Negative Thinking in Sport

It could be argued that negative thinking is a common occurrence before, during and after athletic performance.. Whereas confidence is perceived as the athlete’s conviction of successfully performing a task (self-efficacy), negative thinking can be understood as the opposite. For example, a kick-boxer in preparation for an important fight may experience a stream of negative internal-dialogue….. “I’m not sure if I am as good as my opponent”,  “perhaps my opponent has trained harder than me”,  “it may be embarrassing if I get hurt”, and “what if I let people down”?

Consequences of Negative Thinking

–          Reduced confidence

–          Lack of concentration for upcoming task(s)

–          Performing to please others, rather than focusing on own performance capabilities

–          Becoming tense

–          Elevated anxiety and stress (Butler, 1996).

Is a negative thought always a bad thing?

It could be argued that athletes can still perform to their potential even if they do think negatively or have self-doubts. Perhaps the extent to which athletes performing successfully under negative thinking is determined by how negative thinking is dealt with?

Developing Positive Thinking

The following are ideas for possible methods to help manage negative thinking.

1.       Re-phrase – Avoid self-statements which highlight what is not supposed to happen and supplant them with clear declaration of what should be focused on. For example, a kick-boxer thinking “my opponent may be better than me”, may instead think about what needs to be done; “focus on what I need to do to win”, “perform the routines I have prepared”, or “I have trained hard, so I can be confident”.

 2.       Believe in the possible – Rather than perceive an upcoming performance as a threatening event, perceive the performance as a challenge. This may require an athlete to question: What is possible? What is needed to achieve the possible? These questions may lead an athlete to develop a goal-setting plan to motivate him/her to go beyond self-imposed limitations

 3.       See set-backs as unstable – It is important to view a set-back as only temporary and an opportunity for improvement, which may, in turn, benefit future performances.

Many thanks for reading. What I have highlighted here are just ideas that I developed from reading Butler (1996) – Sport Psychology in Action. Feel free to email with any questions.