The Effects of Self-Talk on a Basketball Player’s Performance 

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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Two different professional basketball players step up to the free-throw line in a tied game with a few seconds left during the fourth quarter. The anxiety caused by the context of the situation stimulates the nervous system; therefore, the brain must be able to process the stimulation and allow these players to evaluate the situation. Athlete one, who consulted with a sports psychologist, was able to handle the pressure and help their team win the game. Athlete two, who did not consult with a sports psychologist, missed the free throws.

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The player who missed the free throws may have lost focus or reverted to old habits because of the high-stressed environment. Based on this dilemma, it is evident that even elite athletes can fail when they are expected to perform in stressful situations. The next question to ask is what separated the first basketball player from the second basketball player even though both were in top physical condition.

The first athlete was able to manage the situation by using the psychological skills that the sports psychologist suggested. Mental skills take time to practice; however, they can give athletes a decisive advantage over their competitors. In this situation, the sports psychologist introduced athlete one to self-talk. Self-talk allows the basketball player to verbalize specific thoughts and feelings to themselves or out loud.

Since attention, self-regulation, and advanced technical skill dictate basketball performance, self-talk can provide reassurance of technique (instructional) or give some motivation when the stress level is higher than what the athlete can handle (motivational). Instructional and motivational self-talk can help basketball player improve their skill mastery and motor movement, self-regulation, and attention control; therefore, these forms of self-talk can provide a psychological advantage to enhance overall performance.

Self- Regulation, Skill Mastery, and Attention Control concerning Performance Self-regulation, skill mastery and attention control play an intricate part in basketball performance, especially with basketball. Todd, Hardy & Oliver (2011) state the intermingling between cognition, affect, motivation, behavior, and performance. Based on the relationship, basketball demands attention to make quick decisions and alter strategies. It also requires self-regulation because controlling emotions and anxiety (cognitive and somatic) due to the fast-paced nature of basketball helps players forget about past mistakes/errors.

Self-regulation coalesces with attention control because basketball players need the ability not to let interfering thoughts impede upcoming tasks during the game. Moreover, skill mastery and motor movement are affected by belief’s inability, past experiences, attention, and motivation. Attention increases focus on processing information from the external environment and internally. Moreover, concentration blocks out interfering thoughts in which the player can focus on proper motor movement patterns (Todd, Hardy & Oliver 2011).

If the factors affecting self-regulation, skill mastery/motor movement, and attention are working harmoniously, attaining optimal performance can happen. Having one aspect negatively affected will hinder other elements because of the relationship between the brain and the body (mind affects the body and vice versa). Instructional Self-Talk and Performance Instructional self-talk is designed to help athletes focus on particular techniques to execute athletic movements. Instructional self-talk is used for skill mastery primarily, yet its use for self-regulation and decision making is worth noting. When it comes to skill differences, both professional and novice players have seen benefits from this form of verbalization.

Perkos, Theodorakis, & Chroni (2002) looked at novice youth basketball players in which instructional self-talk bolstered drills with dribbling, shooting, and passing. The researchers concluded that the use of instructional self-talk while practicing the exercises improved performance in dribbling and passing during the intervention and two weeks post-intervention.

Shooting saw no improvements. Low-level experience and the complexity of shooting a basketball caused the shooting results. However, when looking at professional Iranian players, the player’s high skill level allowed them to utilize instructional self-talk. Their free throw accuracy improved significantly. Furthermore, their motor coordination between the elbow and wrist joints showed less variability. Less variability means that their technique remained consistent (Abdoli, Hardy, Riyahi & Farsi 2017).

The Iranian players also used motivational self-talk, yet the results compared to instructional self-talk were less significant. The novice and professional players saw improvements in cognitive and behavioral means. Both saw that their performance improved because the verbalizations helped them remember vital components of techniques. Building a routine using this form of self-talk enhances motor skills because the cues will go in conjunction with the movement.

The success created by the action and verbal cue creates movement patterns that will reinforce the behavior. As skills become mastered, self-efficacy improves as the belief in ability increases. As a byproduct, their effect will change, which means performance can improve. Adoli et al. (2017) and Perkos et al. (2002) demonstrate that skill level and task complexity are moderating factors when using instructional self-talk because verbal cues should pertain to the skill as well as be accessible to the cohort learning the skill. On top of skill level and task complexity, instructional self-talk has a temporal component. In a systematic review of self-talk, Todd, Hardy & Oliver (2011) concluded that athletes first learning the technical and kinesthetic skills of a task would benefit from instructional self-talk.

Once the movement is proficient to the athlete, motivational self-talk is more likely to help with better performance. Galanis, Hatzigeorgiadis, Comoutos, Charachousi, & Sanchez (2018) reinforced this idea when they took the same approach with female basketball players. The researchers used a six-week period to introduce self-talk. The players learned instructional self-talk in week one and then learned motivational self-talk in week 2. By the fifth and sixth weeks, the players developed a mixture of motivational and instructional self-talk that worked for them. With loud noise introduced, the players who used self-talk had better results with free throws (Galanis et al. 2018).

Increased focus on the task causes improved performance. Despite the players using a mix with 60 percent motivational self-talk, the 40 percent that was instructional self-talk played an important role. The verbal cues reinforced specific aspects of technique. The reinforcement helped improve attention control and helped strengthen correct movements, which caused improved performance. Overall, instructional self-talk is useful primarily for skill mastery, yet it can affect self-regulation and attention control to improve performance.

Motivational Self-Talk and Performance Motivational self-talk helps athletes build confidence, maximize effort, and create a positive mood. Based on this definition, this form of self-talk is used primarily for self-regulation regulation. However, motivational self-talk can be useful for skill mastery, and attention control. Altfeld, Langenkamp, Beckmann, & Kellmann (2017) looked at self-talk as a form of self-regulatory strategy with a youth German basketball league. The main point was that using psychological skills such as self-talk in conjunction with relaxation, and imagery helped these players become more action-oriented individuals versus state-oriented.

These two concepts become essential when talking about handling emotions and anxiety while playing basketball. Through continuous practice during the challenging situations, the German basketball players were able to reduce state-oriented tendencies such as lack of motivation, and ruminating about past failures. The trends that were expressed more as a result of the psychological skills were quicker initiation of actions, more motivation and self-regulation, improved self-optimization, and reduced thoughts of past failure.

The action-oriented athlete would be able to make better decisions because their attention control would improve. Since self-optimization improved, the players believed that their skills increased (skill mastery). The byproduct of that is increased self-efficacy, which would improve mood and confidence. The desire to perform optimally generates more motivation, which can lead to better performance for basketball players. Even though motivational self-talk was not the primary skill used, research shows that most athletes use positive self-talk as motivation during a competition to build confidence and alter their mood (Hardy, Hall & Alexander 2001).

Motivation is dependent on the individual. It usually has a positive connotation while negative self-talk is labeled typically as “detrimental” to performance. However, research has suggested that negative phrases can have motivational qualities. According to Todd, Hardy & Oliver (2011), within the studies that reviewed positive and negative self-talk, forty percent of them concluded that there was no difference in performance. Interestingly, trash talk can become a motivational force for better performance.

By definition, trash talk is self-talk for both personal affirmative purposes and disruptive motives towards opponents. Trash talk can be motivating because it reflects one’s belief in skill (especially if their skill mastery level is high) based on personal experience with success. Furthermore, it is a form of verbal persuasion that positively affects emotions and self-efficacy.

The chain of events produces better performance in athletes (Conmy, Tenenbaum, Eklund, Roehrig, & Filho 2013). Motivational self-talk has a temporal aspect as well. Galanis et al. (2018) mention the end mixture of self-talk was sixty percent motivational and forty percent instructional when the free throw competition arrived. It would make sense for more motivational self-talk to be used during competition to build confidence in ability, which would alter affect (Hardy, Hall & Hardy 2005).

Overall, Motivational self-talk has the same subjectivity and temporal components as instructional self-talk. Motivational self- talk is used mainly for self-regulation, yet it can have tremendous effects on attention control and skill mastery.

Regardless of which form of self-talk is used (motivational or instructional), self-talk can be very useful to improve performance with basketball players in the realms of attention control, self-regulation, and skill mastery and motor movement. The relationship between cognition, affect, and skill mastery/motor movement is crucial towards performance as a result of the psychoneuromuscular relationship. Basketball demands these abilities; therefore, self-talk can provide a psychological advantage and help players achieve goals. Through research, it is evident that self-talk has moderating factors such as preference, athletic skill, task complexity, and time.

For that reason, it is up to the coaches and sports psychologists to understand their athletes to make self-talk accessible and beneficial. Furthermore, it is equally important to realize that preference also refers to other psychological skills; self-talk may help one basketball player, but imagery may work better for another athlete. Overall, self-talk is one of the many tools that can provide a psychological edge with countless hours of practice

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The Effects of Self-Talk on a Basketball Player’s Performance . (2021, Dec 01). Retrieved from