Sports psychology: believe in better

PUBLISHED: 01:32 10 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:36 20 February 2013

Sports psychology: believe in better

Sports psychology: believe in better

Sport Pyschologist Sarah Murray explains how to enhance your chances of success, whether you are a Team GB hopeful or an at-home athlete

I am a sport psychology consultant based in Sussex. I work with both elite and non-elite teams, athletes and coaches to enhance performance and develop understanding
of performance. The purpose of my
work is to support improvements in athletic performance and facilitate positive change driven by the athletes individual needs.

My approach provides personal programmes of mental skills support, enabling the performer to reach their potential and sustain positive performance changes. Sport psychology is growing in this country with more and more people recognising it as part of what makes a successful athlete. The link between what/how we think and our physical performance in sport is essential and needs to be developed in the same way that fitness and technical skills are.

With the Olympic Games upon us sport in this country is being given the most incredible boost. Each day the media speculates about which athletes will win the medals and how their preparation is going. A vital component for the GB squad will be sport psychology support. Just as it is important that our athletes are physically ready, they must also develop their mental skills in order to perform well. There will be a lot of pressure on them. Dealing with pressure and developing coping strategies is just one area of sport psychology. In the high performance, high pressure world of sport, a sport psychologist is an integral part of the support team which may include coaches, physiotherapists, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritional advisors and lifestyle management advisors.

As a sport psychologist I always ask my athletes to reflect on the skills that form the complete athlete:

  • Physical

  • Technical

  • Tactical


It is usual that athletes spend up to 90 per cent of their training time on physical fitness and technical skills and very little on their mental skills, but just as we train our body and facilitate positive change the same can be done with our minds.

Self-talk and sports performance as I say!

It has often been said that talking to ourselves is the first sign of madness, but most of us talk to ourselves internally all day long. When athletes compete and train, they are often unaware of the personal running commentary they provide. This is known as self-talk.

When it comes to sport performance, this internal monologue plays a massive role in either assisting excellence or inhibiting it. We all have that voice inside our head that talks to us; at times it might be on our side and at other times it might be working against us. In sport, as in general life, that voice has an impact on how we act or perform. Sport psychologists have used the power of positive self-talk with athletes for many years with great results.

How many times have you caught yourself getting ready to exercise and saying things like: I dont feel like it today, Im not going to last long, Im no good at running after a long day? Reflect for a moment on your last exercise session and become aware of any self-talk you used. Do you remember what you said?


The starting point for sport psychology is awareness of how it can affect an individual. Those athletes that are self aware are, over a period of time, able to recognise their behaviours. This leads to development of skills allowing them to control their mind to ensure performance is positively affected. As with almost any personal area we want to develop, self-awareness is the key.

Increasing awareness

Keep a log of your positive and negative self-talk.

Discuss it with someone you trust, verbalising some of the chatter from you head and talking it through can give
you a different perspective on it and help you to recognise it next time.

Think about when the self-talk
occurred and what caused were you feeling? Frustrated, excited, happy, annoyed, upset, tired, confident? Areany patterns emerging?

The self-talk cycle

Ultimately the key thing to accept is that you are in control of your voice. Self-talk is the starting point in a cycle.

Sport psychologists have long recognised the importance of self-talk for athletic performance; positive self-talk leads to positive performance. By becoming aware of what our self-talk is, we are able to change it from negative to positive.

Positive self-talk

Changing your self-talk requires time and practice, since our ways of thinking are usually habitual. You will need to maintain awareness of the cycles and keep working to change the negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Self-talk leads to a belief, and it may take some time before the belief is true. Saying I can do it today! and believing it may be two very different things! However, with continued use and increased self awareness, the belief will come and the rest of the positive cycle will occur.

Change the negative into positive by identifying negative self-talk and replacing it with language that is going to serve you in terms of performance and overall mental state. Simply by telling yourself what you do want rather than what you dont want will increase your chances of success: a hockey player saying I want to time my strike well instead of I dont want to mis-time my strike sends the body a positive message and increases the probability of your desired outcome.

Sarah Murray

, BSc (Hons), MSc Sport Psychology

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