Issue 29 – Self-talk: Why do athletes talk to themselves before or during competitions?

by Kailey Yu (ELED Year 2 student 2020-2021)

The Tokyo Olympics 2020 has brought much excitement and joy to our city. After 5 years of preparation, athletes around the world performed outstanding sportsmanship during competitions alongside their perseverance. While cheering for our Hong Kong athletes, I realised an interesting phenomenon among players. Most, if not all of them do self-talk before and/ or during competitions. For example, the Hong Kong badminton mixed doubles representatives Tse Ying Suet and Tang Chun Man always did self-talks separately before the next serve after they missed a ball. The fencer, Cheung Ka Long, did self-talks during break time regardless of leading or losing the game. Do you know what are the uses and benefits of these small talks?

1. Building a Physical Feeling of Strength and Self-efficacy 

Motivational self-talk is beneficial in building one’s belief that he/ she is able, hence, athletes are more confident towards their performance (Begley, 2012). When players  are lagging behind, they may easily start to cast doubt on their ability. The lack of confidence begins to grow and this will most likely lower their morale. At times like this, high-performing athletes always do self-talk to remind themselves that they are capable. The self-talk session is never long, it is usually only a word or a short phrase, such as “you can do it”, “keep going” and more.

2. Boosting Motivation and Performance 

While one is building his/ her  physical feeling of strength, it boosts motivation. Positive self-talk reduces anxiety but creates happiness and excitement that leads to better performance (Globinder, 2020). The process of positive self-talk helps to block negative thoughts through appropriately praising oneself for what he/she has done well  (Globinder, 2020). When athletes acknowledge their own strengths and remind themselves of what they excel at, they can perform better by adjusting their own strategy during the competitions.

3. A Guide to Achieve Goals 

Apart from motivational self-talk, instructional self-talk works by increasing one’s attention and focus from distractions (Begley, 2012). It is important for athletes to stay focused on areas that need their attention and ignore external factors, such as scores, especially when competitions end in a blink of an eye. Self-talks serve to remind themselves of their goals and they should try their best to achieve them.

As Siobhan Haughey said, her performance in the Olympics was attributable to 20% physical strength and 80%  mentality. Undoubtedly, the psychological aspect of sports is as vital as the physical aspect. Positive self-talk is an important and powerful technique that athletes adopt to help themselves in competitions. Perhaps next time when you have a match, you can try adopting it too!



Begley, K. (2012, December 12). Attentional focus and self-talk. Sports Psychology Today. 

Globinder, G. (2020). Positive self-talk in sport. Believeperform.

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