Encouraging Athletes: The Importance of Positive Self-Talk

Young athletes carry on an inner dialogue with themselves in sports. It reflects how they think about themselves. For example, they might tell themselves they’re too small, too slow, or not strong enough to be good athletes. Just after making a bad serve, they might tell themselves the serve was terrible. After missing a putt, they might tell themselves they’re the worst putter in the world. This pattern undermines kids’ confidence and success in sports. It makes it hard for them to reach their potential.

As parents and coaches, you can help your athletes change the way they think. Begin by identifying your athlete’s positive attributes. These could include:

  • Getting to practice on time
  • Working out every day
  • Making good passes
  • Playing a smart game
  • Understanding court vision
  • Being liked by the coach
  • Having natural talent

Then, get the athlete involved and follow these steps:

1. Help your young athletes identify the “negative” things they tell themselves, and list these thoughts after games.

2. Ask them to banish such thoughts from their minds by replacing them with positive self-talk such as “I am a great putter, stay patient.”

3. Ask them to list their positive qualities, and offer to add the list that they created. They should also list positive sports experiences. Let’s say your sports kid played with all his heart one day, and it felt really great. What did he do that allowed him to play so well?

Encourage your athletes to hold these positive thoughts and feelings in their mind while they’re performing, practicing or thinking about sports. When negative self-talk creeps into their mind, especially after mistakes, ask them to replace it with positive self-talk. They might say that they are physically fit, coachable, or possess some of the other positive qualities he identified.

Remember: Be careful about what you say after a game or practice. Your child might adopt your negative statements as their own negative “internal chatter.” They need to keep the chatter positive!

Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting http://www.youthsportspsychology.com.

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