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Ideas for Incorporating Positive Self-Talk

Take Home Points

  1. Goal setting requires long-term and short-term goals.
  2. Using extrinsic rewards is beneficial in goal setting.
  3. Positive self-talks gives elite athletes an edge during difficult situations. 

1. Goal setting
Athletes should set achievable long-term goals. Through goal setting, athletes are more likely to accept the challenges that lie ahead and pursue their goals with enthusiasm. To keep athletes on track with their long-term goals, they should also set appropriate medium-term goals. By far the most important goals, in practical terms, are those for the short-term, as these provide continual reminders and check marks of improvement. Short-term goals should be process-oriented. Goal setting also requires evaluating and monitoring goals. Not performing this dynamic step, is one of the biggest mistakes that coaches make in setting goals. The goal setting process works best when there is flexibility and the individual athlete or team takes ownership of each goal. In the more experienced athlete, a democratic approach is ideal, encouraging a free flowing idea exchange.

2. Using extrinsic rewards
Extrinsic rewards reinforce an athlete’s sense of competence and self-worth. A reward should be informational in nature rather than controlling. If a reward comes to be controlling, it can undermine intrinsic motivation. For a reward to be informational, it must carry minimal monetary worth. Also, presenting rewards in front of the all the potential recipients with places more prestige on the reward. Another method includes writing an athlete’s name on a souvenir (like a hat) and posting it in a common area for all their peels to see.

3. Positive self-talk
Positive self-talk is a technique that enhances motivation across a wide range of achievement domains. It makes use of an athlete’s powerful inner voice to reinforce their self-esteem or important aspects of their performance. With appropriate repetition, self-talk can alter an athlete’s belief system. Three types of positive self-talk exist: task-relevant, mood-related, and self-affirmation.

Task relevant serves to focus an athlete’s attention on the task at hand. Mood-related self-talk impacts on how athletes feel. Self-affirmation statements use positive reinforcement to affirm one’s abilities. The most famous exponent of these was the legendary boxer Mohammed Ali who repeated the claim, ‘I am the greatest’ so many times that even his opponents believed it.

We can all draw untapped energy sources from ourselves to bring about superior results. However, enhancing motivation isn’t easy, as it requires changing your attitude, developing a positive ‘can do’ mindset and engaging in systematic behaviors. If you have a leadership role in sport you will have considerable influence on how motivated your athletes or team might feel.

Make sure you instill a good work ethic, recognize individual effort and instigate transparent reward structures that reinforce people’s sense of competence. 



  1. Korobeynikov G, Mazmanian K, Korobeynikova L, Jagiello W Diagnostics of psychophysiological states and motivation in elite athletes. Bratisl Lek Listy. 2011;112(11):637-43.  Tod D, Hardy J, Oliver E. Effects of self-talk: a systematic review.
  2. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2011 Oct;33(5):666-87. Review.

 Written by Coach Chris Barber, CPT.