Posted 05/06/2020 in Category 1

Mental Skills - Self-Talk in Sport

One strategy that athletes use to maintain or enhance their performance in competition is self- talk. For example, in their analysis of coping strategies used by elite figure skaters Gould, Finch and Jackson (1993) reported that 76% of the sample reported using rational thinking and self-talk to cope with the stress of competition. A comparatively recent illustration of this is provided in the quote below by Phillips Idowu in which he talks about his best jump on the Sydney Olympics which took place while Cathy Freeman was running in the final of the 400 metres.

“I had to put my fingers in my ears ... the noise, I’d never heard anything like it in my life... When her race started, I thought I either wait or I go for it. I didn’t really know the rules, whether I was allowed to stop or not so I thought I’d better get going before she came round, otherwise I’d have been racing her down the back straight. I just used the energy she was producing. I said to myself, ‘They’re cheering for me, they’re cheering for me’.”

Positive self-statements have also been used in conjunction with other techniques (e.g., relaxation training) in sport settings to reduce levels of anxiety (e.g., Prapavessis, Grove, McNair, & Cable, 1992), distress (Mace & Carroll, 1985, 1989) and stimulate a more positive perception of anxiety symptoms (e.g., Hanton & Jones, 1999). Self-talk in the form of key words are also used to focus attention on factors relevant to successful performance (Hardy, Gammage, & Hall, 2001).

Not only can self-talk be used as a psychological skill to enhance performance during competition but understanding how athletes talk about success, failure and the thoughts they have about their performance could provide you with important information about the way in which they construct the world.


Gould, D., Finch, L. M., & Jackson, S. A. (1993). Coping strategies used by national champion figure skaters.  Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 64, 453-468.

 Hardy, L., Jones, G., & Gould, D. (1996). Understanding psychological preparation for sport: Theory and practice of elite performers.  Chichester, England: Wiley.

Hanton, S., & Jones, G. (1999). The effects of a multimodal intervention program on performers: II. Training the butterflies to fly in formation. The Sport Psychologist, 13, 22-41.

Hardy, J., Gammage, K., & Hall, C. R. (2001). A description of athlete self-talk. The Sport Psychologist, 15, 306-318

Jones, G. (1993). The role of performance profiling in cognitive behavioral interventions in sport.  The Sport Psychologist, 7, 160-172.

Locke, E. A., Shaw, K. N., Saari L. M., & Latham, G. P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance:  1969-1980.  Psychological Bulletin, 90, 125-152.

Mace, R. D., & Carroll, D. (1985). The control of anxiety in sport: Stress inoculation training prior to abseiling.  International Journal of Sport Psychology, 16(3), 165-175.

Mace, R. D., & Carroll, D.  (1989). The effect of stress inoculation training on self-reported stress, observer’s rating of stress, heart rate and gymnastics performance. Journal of Sports Sciences, 7, 257-266.

Prapavessis, H., Grove, J. R., McNair, P. J., & Cable, N. T.  (1992). Self-regulation training, state anxiety, and sport performance: A psychophysiological case study.  The Sport Psychologist, 6, 213-229.


The quote from Philips Idowu taken from The Independent on Sunday, 1st October, 2000.