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Use of Self-Talk on Enhancing Self-Efficacy in Youth Tennis Players

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Published: 23rd Sep 2019 in Sports

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The Use of Self-Talk on Enhancing Self-Efficacy in Youth Tennis Players

Para 1: Introducing self-efficacy


Successful performance in sport can be influence by psychological factors. Some athletes may have the required physical skills and capabilities to perform well, but are less confident in doing so or unable to cope with performance pressures.

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Athletes own confidence in their ability can affect how they perceive competition outcomes and this can have negative affects on performance. Self-efficacy refers to ones beliefs that a certain level of performance can be attained in a given situation (Bandura, 1977). The relationship between self-efficacy and performance is a well-established concept in sport psychology literature in multiple sporting settings.

Para 2: Self-efficacy theory (Bandura REF),

Self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1977) was developed within the framework of social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1991), a theory that explains that individuals are in charge of their own cognitions, motivations, actions and emotions. Self-efficacy theory therefore addresses the role of self-referent beliefs as the core influence that determines people’s goal-directed behaviour (Jarvis, 2006). Level of self-efficacy mediates between self-appraisal, emotional reactions, thought patterns, motivation and behaviour and thus is a significant contributor to performance in sport (Bandura, 1993). Highly efficacious athletes are believed to pursue challenging goals without fear and be resilient with pain and setback, which should result in successful performance. The strength of self-efficacy that an individual may possess refers to the certainty of their beliefs in their ability to perform, therefore being situation dependent.

Self-efficacy theory is a robust theory for explaining, understanding and applying self-talk in sport. Bandura (1997) proposed numerous sources for efficacious beliefs: previous performance accomplishments, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological and affective states. According to Bandura (1997), one of the significant sources that contribute to the formulation of self-efficacy beliefs is verbal persuasion. It has been argued that although verbal persuasion is usually received by significant others, it can also originate from oneself in the form of self-talk and have an important impact on efficacious beliefs (Hardy, 2006). Research offered support for Bandura’s ideas, demonstrating that when persuasive self-talk was implemented, reinforcement to beliefs on a sporting task was enhanced, resulting in successful performance execution (Wise & Trunnell, 2001). Drawing from Bandura’s predictions, it could be debated that self-efficacy can impact athletes emotional experiences via self-awareness and thought control; with self-talk acting as a mediator of confidence to do so.

So, as individuals are able to control their thought and emotions, by altering the way they internally speak to themselves, plus altering their perception of efficacy, can ideally facilitate sporting performance.

Para 3: The effects of self-efficacy on performance- detrimental effects of low SE beliefs

Athletes with low self-efficacy tend to worry about defeat, possible injury, inability to execute a skill correctly, or lack control over the situation (Bandura & Locke, 2003). These thought patterns lead to increased anxiety and aversive feelings of distress, which are unhelpful for performance (Neck & Manz, 1992). Not only this, but these low-efficacious athletes will perceive their emotional arousal as an inability to cope or control during competition, rather than using it as more facilitative. As explored by Bandura and Locke (2003) that self-efficacy enhances motivation to perform well, so without self-efficacy, there is less effort used to succeed.

Para 4: Consideration of techniques- Self-talk

There are other intervention techniques that can increase self-efficacy beliefs, such as, imagery, goal setting, and relaxation strategies. Nevertheless, self-talk has been widely used as an effective method (Perkos & Theodorakis, 2002; Hatzigeorgiadis, Zourbanos, Galanis, & Theodorkis, 2011).

Self-talk is a cognitive strategy aimed at enhancing performance (Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2011). Athletes often use self-talk to instruct themselves during practice or competition (Hardy, Hall, & Hardy, 2005), as it regulates behaviour (Winsler, 2009). Self-talk has been defined by Hackfort and Schwenkmezger (1993) as “a dialogue (through which) the individual interprets feelings and perceptions, regulated and changes evaluations and convictions and gives him/herself instructions and reinforcement” (p.355). This definition not only provides a self-statement orientation but also only alludes to some of the uses of self-talk without crossing links with mental imagery. This self-statement concept came from Theodorakis and Weinberg (2000) who explained that self-talk can be either overtly (private internal speech) or covertly (said out loud) represented, but only to oneself.

Self-efficacy theory permits explicit consideration in relation to self-talk strategies for successful sporting performance (Papathomas, 2007). The process of self-talk exposes the importance of developing and controlling a psychological skill (Lewis, Knight, & Mellalieu, 2017). Theodorakis, Hatzigeorgiadis, and Chroni (2008) presented the initial idea that one of the many factors that self-talk can enhance is confidence and therefore, self-talk reinforces self-belief (Hatzigeorgiadis, 2014).

Para 5: Types of self-talk – motivational and instructional- benefits supported by research

Sport researchers express that self-talk interventions that train athletes to use repetitive utterances, are advantageous in instructing the athlete during performance (Papathomas, 2007; Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2011). Hardy, Gammage, and Hall (2001) examined the reasons behind athletes using self-talk. They identified two broad dimensions of self-talk functions: motivational and instructional. It has been found that these different types of strategies have different effects on performance and that performance outcomes are dependant on how self-talk is used (Landin & Herbert, 1999). Firstly, instructional self-talk directs focus onto appropriate performance information, for example, saying “firm wrist” or shoulders” to remind one-self (tennis player) to perform a proper forehand technique. Whereas motivational self-talk encourages goal-directed behaviours for example, “you can do it”, “give it your all”, “I will make this next shot”.

Relating back to self-efficacy theory, the role of motivational self-talk on self-efficacy is consistent with the role of verbal persuasion as an antecedent of efficacy, as argued by Bandura (1997). The use of motivational self-talk cues as a strategy for enhancing efficacious beliefs has been supported (Latinjak, Torregrosa, & Renom, 2010). Their findings found that positive motivational influences (positive self-talk cues) were beneficial in skill performance in youth tennis players when the athletes themselves had constructed these cues themselves. Consistent findings were apparent in competition as well as in training situations (Thelwell, Greenlees, & Weston, 2006). This process of the athletes actively choosing these cues may have influenced their commitment in using them, and thus their belief for its effectiveness. 

Hardy (2006) emphasised the relevance of self-efficacy theory with regard to the effectiveness of self-talk, especially motivational self-talk. Hatzigeorgiadis, Theodorakis and Zourbanos (2004) suggest that the degree of impact self-talk has on performance is relative to the way it used; motivational self-talk has been found to be more effective on motivational-related performance outcomes such as, self-confidence and self-efficacy beliefs (Zinsser, Bunker, & Williams, 2006). Empirical support for this assumption has been provided by Hatzigeorgiadis (2006) whom identified motivation self-talk to be most beneficial in enhancing self-efficacy and performance, compared to instructional self-talk. However, Theodorkis and Weinberg (2000) concluded that instructional self-talk improved performance for tasks requiring fine skill and outcome-based motor skills compared with motivational self-talk. However, this was only significant for elite athletes whereby precision and accuracy is fundamental, whereas novice and youth athletes perform more simple and gross skills. Zinsser et al (2006) claimed that motivational self-talk is more effective in enhancing confidence and building self-belief in younger and less experienced athletes as they progress in the sport. It is therefore vital to know what types of self-talk are most beneficial for athletes.

Para 6: The process of self-talk and how it can enhance self-efficacy- consideration of negative self-talk as well as positive

Despite contentions expressed in previous applied literature (Hatzigeorgiadis & Biddle, 2008), research has found that negative self-talk may not actually have detrimental effects on motor skill performance; it merely just affects beliefs in different ways (Winsler, 2009). In fact, it has been discovered that athletes may interpret negative self-talk as having motivational qualities (Tod & Hardy, 2011). For instance, after making a mistake athletes may give themselves a ‘talking to’ to get them focused and motivated to achieve their desired performance outcomes. These negative phrases expressing discontent with performance actually improves one’s confidence that they have the ability to perform better.

Youth athletes spontaneously talk to themselves during tasks using more inner speech, but have been found to overtly self-talk to assist them with particularly challenging tasks (Alarcon-Rubio, Sanchez-Medina, & Winsler, 2013). Tennis players in tournaments were observed to use mostly negative self-talk (“that serve was awful”) and during longer matches this become even more evident, with some athletes using instructional self-talk on the next point/set after making a mistake such as “move your feet faster” (Van Raalte & Brewer, 2000). However, Zourbanos and Tzioumakis (2015) found that that players are more likely to use negative self-talk after a negative event (bad serve or losing a point), but when positive and instructional speech are implemented, the likeliness of a positive event (winning a point) increases. This demonstrates the effectiveness of using self-talk appropriately.

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Although negative self-talk is used more frequently, the importance of altering this and employing a more positive mind set and inner dialogue can contribute to favourable performance outcomes (Thibodeaux, & Winsler, 2018). With individuals acquiring the capacity to regulate their own thought processes, they can convince themselves that they do have the skills required to accomplish a goal or execute a sport-related task (Englert, 2016). This is through the use of positive self- and task-related statements.

Appropriate self-talk can be a beneficial coping technique by altering thoughts after a psychological crisis in sport (Schuler & Langens, 2007). Self-efficacy beliefs were found to increase as well as tennis performance with the use of self-talk interventions (Mamassis & Doganis, 2004). Results of this study clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of using self-talk as a strategy to improve efficacious beliefs and therefore positively influence performance behaviours. Later supported by Hardy (2009) who reported that tennis players had increased self-efficacy prior to a competition that they could preform well, as well as feeling confident in their ability to carry out ‘strong’ serves throughout a game, following a self-talk intervention, by using motivational phrases and positive affirmations. The use of motivational self-talk increased both self-efficacy and performance, and that changes in self-efficacy were related to changes in performance. The results of this study hence suggest that increases in self-efficacy may be a viable mechanism explaining the facilitating effects of self-talk on performance. 

Understanding the functions of self-talk enhances the understanding regarding the mechanisms underlying the effects of it on performance, allowing athletes, coaches and practitioners to better design, implement and evaluate self-talk specific interventions the best benefit the needs of an athlete.

Para 7: Self-help guide

(Short para)

During tasks of longer duration- motivational self-talk and mantras (mainly examined in distance runners but could be applied to tennis competitions especially used towards the end of a game (Van Raalte, Morrey, & Brewer, 2015)

Once an athlete is more aware of her thoughts, the negative self-talk should be written down and alternative, more positive sentences should be written down and then used as replacements for the negative statements (Weinberg & Gould 2010,

Furthermore, simply re- 20 peating positive statements can lead to a more positive overall mental attitude, it is however important to remove the negative and not simply add more positive statements (Bull & Shambrook 2004

-‘Psyching up’ and building confidence – building their self-talk plans based on motivational cues.

Allowing athletes to choose their own self-talk phrases and making sure

athletes have time to practice/adjust self-talk use are two ways to increase the likelihood that self-talk has a good “feel” (Van Raalte, Vincent & Brewer, 2017).

Research reported that youth tennis players felt less confident after a poor competition performance (Lewis et al., 2017). This decrease in confidence in ability came from dropping a game or hitting a bad shot, leading to self-doubt. This study also found that female youth athletes have lower self-efficacy when their opponent is perceived as ‘better skilled’ resulting in negative mind-sets prior to the match.

But self-efficacy improving when the individuals felt in control.

Johnson, Hrycaiko, Johnson, and Hallas (2004) suggested

that the core of self-talk is that focusing on the desired thought

leads to the desired behaviour.

Novice triathletes perceived that self-talk increased their self-belief when performing


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