develop it and then put it to use.
Merriam-Webster defines confidence as follows:
con·fi·dence \ ˈkän-fə-dən(t)s noun: a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances: faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way
I love how this definition points out that confidence includes a feeling or a consciousness. Feeling and consciousness both require active effort. For instance, as a former collegiate basketball player I know that I can make a free throw. Yet, if I am not conscious to that fact or feel as if it will happen, the likelihood of me doing so will be reduced. When you add confidence to the execution of any sports skill, conditions change. If you are consciously aware of your ability to execute a skill, there is a greater likelihood that you will successfully complete your intended task.
Pro-Bowl tight-end Travis Kelce has a good perspective on the active use of confidence. When speaking about Patrick Mahomes he said this, “…I mean he had a lot of confidence last year (2018), but this year (2019) he has confidence in a direction. Last year it was just confidence in, ‘Hey, I’m just going to figure it out.’ But now he has a lot more things figured out and now it is more so confidence with direction and taking this team to the Super Bowl” (Goldman, 2019). This epitomizes the proper use and progression of developing confidence. A high confidence guy like Patrick Mahomes has apparently figured out that there is more to confidence than just having it.
During my time playing professional football I noticed that confidence was a universal attribute amongst my teammates. In fact, there was an abundance of it in our locker room. Those who believed in their ability to perform demonstrated that on the field. They played more (their self-confidence gave the coach more confidence in them), executed more, and experienced more success.
So how do we develop it? How do we take an athlete and help them with their self-confidence? What do we do to help them understand that they should have a conscious awareness of their ability to execute? There are numerous ways to do this but I have a simplified method for fostering the development of confidence. Outside of knowing your strengths, reaffirming them is the next best thing. It's only logical that building confidence starts with telling yourself how good you are.
Identify what positive self-talk looks like.
Contrast that with the negative thoughts that often flood our minds. If someone doesn’t know what positive self-talk sounds like for them than how can they expect to think positively about their abilities? If thinking positively seems funny to you, that is likely because your experiences in life have programmed you to do otherwise. Positive self-talk is a skill that can seem forced at first but once it becomes a habit it will eventually take over as the primary mode of operation.
An easy and effective way to think positively is to recall past successes. Lessons from past failures can be used as well. However, there is one word you need to steer clear of in your self-talk....
Avoid the use of the word don’t!
I could go into great detail on this but just know that our brains do not recognize that word in phrases such as “don’t miss this serve” or “don’t miss this putt”. If you don’t believe this, read the phrase, “don’t think of a pink elephant.” What are you thinking of?
Positive self-talk often uses cues that help guide performance.
To practice, athletes can reiterate positive phrases they’ve heard a coach use such as “follow through on your jump shot”, “keep your elbow up on your serve”, or “you can do this”. Other great positive self-talk phrases might fall along the lines of, “lock out your arms” for a defensive lineman in football or “short to the ball” when at the plate in a baseball/softball game. Every sport has its own array of positive performance cues. Chances are that your sport has hundreds of phrases to choose from. Figure them out and put them to work.
For me, I have to positively think about speaking to my teams. It’s not that I have an overwhelming fear of public speaking, it’s just that if I want to be at my best I have to remind myself that I am at my best. An athlete can take the same approach. Once they have been through the rigors of preparation, they should be confident about what they know and can do. Any thoughts to the contrary will only hinder performance. If positive thinking proves to be too difficult or unnatural in the short-term, an individual needs to practice thought stopping. This is a tool commonly recommended by sports psychologists that is as simple as it sounds. Simply create a word that you can scream inside your head when you recognize negative thoughts coming on. The chosen word should be attention grabbing and help bring one’s thoughts back to the present moment. This proactive approach can drastically reduce skepticism in one’s own abilities. Negative thoughts will begin to elude those who use thought stopping, making more room for positive ones.
Study after study states that positivity raises more positivity and who doesn’t want more positivity in their life or in their game. From creating greater perseverance and improving vision, to enhancing one’s physical/mental health, positivity is one skill we do not want anyone to miss out on.
So you now know what positive self-talk looks like. GO PUT IT TO USE!
None of the roughly 40,000 thoughts you have in a day should negatively impact your actions! Remember, the most influential person an individual talks to on any given day is themselves. Everyone should talk themselves up in an effort to improve confidence. Those who utilize positive self-talk will reap its benefits. Those who choose not to use it will be fighting an uphill battle. If an individual you know is in need of improved confidence, introduce them to positive self-talk. It's a huge step in the right direction and it may be just the thing they need to strengthen their game.
Goldman, C. (2019, July 25). Travis Kelce explains what is different about Patrick Mahomes in
2019. Retrieved from https://chiefswire.usatoday.com/2019/07/25/kansas-city-chiefs-travis-kelce-explains-what-is-different-about-2019-patrick-mahomes/