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Prep Sports

Positive talk can impact performance

Justis column: And negative talk can, too

Nancy Justis
Nancy Justis

Editor’s note: Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications.

Our nine-year-old grandson is a good little athlete.

He shows talent in football and basketball. He also plays baseball, primarily just to be with his friends.

Sports is really important to him and he hates to lose and, at times, displays pouting and self-doubt when games don’t go his way. He compensates for a bad-played game by expressing his own lack of talent.

He doesn’t understand he is only nine-years-old, still has a lot to learn, the players around him also are still developing, and even professional athletes have their bad days.

He needs to learn self-talk in order to stay positive and not to blame himself for the team’s woes.

The Mayo Clinic defines self-talk as “the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head ... (that) can be positive or negative ... if your thoughts are mostly positive, you’re likely an optimist — someone who practices positive thinking.”

Positive thinking is the result of positive self-talk. This can provide multiple health benefits, such as longer life and improved immunity.

Here are some examples of positive and negative self-talk:


l Negative: I’ve never done it before; Postive: It’s an opportunity to learn something new.

l Negative: It’s too complicated; Positive: I’ll tackle it from a different angle.

l Negative: I don’t have the resources; Positive: Necessity is the mother of invention.

l Negative: I’m too lazy to get this done; Positive: I wasn’t able to fit this into my schedule, but I can re-examine some priorities.

l Negative: There’s no way it’ll work; Positive: I can try to make it work.

l Negative: I’m not going to get any better at this; Positive: I’ll give it another try.

An article written for “Coaches Toolbox” by Lindsey Wilson, co-founder of “Positive Performance Mental Training Zone,” notes why she believes positive self-talk is important.

l It can improve confidence.

l (Research shows) it does affect performance. (A study done at Waseda University in Japan shows positive self-talk improved physical performance by 11 percent.)

l It effects motor skill performance more than cognitive performance.

l It’s best scripted ahead of time and practiced.

l It should focus on what you should do rather than what you should not do.

Psychology Today notes there is a difference between self-blame and taking responsibility.

“Self-blame is one of the most toxic forms of emotional abuse. It amplifies our perceived inadequacies, whether real or imagined, and paralyzes us before we can even begin to move forward.”

Self-blame results in comments such as “I suck at this” or “I’m such a disappointment to my team. I don’t blame them for being upset with me” or “It’s no wonder my coach doesn’t let me play much; I can’t do anything right.”

Negativity does not help anyone work through their mistakes. Taking responsibility is totally different and means you recognize what you did wrong and are focused on how to rectify it. This results in comments such as “I blew it, but I’ll get it next time” or “I will not let that happen again” or “Coach, I got this. I won’t let you down.”


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When you self-blame, you are focused on the past. When you take responsibility, you are focused on the future and what you need to do differently.

JBM Thinks, a sports parenting website, notes taking responsibility looks like this:

l It means you know what you want to be or how you want to play.

l It means you don’t blame others.

l It means you don’t blame yourself.

l It means you are honest about your strengths and weaknesses.

l It means knowing you have a choice in what happens next.

To help your child, JBM notes emphasize taking responsibility is a discipline that needs to be worked on every day.

“Self-blame will keep (you) stuck in mistakes, while taking responsibility will help move (you) forward and improve your game.”

Ethel Cook, in an article in “CoachUp Nation,” wrote negative thoughts increase stress and anxiety, which leads to poor performance, and positive thoughts help you relax and thus increases performance.

She lists three strategies to help you stay positive during competition.

l Have a mantra. “I am strong”, “I feel good”, “I got this.” Repeat it over and over.

l Set multiple goals. “Having multiple goals allows you to still be successful if things don’t go as planned.” Have a best-case scenario, an intermediate goal and an ultimate goal.

l Practice positive visualization. Akin to daydreaming, see yourself successfully achieving your goal. “If your goal is to finish your first marathon, picture yourself running strong mile by mile and crossing the finish line.”

I don’t think it is too early to start helping your child think positive thoughts. It will not only help in sports, but will be of benefit throughout life in school, business and other pursuits.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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