As you step onto the court, field, or pool deck what is going through your mind? “What if I mess up? What if I let my team down? I’m really nervous. I’m excited. I wonder how good this team is?”. These thoughts are known as self-talk; the internal dialogue you have with yourself. What you say to yourself can have a huge impact on your performance and your life. Thinking positively will help to improve your mental game on and off the field. In this newsletter I am going to talk about what self-talk is, how it can affect you and your performance, and how to change it.

What is self-talk?

Self-talk refers to the thoughts that go on inside everyone’s head. It can be positive, negative, or neutral. It can be an interpretation of your feelings and how you perceive a certain situation. It may be based off your own observations or feedback you get from others. It can positively or negatively affect many aspects of your performance such as: your attitude, confidence, focus, motivation, and effort. Having and using positive self-talk can help athletes have a better attitude, change bad habits, improve focus, increase confidence, prepare for practice and competition, adjust their perception to a situation, and more.

How to change self-talk?

Learning how to change your self-talk can be one of the most beneficial skills an athlete can learn to improve their mental toughness and ultimately, their performance. There are four main strategies used to change self-talk. Before these strategies can be learned and practiced it is important for an athlete to become aware of their current self-talk. Athletes may have a much harder time learning and applying self-talk strategies if they are unaware of what their self-talk is or the affect it may be having on their performance. To start with, athletes should take some time and become aware of what their self-talk is and how it affects their performance. They can do this by thinking back to good and bad games or practices and making note of what his/her self-talk was and the effect it had on their performance. Once they begin to increase their awareness of their self-talk they will be able to learn when and how to use self-talk strategies.

Strategy #1 – Awareness and Refocusing

The first self-talk strategy athletes can learn is to refocus their mind when distracting or negative thoughts enter. When distracting thoughts enter their mind, have them notice it and then refocus their mind back to the present moment and the task or skills they are working on at that time. Don’t react to any of the ideas just become aware of them and redirect your mind back to the task at hand.

Strategy #2 – Thought Stopping

The second strategy uses a word or picture to stop the stream of negative or distracting thoughts. Athletes can say the word “STOP” or picture a large, red stop sign or a red stop light to stop the stream of negative or distracting thoughts.

Strategy #3 – Countering

The third strategy is known as countering and its purpose is to use rationale or reasoning to make thoughts positive or helpful. This strategy is used to refute the belief that has led an athlete to this point. For example, an athlete can use a good past performance to help change a belief or attitude that they may be having difficulty with at the present time.

Strategy #4 – Reframing

The fourth strategy is known as reframing and its purpose is to look at a situation in a different way or from a different point of view. This strategy can be used to help athletes look at a situation in terms of what they want to have happen or achieve rather than of what they want to avoid.


Learning and practicing these strategies can help athletes and other performers become more mentally tough and help improve their performance. Athletes only have so much energy to give, especially mental energy, why waste it on negative thinking or things that are outside of their control. It is more beneficial for athletes use the energy to focus on what they want to have happen and on positive self-talk that will help their performance and enable them to stay focused, work hard, and stay motivated. Talk positively to yourself like you would to one of your teammates or a younger sibling. Be your own biggest supporter. Don’t leave success to chance. Practice self-talk strategies and improve your mental game.

Hillary Israelsen, M.S. is the author of this article and works for HeadStrong Consulting. HeadStrong Consulting has been helping athletes soar since 1998. If you have any questions or would like to meet with a consultant please contact us at 801-712-7956 or visit us online at

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