I read this article in the Rocky Mountain Running & Triathlon magazine and thought it was definitely worth sharing. Just like it takes training to get ready for a race, it takes training to keep self-talk positive and powerful.
Self-talk can provide affirmation and help athletes stay calm during times of stress such as when waiting at the starting line of a race or struggling through the last two miles of a run. So, then, what should you say to yourself and how should you say it? Lets take a look at two major mistakes and then the best principle I've found.
Probably the biggest mistake athletes make in their self-talk is using negative statements. For example, they may think, "Stop being a moron, I shouldn't be here" or "There are other people more capable than I." In the moment of performance these statements are frustrating and literally add insult to injury. You must never let negative and self-degrading thoughts enter your head. Imagine your thoughts are like a slide projector or a PowerPoint presentation; when a negative comment comes into your self-talk change the slide. Move on and refocus yourself with a more proactive comment such as "I've done the training, I can do this" or "Get to the next aid station."
Another mistake is using a negative word in a statement when it was meant well. A golfer who has to hit a shot over a water hazard might say "Don't hit it into the water, carry the hazard." While this statement might seem like a focused one, the mistake is the word "don't." Hazards, barriers, and other challenging components to athletic competitions are there to distract competitors, and acknowledging the hazard can cause panic or a loss of focus on the task at hand. A better thought would be "make a smooth swing" or "follow through!" These are more useful and impactful statements that require focus on the process and the task at hand. In endurance sports, change the focus from "don't get lapped or passed" to "run within, make good strides".
Some of the most effective self-talk comes in the form of mantras or phrases that athletes can take solace in during hard portions of training or racing. While struggling up a hill during a road race, and athlete might say "calm, cool, collected" over and over to himself. To settle pre-race nerves, a former collegiate teammate of mine would always say "relax, breathe, and believe". These phrases aim to refocus the athlete and help them remain calm and to focus on the task at hand - starting or finishing any race or training session strong!
So remember, next time you self-talk, keep it positive and task-directed. You might be surprised at what you can talk yourself through or into doing.
By: Stephen P. Gonzalez, M.S.