The instant you make your first mistake, it starts: “You SUCK!” When you make another one, the voice gets louder and nastier: “How could you possibly have blown that?! Like, what is your problem? Are you really that bad?” A few minutes later you might mess up defensively and that loud, negative one is on you like stink on a pig: “Oh, great move Einstein. You are a total and complete idiot! No wonder you get so little playing time. Do it again and the coach will surely sit your worthless butt on that bench for the rest of the season!”
Not surprisingly, the more the negativity comes your way, the worse you play. Before long, your game has done a complete disappearing act and you either get benched or you stay out there but are totally ineffectual. In either case, the constant stream of negativity continues to distract you from the game and beats your self-confidence to a pulp.
What can you do about all this self-directed negativity?
First, understand that negative self-talk is normal. Every athlete at every level has to deal with their little negative “friend,” sometimes before and/or during performance. The trick is to learn to stop paying attention to this negative part of you. I’m not suggesting that during the game you try to be positive. That only creates a total distraction in your head where your negative part fights with the positive part. The end result of this inner turmoil is that it is now impossible for you to concentrate on the game. What I am suggesting is that you learn to react to the negativity in a relaxed, nonchalant way. That is, rather than listening to it and thinking that what you’re hearing is the voice of god speaking to you, you want to not get caught up in the content of the negativity and instead refocus your concentration on the task at hand.
Negative self-talk is nothing more than brain wave activity. It doesn’t predict the future and it won’t make you play better. When you listen to it, it will only serve to mentally take you out of the game, tighten your muscles and kill your self-confidence. When you hear that “inner coach” of yours starting to get down on you for that mistake, try to relax and refocus on the game. If the negativity persists, relax and refocus. Do NOT ever try to shut the negative thoughts up. Fighting the negative thinking in this way only gives it more energy, making it stronger. Instead, notice the negative thoughts and quickly and calmly refocus on the current play. Keep in mind one thing about last minute self-doubts and negative thinking. It is still possible for you to have the performance of your life when you’re flooded with last minute negativity as long as you stay calm and refocus.