Damon Burton & Bernie Holliday
Vandal Sport Psychology Services
University of Idaho
WHAT IS SELF TALK?
The steady stream of on-going
thoughts or internal dialogue that
goes on in our minds constantly.
Your self talk influences your moods,
emotions, and ultimately your
DQ 2: How constant is your self talk? Have you ever noticed a
time when your self talk was really good or bad?
OF SELF TALK…
Trained minds learn to think more positively,
logically, and systematically.
Self talk becomes conditioned to success and
failure events, changing dramatically based on the
mindset created in particular situations.
Extensive repetition creates highly automatic
thoughts, called beliefs.
Automaticity of self talk is a two-edged sword
when examining its impact on performance.
SELF TALK ABC’S…
A = Activating Event
No Inherently stressful situations or events.
“We are not disturbed by things, but by the views of which we take of them” – Epictetus
B = Belief about the Event
Athletes attach positive or negative meanings to neutral events based on their highly
automatic belief system.
C = Consequences
Our beliefs about the event lead to positive or negative consequences, both emotionally and
Thus, the meaning that we attach to events can positively or negatively impact
our emotions, behaviors, and ultimately our performance.
DOES SELF TALK WORK?
Self talk patterns have been shown to be
important predictors of sport success.
Positive self talk predominates in more
effective performances, while negative
thoughts more frequently accompany
Van Raalte et al. (1994) tennis study
Mental training packages that include self
talk training as part of the intervention
promote enhanced performance over 80%
of the time.
Reactive versus proactive approaches to
enhancing athletes’ self talk:
Most athletes prefer proactive approaches to
self talk reprogramming, rather than “old
school” reactive approaches.
The key to the proactive approach is to
identify and create positive, facilitating
thoughts (e.g., reprogramming) that can
enhance athletes’ emotions and performance.
Self talk scripts are effective thought
TYPES OF SELF TALK…
Thoughts that focus on your desirable characteristics and qualities.
Thoughts that keep your mind positively focused on the task-at-hand, promote high
effort, and enhance persistence.
Thoughts that determine the degree to which a situation is perceived as threatening or
Self talk reprogramming promotes appraising problems as challenges or opportunities to
learn and grow rather than threats and opportunities to fail.
TYPES OF SELF TALK…
Reasons or explanations of success and failure.
Self talk reprogramming encourages performers to attribute success and failure to factors
they can control and change, such as effort, ability, and degree of preparedness.
Quick reminders used during practice and competition.
Keep the mind positively focused on process-oriented, present-focused reminders that
should facilitate performance.
DQ 3: Which type of self talk do you feel would be most effective?
USES OF SELF TALK…
Intrinsic motivation occurs when athletes feel competent and in control. Self talk
reprogramming should emphasize these factors.
Self talk helps athletes focus on their priorities and goals, rather than on distractions.
Controlling self talk, particularly limiting negative or self-defeating thoughts, helps to
minimize the amount of stress athletes experience.
USES OF SELF TALK…
Persuasive self talk can convince athletes that they possess the competence
and preparation to be successful.
Maximize Skill Development and Performance
Cues and goals can help athletes remain focused on performance-relevant
cues while disregarding and avoiding irrelevant distracter cues during skill
development and performance.
1. Be an optimist, not a pessimist
Self talk is a choice. Choose the “half full” option.
See situations as challenges rather than threats.
2. Remain realistic and objective
Think constructively, not just positively.
3. “Here-n-now” self talk
Avoid “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s,” and “what if’s”
4. Process self talk leads to product
5. Concentrate self talk on controllable aspects
Possibly the single most important factor.
6. Separate performance from self-worth
We are not our performance.
DQ 4: Which commandment do you have the most trouble with? Why?
HOW TO REPROGRAM
Focus on appropriate positive thoughts and repeat those thoughts
Athletes are urged to develop self talk scripts that can target one or more
specific needs (see slides 9-10) using a variety of self talk types (see slides
7-8) as well as the more general guidelines outlined by the “Smart Talk
Scripts offer athletes a tool that can be used to reprogram positive self
Extremely difficult to change
negative thoughts due to their
highly automatic nature.
However, irrational beliefs and
cognitive distortions are learned
behaviors, so they can be
D1 = Detect
• Self-awareness of unconscious
D2 = Detour
• Thought stopping.
D3 = Dispute
• Reframing using counterarguments.
E = New & more beneficial effects
Cognitive distortions are general
types of faulty thinking.
Irrational beliefs are more specific,
but highly automated, negative
thoughts that create behavioral and
emotional problems for athletes.
Expecting the worst.
Exaggerating the consequences.
Forming conclusions based on insufficient information.
Not accepting responsibility for mistakes.
Must’s, should’s, and ought to’s.
A form of concrete, inflexible, and unforgiving thinking.
Good or bad, right or wrong, succeed or fail, etc.
Leaves little room for mistakes or being human.
Fear of Failure
“It is terrible and unbearable when my game
is not the way I want it to be.”
“I must win the approval of others and
impress everyone who sees me perform.”
Control-based irrational belief.
“I should be completely competent in every
aspect of my game at all times, never have
ups and downs, and never make mistakes.”
The team that makes the most mistakes usually
wins – Coach John Wooden’s philosophy on
playing hard and mistakes.
Mistakes are a normal and necessary part of
DQ 5: Which types of mistakes are more acceptable in sport, school, life?
“Life should be fair and if I diligently work at
my game, I should improve, play well, and get
the rewards I deserve.”
Life is not fair!
Hard work increases your chances of success, but
there are no guarantees.
“The behavior and performance of other
competitors is extremely important to me and
can destroy my game.”
Cannot control others’ performances nor can they
control your own performance.
Thought stopping uses intense internal
cues such as a word, image,
kinesthetic movement (e.g., snapping a
rubber band), or some combination of
Stop the stream of negative thoughts as
quickly as possible so you can begin
focusing on reframing the situation.
COUNTERARGUMENTS TO DISPUTE NEGATIVE
Productive way to view the situation.
Put your negative thoughts on trial.
Argue why the negative belief is
irrational and unproductive and
provide a more logical and helpful
view of the situation.
Counterarguments are solutions, not
PHASES OF SMART TALK TRAINING
Understanding the mental training tool and how it
relates to the athlete’s performance.
Athlete’s self understanding of their self talk
Quantity -- negative thought count on Day 1.
Quality -- complete Smart Talk Log for Days 1-6, assessing
three positive and three negative situations as well as your
predominate emotions and thoughts for each situation.
Quality – rate your daily PMA from 1-10 for Days 1-6.
Quality -- Develop counterarguments and believability
ratings for each negative situation on Days 1-6.
Stage 1: Reprogramming Self Talk
Day 7 -- develop a self talk script using the
Smart Talk Script Development Form and
Your script should take no more than five
minutes to read (2-4 minutes, ideally).
You may record this onto an audio cassette or
CD and include background music.
Stage 2: Repetition to Automate Thoughts
Days 7-12 -- read or play your script 4-5
Stage 3: Reframe Remaining Negative Thoughts
Stage 4: Monitoring Improvement in Self Talk
Days 7-12: Stages 3 and 4 can be accomplished
by continuing to complete the Smart Talk Log,
PMA rating, and counterarguments/belief ratings
while noticing similarities and changes in self talk
Day 12: Complete a second negative thought
count to examine changes in negative thought
PRACTICE AND PERFORMANCE PHASES…
Stage 1: Advanced Self Talk Monitoring
Day 13 onward: continue to monitor PMA
If PMA drops below 5, then identify problematic
situations and develop counterarguments.
If PMA drops below 5 for three straight days,
then complete the Smart Talk Log Form for
three subsequent days.
Day 13 onward: continue to use script, but
decrease the frequency to 2-3 times daily.
PRACTICE AND PERFORMANCE
Stage 2: Video Recreation of Self Talk Patterns
Video is an effective way to enhance recall of
thoughts and feelings during critical competitive
Stage 3: Imagery Practice
Day 13 onward: Develop a list of negative
situations that you have difficulty reframing.
Several times each week, imagine using your
counterarguments during these moments to
successful reframe these situations so you can
perform your best.
PRACTICE AND PERFORMANCE
Stage 4: Use Smart Talk in Practice and
Use the 3D reframing strategies to combat
any remaining negative thoughts during
practice and competition.
Detect, detour, and dispute any remaining
Modify your script to reprogram these
thoughts using more positive and helpful