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"The more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large." - Confucius (n.d.)

What is self-talk?

Self-talk refers to the automatic or deliberate statements athletes use to direct their thinking [1]. Self-talk can occur in two different ways, internal or external. Internal self-talk refers to what athletes say to themselves in their heads, whereas external self-talk refers to what athletes say to themselves out loud [2]. There are four main types of self-talk, each can benefit the athlete in a different way [3].

Self-talk is an important skill to emphasize to athletes. Athletes untrained in the area of mental skills, or self-talk specifically, often have little control over their self-talk. This means that the self-talk is reactive, and possibly destructive in nature, rather than proactive and productive. Helping athletes learn about the many benefits of self-talk and the different uses can improve performances through increased confidence, increased motivation, increased control, and decreased anxiety and stress.

Click the button for an informational pamphlet for personal gain or to inform athletes.

Types of Self-Talk

There are four types of self-talk that have shown to improve performances. The four types are instructional, motivational, positive, and negative. Each type has its place along with its share of benefits. 


Instructional: this type includes self-direction about the performance of a skill or strategy [4]. Training including instructional self-talk was found to be useful in facilitating the learning of new skills and in enhancing the performance of tasks requiring higher accuracy and precision.

Motivational: this type is most effective for maximizing effort and persistence during a performance, meaning that this specific type is most effective when applied to endurance or strength-based activities [4]. Motivational self-talk typically concentrates on the outcome and improves skill execution through building confidence, increasing arousal, and creating positive moods. Motivational self-talk is particularly effective for tasks requiring power.

Positive: this type utilizes encouraging phrases and reflects favorable emotions [5]. Positive self-talk has also been found to improve performance through increases in confidence and anxiety control [6]. 

Negative: this type includes statements that are negative and/or reflect anger or discouragement [5]. Often, athletes will be more successful when reframing negative self-talk into one of the other three types, but it is advantageous to note that some athletes can use negative self-talk to their benefit [7].

Click below for an infographic that describes self-talk and its uses.

Self-Talk in Strength & Conditioning

In the weight room, athletes say all kinds of things to themselves while progressing though a lift. We all hear it. We all see it. Some athletes are more outspoken. They will yell to themselves and no one in particular for motivation. They will say an instruction on form as they're getting set. Other athletes take more of an internal approach. They talk through their lift and motivate without anyone else hearing. 

As a strength & conditioning coach, it is important to be able to recognize each type of self-talk and notice how the athlete uses it. When addressing how to make self-talk more beneficial for lifts and help transfer it to other areas of performance, athletes respond best if you can pull out examples from their personal use. Being able to help athletes use self-talk more intentionally has the potential to boost their performances in and out of the weight room. The best place to start, is making athletes aware of their current use and how it can be modified to increase the benefits. 

Click below to view a self-talk journal, and reframing worksheet. 

The Skills
The Skills_Goal Setting

Goal Setting

Self-Talk: Resources

[1] Mellalieu, S. D., Hanton, S., Hardy, J., Oliver, E., & Tod, D. (2009). A framework for the study and application of self-talk in sport. In Advances in applied sport psychology: a review (pp. 37–74). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. 
[2] Hardy, J., Gammage, K., & Hall, C. (2001). A descriptive study of athlete self-talk. The Sport Psychologist, 15(3), 306–318.
[3] Van Raalte, J. L., Vincent, A., & Brewer, B. W. (2016). Self-talk: review and sport-specific model. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 22, 139–148. 
[4] Theodorakis, Y., Weinberg, R., Natsis, P., Douma, I., & Kazakas, P. (2000). The effects of motivational versus instructional self-talk on improving motor performance. The Sport Psychologist, 14(3), 253–271. 
[5] Van Raalte, J. L. (2013). Self-talk. In S. J. Hanrahan & M. B. Andersen (Eds.), Routledge handbook of applied sport psychology: a comprehensive guide for students and practitioners (pp. 510–517). Routledge. 
[6] Hardy, L., Jones, G., & Gould, D. (1996). Understanding psychological preparation for sport: theory and practice. Wiley. 
[7] Van Raalte, J. L., Cornelius, A. E., Brewer, B. W., & Hatten, S. J. (2000). The antecedents and consequences of self-talk in competitive tennis. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 22(4), 345–356.

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