Self-talk: What are YOUR young athletes telling themselves?
By Ker’Shyra Myrick
How many times have we seen a professional player step out of the batter’s box and reassure themselves that they can do it? Or basketball stars pulling their jerseys over their mouths and talking to themselves before heading to the free throw line?
These so-called self-talks are much more than pep talks; they can help athletes overcome tough times and the fear of failing in clutch situations.
“Losing, failing and not meeting our goals in a clutch situation hurts,” says Dr. Josie Nicholson, sports psychologist at the University of Mississippi. “Parents and coaches must remind young athletes of the things that are true, meaning that whatever situation they were in was tough, and that they did the best they could in that situation.”
So where do self-talks come in to play in youth sports?
“After a young athlete fails, it is important for parents and coaches to listen to what kids are saying to themselves,” Nicholson says. “Are they saying things like, ‘I’m the worst athlete on the team,’ or ‘I will never be able to make that shot again.’ Or are they saying, ‘It’s okay, I will have another chance.’ Seeing how an athlete self-talks in those moments shows if they will be able to handle the pressure during the next game, and later on in life.”
It’s important that those talks stay dialed into positive words and imagery; otherwise negative messaging can wreck an athlete’s performance. Nicholson points out that body language is crucial, too.
“For starters, body language can tell you a lot about how they are feeling and what they are taking in,” Nicholson says. “If young athletes are excited about going into a pressure situation they are controlling the nervousness they are feeling, which will ultimately help them succeed in the end.”
Reversing the way one speaks to themselves can be instrumental in helping young athletes overcome failure. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to miss this free throw,’ an athlete should say to themselves, ‘right off the backboard,’ or ‘right into the net,’” Nicholson says. “One common reason why so many athletes miss free throws is because they psych themselves out.”
But when positive self-talk is employed, good results often follow. Work with your young athletes during practices to try it out so it will feel natural – and be productive – when used on game days.
Bowling Green football coach Mike Jinks on helping young athletes embrace roles, recognize responsibilities and be all in for the team
Dr. Jesse Michel, mental skills coordinator for the World Series Champion Houston Astros, on helping young athletes improve focus and concentration to perform at their best
University of Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery on the importance of sending players home in a positive frame of mind
Olympic swimming great Dana Vollmer, winner of five gold medals, challenges coaches of all youth sports to find the most effective ways to motivate all their young athletes