Self-Talk for Basketball
By Logan Ryan
Do you ever stop and listen to what you say to yourself? Whether you are aware of it or not, we all have conversations within our head. We refer to this conversation in our head as self-talk, and it serves as the basis of our beliefs, our outlook, our confidence, how we interact with others, and much more. Self-talk has the potential to be a powerful performance enhancer if used intentionally, and that’s what we’re here to discuss today. We’ll dive into what self-talk is, what research has shown for it to be an effective tool, and how to apply self-talk into your regimen.
What Is It?
The Mayo Clinic defines self-talk as “the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative” (Mayo Clinic Staff, n.d.). There are four categories of performance-based self-talk, and they can be broken down into:
Calming/relaxing (“Take a deep breath.”)
Instructional (“Bend your knees.”)
Motivational (“Yes! You can do this! Come on, let’s go!”)
Focus (“Concentrate on _____.”)
Keeping these categories in mind, we can selectively practice and implement self-talk as a method of coaching ourselves.
Why Is It Important?
Self-talk has several benefits that are research-backed, including that positive self-talk can improve confidence, positively affect performance, and impact motor skill performance (Hatzigeorgiadis, 2013). With this in mind, it’s important to consciously choose our self-talk. Here are some best practices when implementing self-talk into your regimen:
Self-talk is best scripted ahead of time and practiced.
Research shows there are differences in what type of statements you should say at different times, but what works for each person is fundamentally a matter of personal preference.
Addressing yourself by name or ‘you’ is found to be more powerful than ‘I’ statements.
Self-talk should focus on what you should do rather than what you should not do.
How To Apply It?
So how do we apply self-talk into our lives to improve our performance? Here are three exercises you can do:
Exercise #1: Calming/relaxing
Go for a sprint/run to raise your heart rate, and when on a rest break practice saying a scripted phrase to relax yourself. Examples include, “Take a deep breath,” and “Slow down.”
Exercise #2: Motivational
Perform a challenging physical task, such as running a mile as fast as you can, or doing a plank for as long as possible. When you hit the breaking point where you are ready to quit, practice giving yourself some motivational self-talk. For example, you can tell yourself, “You can do this! Let’s go!” or “Keep going! You’re almost there!”
Exercise #3: Focus
Find a quiet place, and do a mindful breathing meditation where you focus only on your breath. When this exercise becomes easy, challenge yourself by going to a noisier location and try to continue focusing only on your breath.
Self-talk is the basis of our underlying thoughts. It is an unspoken stream of thoughts that can be positive or negative, so it is up to you as the practitioner to consciously choose your self-talk. There is sufficient scientific research that supports that self-talk can be a confidence booster and performance enhancer. Therefore, it’s important to know the different categories of performance-based self-talk, and practice scripted self-talk in the appropriate environment.