6 Tips To Manage Negative Self-Talk

Remember that Little Engine That Could story from your childhood? It was able to make it up the hill by repeating a “I think I can” mantra. However, many developing soccer players undermine their performance and learning with more negative self-talk. Consider these tips to let go of perfectionism and be a better personal cheerleader.

What is Negative Self Talk?

You know negative talk when you hear it. Someone says “Boy, you trash!” You may feel badly for a moment and then turn that around to play even harder. But when you’re the person telling yourself that you suck, or you’re not good at heading, or can’t dribble the ball to save your life, or will never ever be good at penalty kicks, you could be doing actual damage.

Consider the differences between negative and positive self-talk in these examples:

•       “It’s too complicated” v. “I’ll ty it from another angle”

•       “There’s no way I will make it” v. “I will try my best to make it”

•       “I’m not getting better at this” v. “I’ll give it another shot.”

Negative self-talk takes several forms including catastrophizing (Now, I will never make the DA squad!) or blaming (It’s all my fault the team didn’t make the playoffs!). Negative self-talk is the inner dialogue you have that undermines your belief in yourself and your abilities. This kind can hurt your ability to reach your potential by:

•       Increasing stress

•       Lowering resilience

•       Decreasing motivation

•       Fostering helplessness

•       Challenging relationships

•       Interfering with ability to capitalize on opportunities.

Negative self-talk can also mean lower self-esteem, spill over into other areas of your life, and feed into depression. So, it’s important that you nip this tendency in the bud. Here’s help.

Strategies to Stop Negative Self-Talk

#1 Identify your Inner Critic. As with many toxic behaviors, awareness is a critical first step. You have to train yourself to notice that you are engaging in negative self-talk. As you get better at noticing you are beating yourself up again, you might think about naming your inner critic. Then, you can tell yourself to stop listening to Jorge, Demetrio, or Dwight because he’s getting out of hand.

#2 Draw Boundaries. As you become more attuned to your negative self-talk you may discern that you tend to beat yourself up about certain things in particular. Perhaps it’s not being fit enough, or not having the agility you want, or messing up passes, or failing to score? Try to identify the areas that trigger your negative thinking. Then, work to contain your thinking in those situations. Especially, don’t let your self-doubt spread to other areas. 

#3 Challenge Your Critic. You might keep your inner critic in check by asking it questions. Ask yourself is that negative thing you just said actually true? How do you know it is true? Do you have any evidence to support that self-defeating thought? Cross-examining your doubts can be a good way to slow down the negative monologue in your head.

#4 Think Like Your Closest Ally. Instead of letting yourself get caught up in the downward spiral of everything sucks, try to think what you would say to a friend who made the same mistake. It’s unlikely you would tell them they should just give up now and it’s all over. So, why are you talking to yourself that way? Shift your self-talk to be more gentle and generous.

#5 Say It Out Loud. Saying your negative thoughts out loud can help you hear that they are ridiculous. Plus, this approach is likely to help you catch your inner critic at work more quickly. This practice can help you recognize you are being unreasonable and prompt you to stop that thinking and give yourself a break.

#6 Take it to Extremes. You might try to take your self-talk to such an extreme that you can shake yourself out of the slippery slope thinking and laugh about it. For instance, you miss a shot. OK, fine. If your impulse is to think “I’m never going to be played at striker again because I missed that shot,” keep it going. If you’re never striker again, obviously you won’t end up on the team next week, and you’ll lose all of your friends. This one missed shot also means (of course) that your parents are not going to be happy, and so they’ll not only take away your electronics but they’ll kick you out of the house, and then you won’t have anywhere to live and no friends, and you’ll end up in a box under a bridge in the cold of winter…Of course, this approach really only works if you can see the hilarity in that elaborate scenario. If you can’t, you may want to mention this concern to a coach or parent who can help you replace your bad thoughts with some fresh perspective.

Perfectionism and overly high standards are particularly a problem in competitive environments. Fear of failure is also a common pitfall for aspiring athletes. Negative self-talk gets in the way of success, though, because it can get in the way of your willingness to take risks and try new things and impede your ability to reach the next level with your play.

chris williams