How to Control your Self-Talk
Athletes can talk themselves out of a lot of things. The biggest obstacle for ball players is not the opposition, but the content of their self-talk.
You could have all the talent in the world but if you doubt your ability to play at a level close to your potential, you will never accomplish much in your sport.
Negative self-talk is that little internal voice that screams, “No you can’t,” no matter if you have succeeded at a similar task in the past or find yourself in a relatively new circumstance.
Negative self-talk can talk you out of getting on base when facing a dominant opposing pitcher…
“I can’t get a hit off him. I can never catch up to his fastball.”
Negative self-talk can talk you out of throwing out a runner from the outfield.
“I don’t have the arm strength or accuracy to make a strong throw to home plate.”
Negative self-talk can talk you out of trusting your pitches with runners on base.
“This team always lights me up. I can’t get any out today.”
Negative self-talk can talk you out of playing to your potential when your number is called.
“I don’t belong at this level. I’m not that good.”
Negative thoughts may seep into your mind but you don’t need to buy into those thoughts or allow those thoughts dominate your thinking.
Not once did Houston Astros rookie starter Jose Urquidy try to talk himself out of pulling off his best pitching performance in Game 4 of the World Series against the Washington Nationals.
After all, if Urquidy wanted to find reasons to fail, it wouldn’t be that difficult.
- Urquidy hadn’t pitched above Class A prior to the start of this season
- Urquidy was not even considered one of Houston’s top 30 prospects entering the season
- Urquidy was sent back to Triple-A four starts after making his Major-League debut
- In one of his last Triple-A starts, Urquidy allowed 14 hits, 11 runs and three home runs in 4 and 2/3 innings.
- Urquidy pitched only 41 innings at the Major League level prior to this year’s playoffs
These previous facts could have caused Urquidy to question his ability to pitch effectively in the World Series.
Instead, Urquidy turned in one of his best performances in his career throwing five shutout innings with no walks and only two hits to help the Astros win 8-1 and tie the Series at two games each.
After the game, Urquidy said he didn’t allow the moment get too big even though he was aware of the magnitude of the game.
URQUIDY: “Yes, I was a little nervous, a little bit. But after the first inning… I felt very more relaxed to play. … A couple of moments I was thinking… ‘Oh, my God, I’m (in the) World Series pitching. It’s awesome.‘”
Urquidy was nervous prior to the start of the game just as every other player on the field but he didn’t allow negativity to permeate his thought process.
If you notice, Urquidy said “Oh my God, I’m in the World Series pitching” and not, “Oh my God, I’m pitching in the World Series. What if I mess up? I’m going to be the reason we lose.”
The takeaway is that you are in control of your self-talk. You can choose what thoughts to take hold of and which thoughts you pass over. Your self-talk is up to you!
Overcoming Negative Self-Talk for Ball Players:
What normally triggers your negative self-talk? Mistakes? What others do or say? Getting beat?
Examine past games where negative thoughts affected your game. What situations preceded those thoughts?
Let’s assume making mistakes have the greatest impact on your self-talk.
What might you say to yourself after a mistake? For example: “That was awful, I hate walking batters.”
What can you say to yourself when you engage in negative self-talk? “It happens to the best pitchers. You’re good. Move on”
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Do you (or your athletes) lack full confidence in your skills when you step on the field as if your game disappears at game time?
Do you lose composure easily after you make your first error of time game?
Do you feel embarrassed after striking out and carry this with you for longer than one inning?
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