The Importance of Positive Self-Talk

“What the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve” By Chad Kanoff

You learn a lot playing team sports, particularly a sport that is as physically and mentally demanding as football. Of all the things I learned, the importance of self-talk may be the most important and surprising. It wasn’t something I’d spent a lot of time thinking about before I started working with professional sports psychologists as preparation for my pro day at Sports Academy. 

Self talk is the internal dialogue we all have in our heads. It’s pretty constant whether you recognize it or not. Your mind is always having a conversation. Go eat this, what should I do today, I want to be this, I feel this. In sports, unfortunately it can have a tendency to get quite negative. The psychologists had me write down everything I said to myself when I was in a game or practicing in front of scouts. 

Most of it went something like this. ‘Don’t miss,’ ‘Don’t screw it up,’ ‘You really need to make this,’ ‘If I don’t get a first down I’ll get taken out,’ ‘This is your last chance,’ ‘I screwed this up last week, I better not do that again.’ The psychologists then asked me what advice I would give my brother before a big game. Obviously my responses were nothing like the way I was talking to myself. Sometimes just seeing what you’re saying on a page or a note on your phone is enough for you to realize how ridiculous and harmful the words you let yourself think can be. 

Going forward I changed the way I thought. Before throwing in front of NFL scouts, I would mutter to myself, “Watch this.” When I needed to make a play I would tell myself “I’m at my best in pressure situations” or “I’m the most accurate QB.” You can lie to yourself, you know. The key initially is to actually say out loud what you want to be thinking. You may look a little insane bumbling about how good you are, so maybe do it in private. But after a little while, you’ll internalize the confidence and perform better. Ideally you can boil it down to one or two words to get your mind right. One of mine is ‘Watch This’ and the other I got from Rand: “Just play” and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. 

  • For anyone with an interest in sports psychology, the most helpful book I read (actually listened to it on audible) was Mind Gym, by Gary Mack.