I read a great article about how self-talk could affect your performance in a positive way. The article started with a story about legendary American runner Steve Prefontaine losing a 3 mile race in 1974. The last quarter mile, he rallied to take the lead and the victory.

When asked how he pulled out the victory, he said something that can sum up with this article is about.

“Yeah, I almost let him win. I was thinking it wasn’t that big a deal. Then something inside of me just said, ‘hey, wait a minute, I want to beat this guy,” and I just took off!”

For some researchers, this is a great example of an athlete not giving up and ending the race with a victory. Research is showing that limitation to one’s performance begins when that person psychologically gives up.

When the athlete gives in to the external factors that could affect performance – i.e. the weather, the field conditions, the crowd, the growing fatigue in the body – and effectively “gives up,” then that is the difference between winning and losing.

If that theory is correct, the limitation to performance is psychological, then what mental performance enhancement can be taught to an athlete so he/she can “push through it” and delay the “giving up?”

In order to accomplish this, you must first initiate self-awareness of self-talk in the athlete. For an athlete that has success, you want to get them to replicate that success. You must get them to be aware of what they are thinking when good things are happening.

So, you ask questions like this:

  • Describe to me what you are thinking about during your last race (or it could be a game for another sport)?
  • What are you thinking about 24-48 hours before competition? During your warm-up? Once the gun goes off or the game begins?
  • When your body starts to hurt, what are you thinking about then?
  • In the latter stages of the race when you know you will make it to the finish line and the only question is how fast you will get there, what is the inner dialogue?
  • During your most difficult workouts what are you thinking about? Who and how many people are you running with? What is the objectives of your practices?

If you have a struggling athlete, you want to ask the above questions, but also add these:

  • Think about the best race you ever ran (or game you played) and talk about that in detail.
  • What were you thinking about during that race?
  • When the race was difficult, when you were hurting, when competition came up on you what were you thinking and how did you physically respond?
  • What were you thinking about leading up to the race?

Now that you have discussed those items, you will need to develop the athlete’s performance enhancement affirmations. Basically, statements that they can say or see that will get them to “push through it” and perform the way they want.

  • Write down 5 positive statements about yourself.
  • Write down 5 statements specific to your strengths as a person and as a runner (or athlete).
  • Write down 5 statements to challenges that when you overcome will lead to success.

Put all these down on a piece of paper. Then tape it someplace – your refrigerator, your mirror, etc. – that you can read daily. This will help develop the mental affirmation that you need so when the situation occurs in a game, you will think of those instinctively and do them.

Read them multiple times a day. Read them before a hard workout or big game. Doing this consistently will help with the reinforcement. Star the statements that you really think seem to help you get over the hump.
If the mind truly controls if you will do well or not, then start doing this today. What exactly would it hurt?  

Photo courtesy of Minda Haas Kuhlmann on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mindahaas/