What you need to know:
- Talking to yourself does help performance.
- Self-talk is best used in trying to learn new skills than covering things you are already familiar with.
- In terms of physical activity, it helps more with fine, subtle tasks than big movements.
But the researchers teased out more – different self-talk cues work differently in different situations. For tasks requiring fine skills or for improving technique “instructional self-talk”, such as a technical instruction (“elbow-up” which Hatzigeorgiadis coaches beginner freestyle swimmers to say) is more effective than ‘motivational self-talk’ (e.g., “give it all”), which seems to be more effective in tasks requiring strength or endurance, boosting confidence and psyching-up for competition. Thus, we should carefully design the self-talk athletes use according to needs.
Some other findings are that self-talk has a greater effect on tasks involving fine skills (such as sinking a golf ball) rather than gross skills (e.g., cycling); probably because self-talk is a technique which mostly improves concentration. Self-talk is more effective for novel tasks rather than well-learned tasks; because it is easier to improve at the early steps of learning. Nevertheless, both beginners and experienced athletes can benefit, especially when they practice the self-talk technique.
Most important, says Hatzigeorgiadis, is that athletes train to self-talk—they prepare their scripts and use them consistently in training under varying conditions to better prepare themselves for competition.
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