My research techniques have followed the principles of interviewing athletes themselves about their personal strategies for improvement, and listening carefully to their own anecdotes and tips.
I am currently interested in how athletes use 'self-talk' to help themselves boost their performance and confidence, because I know that our thoughts certainly impact our feelings and behaviour.
I am writing a series of articles that describe the strategies that successful sports people use, particularly to correct a 'learned' bad habit or skill such as an unbalanced golfing swing or a poor bowling technique in cricket.
As a Christian I can see how the concept of 'self-talk' can improve my Christian life and likewise how a Christian athlete might use it by asking the Lord to help them in their every endeavour in their sporting prowess to perform to their peak. It is prayer but in a different format.
The aim of these athletes is always to talk themselves out of the problem by trying to UNLEARN the automatic response that is no longer effective and replace it with a new one. This is classical Christian behavioural teaching in relation to making a responses to sin or to hold-up and seek the Lord's wisdom..
For example, if a tennis player, let's call her Jill, is attempting to change from a two-handed to one-handed backhand, then she and her coach must verbally discuss how she can change her body movements to redirect the entire swing motion. To do this, Jill, with the help of her coach, will develop 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 something like "early position" [reminding Jill to get her early foot position correct]..."hit through the ball" [reminding Jill to use the one-handed grip and keep swinging for the length of the follow-through] 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 focus on what she wants to happen rather than what she wants to avoid. She is using these strategies to help make her a better player.
The same can work for you as you start your sports season. The bonus with this technique 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 suggestions as to effective ways that you can help yourself to change any old 'bad' sporting habits that you might have identified.
"So it seems there is nothing new under the sun, after all."