Stephany C. Coakley PhD., LPC

Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC)

(866) 277-3401

Fuel Your High-Performance Engine

Confidence is a result of the way you think. An athlete’s thoughts (internal self-talk) have a powerful impact on their performance. Mentally tough athletes know how to think; they know how to use their thoughts to create the outcomes that they want, and to do so consistently.

In my work with elite athletes one of the primary issues that we address is self-talk. It is paramount to assess the quality of an athletes’ self-talk and ask the question; is your self-talk constructive or is it destructive? After all, we are thinking constantly – evidence suggests that on average we can have between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day – but just because most of our thoughts are subconscious doesn’t mean that they do not have an impact on performance. Developing the habit of strengthening your constructive self-talk is key to building and maintaining confidence.

Many athletes I work with admit that occasionally their confidence seems fragile and they want to develop strategies to avoid this crisis in confidence. Others however, claim that they are positive or constructive thinkers all the time and do not have negative thoughts, which is great! However, I have noticed that some athletes who claim to be extremely constructive thinkers – aren’t really. Let me explain: there is a category of self-talk that most athletes fail to recognize as destructive because it isn’t exactly negative. This is the paradox of “what if” and I call this type of self-talk speculative self-talk.

Speculative self-talk sounds like this:
•What if I miss the shot?
•What if I drop the pass?
•If they get out to a big lead, we’ll never be able to catch-up.
•If I don’t play well coach is going to bench me.

Speculative self-talk is destructive because it causes doubt and anxiety. When doubt is present it poses a threat to confidence and consistency. In addition, speculative self-talk disables the ability to be in the present moment and completely locked in on the task at hand. We know that being in the present moment is a component of peak performance, and increases the likelihood of performing in the zone.

Imagine that your thoughts are fuel, and just as a high performance vehicle needs high quality fuel to get the maximum out of the engine, you need high quality thoughts when you train and compete in order to achieve your full potential.

If you are guilty of speculative self-talk, changing your self-talk is crucial. Creating constructive habits of thinking is a way to disable speculative self-talk and enable confidence and consistency. Instead of “what if I miss the shot” replace it with “I am prepared for moments like this”. Substitute “if I don’t play well coach is going to bench me” with “every game I play, I give maximum effort”. These are examples of constructive self-talk, or impact statements, specifically designed to build confidence and lower anxiety.

It’s not enough just to create impact statements: it’s equally important to cultivate confidence through repetition. Repeat your impact statements when you’re in the shower, doing push-ups, or making your dinner. Set a calendar reminder, or write it out and hang it on your wall. The idea is to get as many reps in as possible, so that in pressure situations your thoughts work to your advantage. You get what your mind sets: with every repetition of constructive self-talk, you’re training your confidence.

So if your confidence is shaky sometimes, consider doing a brief assessment of your self-talk. What are you saying to yourself in training and during competition? Take steps to create a few impact statements – and practice them – to avoid the paradox of “what if”. Change your destructive self-talk, build confidence, and maximize your performance!”

Stephany C. Coakley, PhD, LPC

Maximum Mental Training Associates (MMTA) LLC

Certified Sport Psychology Consultant (CC-AASP)


Telephone: 1-800-277-3401