We love watching the best athletes at work. From the abilities of our Ashes cricketers to the current golfing championships to the upcoming World Cup Rugby we are in awe of the way they can execute their skills. But what if we could learn from the way they correct their own bad sporting habits and refine their skills?
In this article we will see how elite athletes often use self-talk strategies to help change old or bad sporting skills. This is a common problem when athletes have learned a bad habit in a skill, such as a golfing swing or poor bowling technique in cricket.
Self-talk skills can help correct this. The aim is to try to unlearn the automatic response that is no longer effective and replace it with a new one. For example, a tennis player is attempting to change from a two-handed to one-handed backhand. In this case, Jill the tennis player, and her coach, must verbally redirect the entire swing motion. Jill, with the help of her coach, has developed some cue words to help her focus on the correct skill and break her old two-handed habit.
To break this old habit you first must intentionally force conscious control over the old automatic action. This is how the top athletes do it: The self-talk should focus on the desired outcome rather than on what the athlete is NOT trying to do. So, saying, "early position [reminding Jill to get her early foot position correct].... hit through the ball [reminding Jill to use the one-handed grip and swing through the ball]" is more effective than saying, "don't use both hands!"
Another useful self-talk strategy would be using a cue word such as "step-hit."
In summary, Jill should focused on what she wants to happen rather than what she wants to avoid. She is using these self-talk strategies to help make her a better player. The same can work for you as you start your own sporting season. The bonus with this strategy is that it also reinforces the habit of making thoughts positive and goal focused. Chat to your coach about this and get his/her support in making some positive self-talk strategies to change any old sporting habits you might have identified.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html