With the Wimbledon tennis championship fast approaching, there will be a number of the worlds best tennis players preparing physically and mentally for the challenges that await them. Tennis is a high paced sport where you can experience a mixture of emotions. The biggest challenge that the players will face is to do with their own self talk. Unlike team sports, tennis is a sport where you must deal with your emotions all on your own. Players can go from being one set up, to then being 2 sets down, to then coming back to 2 sets all and then finally overcoming their opponent to win the game. Within this match a player will experience a range of emotions and their self talk will influence their performance in a number of ways.
Self talk is often refereed to as our inner dialogue. It is something that natural occurs and throughout a day we will will experience hundreds if not thousands of thoughts running through our mind. Within sports psychology self talk is a great tool which when used properly and correctly can help to boost an athletes performance. Self talk can not only influence our emotions, but it will also influence our mood and behaviour. Imagine going into a competition where you have just won your last 3 matches. How will you feel? You will be confident and you will think about the previous performances that helped you achieve your goal of winning. You will be experiencing positive self talk that is helping to increase your confidence, self belief and concentration. Your positive thoughts will help you to manage and control physiological and psychological arousal to help you play in the zone.
Often when we talk about self talk, we view it in 2 ways which are positive and negative. Recently I have spoken to a number of sports psychologists who have argued that negative self talk can be used in a positive way. Sport psychologists have now distinguished between helpful and unhelpful self talk. There are times when negative self talk can be seen as helpful and unhelpful. A perfect example would be Andy Murray. Last year during Wimbledon a number of people on twitter were questioning why Andy Murray was shouting at himself in a negative way. They didn’t think that this was helping his performance. Maybe Andy Murray was using negative self talk in a helpful way to boost his performance? Maybe this helpful negative self talk was motivating and pushing Andy to refocus on his goals?
When performing at a high level athletes will use cue words to help them in specific situations. Cue words can act as technical prompts or tools to aid focus. They must be specific and personal to your own performance. Examples could be as simple as “Focus, Concentrate, I can do this, Believe, Power”. Using them within game and training scenarios will allow players to minimise distraction.
As mentioned earlier tennis is a game where players can experience many highs and lows. Therefore the players competing at Wimbledon will need to stay in control and learn to manage their emotions. Frustration, over arousal and anxiety can lead to an increase in unhelpful self talk which can lead to a dramatic decline in performance. Winning Wimbledon requires a player who understands the power of self talk. Winning Wimbledon requires a player who knows when to switch on and off helpful positive and negative self talk. They will be a player who can manage and control their self talk to allow them to play at the highest level. Over the next few weeks when you are watching tennis players at Wimbledon think about what must be going through their mind and how these players will be using self talk to influence their performance. Think about how their self talk will be changing from minute to minute and the different psychological tools and principles they will be using to overcome different challenges.