Part I: Catching Negative Self-Talk (Youth)

Greetings all, this is one a post I wrote that targets the parents of my youth athletes. I hope you find this information helpful!

Part I: Catching Negative Self-Talk

When I hear people make engage in negative self-talk, I stress a quote from Lisa Hayes, “be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening what you say to yourself because you are listening!”  No matter what age I train, it is part of my protocol to engage in and challenge my athletes to focus on and use positive self-talk. For this series, I will use the Mayo Clinic’s definition of self-talk. The Mayo Clinic defines self-talk as “the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head…[that] can be either positive or negative (

Dr. Witherting states we make approximately 55,000 self-utterances a day (2015). Dr. Whitbourne advises some self-talk can be so destructive that it can cause an individual to question themselves so constantly that they can soon become paralyzed with doubt and uncertainty (2013). These unspoken thoughts flood our young athletes mind and cognitive theorist have long emphasized the link between what people say to themselves and how they behave. For both parents and coaches, it is important to understand that our athlete’s destructive thinking and inner conversations can affect both their emotional and behavioral outcomes, having a negative impact on training, competition, and other important settings such as school. The collateral damage of negative self-talk has proven to negatively impact our young athlete’s self-esteem, stress levels, and relationships with teammates and coaches (2014).

Positive Self-Talk & Improved Executive functioning

Redirecting and correcting negative self-talk can also improve the executive functioning of our athletes. Although some experts disagree on the specifics of executive functioning (EF), Witherington writes EF acts on the processes that allows our athletes to manage their thoughts, emotions, and actions to complete a task (2015). Research demonstrates that focusing on positive self-talk has a positive compounding effect. Stanulis and Manning (2002) advise the teacher sets the standard by which students can monitor and regulate their behavior. Just like teachers in a classroom, coaches and trainers play a pivotal role in constructing the verbal environment when eliciting and monitoring feedback with our athletes.  Sport psychologist and author Dr. Haley Perlus states, “if you are clear from the neck up, everything from the neck down can be optimized, we have to clear clutter that is getting in the way of your child’s performance (2017).” The point I am stressing is that we as trainers and coaches need to go out and obtain the tools to properly engage our kids in a way that will help them change the way they communicate with themselves.

“The process is the only thing our athletes can control, and self-talk is part of that process that can change a negative practice in a more positive one.” Dr. Haley Perlus

Sometimes the body language of our athletes is screaming if we dial in. In times such as these, I simply ask “what are you saying to yourself?” This cue disrupts the pattern of negativity and allows the athlete to take the first step in disrupting destructive messages. Once this happens and with proper training, our athletes are on their way to developing and building the skill of positive self-talk and achieving higher EF.   As our youth’s EF increases, they too begin to develop the ability to self-regulate through monitoring their own behavior and self-instruct when faced with challenges in other settings away from the arena such as school and other relationships (2015).  The athlete cultivates the ability to impact their self-esteem, decrease stress levels, and even improve their relationship with teammates and coaches (2015). Dr. Haley advises, the process is the only thing our athletes can control, and constructive self-talk is a major first step.


The joy comes when the athlete begins to implement the skills and build enough self-awareness to put this tool in action. One of the great joys of training is seeing my athletes implement tools that are helpful. On occasions, a few of my athletes will look at me and say, “I know, what am I thinking!” When I get this response, I get some comfort in knowing that I am making a connection and my athlete is making some progress as they disrupt the negative pattern of unproductive self-talk.

Learning to positive self-communication is skill and the benefits are tangible.

Please like, share, or comment!


Kris J. Snyder, LMFT, MBA, FMS1



Keilbaso, J. (Producer). (2017) Episode 32 – The Impact Show. Dr. Haley Perlus On Mental Toughness January 17, 2017

accessed from

Negative self-talk during sport performance: relationships with pre-competition anxiety and goal-performance discrepancies. (n.d.) >The Free Library. (2014). Retrieved Sep 26 2017 from…-a0183423084

Witherington, J. S. (2015). The effects of self-talk on executive function in the elementary setting (Order No. 3714003). Available from ProQuest Central. (1710089501). Retrieved from

Whitborne, S. Make Your Self Talk Work For You. September 10, 2013


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