Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Victory Speech

Looks at how mental messages affect an athlete's performance in the game. Significant difference between the mental messages that successful and not-so successful athletes gave themselves; Importance of the athletes' clarity of thoughts.

Anyone who's watched Dennis Rodman in action knows that what athletes say toreferees can get them in trouble. Now a new study asserts that what athletes say to themselves may also matter: the wrong words can send them straight into a slump. Psychologist Peggy De Cooke, Ph.D., and her student Jess Gangi, both of Purchase College in New York, asked a small group of college basketball players to watch videotapes of their games and recount the thoughts they had while playing. The researchers found that there was a significant difference between the mental messages that successful and not-so-successful athletes gave themselves: those who I were playing well tended to concentrate on the process of playing itself, while those who were playing poorly said they thought about how the team was doing or exhorted themselves to do better. Athletes on a losing streak also dwelled on the frustration they felt, and fretted about external influences such as the noise or lighting in the arena. Such negative thoughts can become a bad habit, says De Cooke: athletes mired in a slump had little confidence or focus even when they occasionally played well.

The researchers also found that the clarity of athletes' thoughts was as important as their content. Describing the feelings they had during a game, "slumpers" were confused and uncertain in their responses. Notes De Cooke: "They would have difficulty articulating what was running through their minds at the time. They weren't mentally in tune with their performance." Although the study's results need to be replicated in a larger sample, De Cooke says that the findings confirm the importance of what sports psychologists call "self-talk." Whatever they say to the ref, she suggests, athletes should make sure that their words to themselves are clear and coherent, emphasize the positive, and stay focused on the play itself, rather than the score or the stadium.

PHOTO (COLOR): Victory Speech