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Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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7 Self-talk before important sporting moments

When you are learning to drive, you are often taught a bit of self-talk to remind you what to focus on next, for example, ‘mirror-signal-manoeuvre’. Earlier Dave Alred described these as trigger phrases. What do you say to yourself when you face important moments in sport, such as a penalty, tennis serve or golf shot?

Here is more detail in how self-talk is used from a large online study. Michael Johnson used four different types of self-talk in a BBC Lab UK online experiment [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] in which 44,700 people took part (Lane et al., 2016). You are not required to work through BBC Lab UK resource – it is for information only.

In the online study before users completed an online concentration task, Johnson showed participants one of four types of self-talk, each with a different focus. Here are the four phrases with their associated focus:

  • I can react quicker this time’ – the process of completing the task
  • I can beat my best score’ – motivation towards a positive outcome of the task
  • I will stay calm’ – the control of excitement/anxiety during the task
  • I will focus completely on each number I need to find’ – instructional guidance for the task.

In this experiment, a focus on process and outcome was found to be the most effective use of self-talk. If you want to read the full academic study, see Brief Online Training Enhances Competitive Performance: Findings of the BBC Lab UK Psychological Skills Intervention Study.

Now let’s consider how this applies to penalty taking.