A second glance at self-talk: How effective is it really in sport?


Looking at some of the articles being shared and tweeted at the moment, I see a lot of support for positive affirmations and articles for self-talk i.e. “How self-talk can help your performance”.

But while I was prepping for my internship in Sweden, I came to stumble upon some interesting insights. I had been looking for articles and books (in the Fall of 2011) on the applied work of sport psychology in professional football/soccer but was hard-pressed to find much except for Professor Mark Nesti’s —Psychology in Football.

What I read opened my eyes to what it was like to work with professional footballers in England’s leagues and it was nothing like I read in the classroom nor the textbooks.

One of the points was that the typical psychological skills training (PST) like “self-talk” flaunted in textbooks wasn’t of much use in the big leagues either because the players had many of these skills already or (after critical review of the research) they were actually fundamentally ineffective.

The second time, during my thesis on mindfulness techniques, I found yet a second similar revelation from Frank Gardner and Zella Moore who had also reviewed PST research and found similar results, PST techniques were inconclusive and at times even worked against individuals even stated from the researchers themselves.

Further support came from research via the Ironic Process Theory by Daniel M. Wegner.

    “The theory of ironic processes of mental control holds that any intentional control of the mind introduces an operating process that directs conscious attention—focusing our minds on positive thoughts, for example, if we are hoping to improve our mood. This process is accompanied, however, by an ironic monitoring (subconscious) process that looks for the failure of our intention. Such monitoring can, when we are stressed or under mental load, actually promote the unwanted mental state—for example, making us sad when we want to be happy…

…and can produce unwanted actions in sports and performance settings as well.” (Wegner, Ansfield, & Pilloff, 1998)

A recent meta-analysis on self-talk and sports performance was published by Hatzigeorgiadis and his colleagues in 2011. I’ve found several pop-sci articles which also wrote about this study and its “positive” benefits.

But upon closer inspection, I noticed some interesting details within the study that should raise some eyebrows.

  • The authors state that within their meta-analysis of studies, that a moderate effect size (= 0.48) was found overall in support for self-talk use.

  • This effect size dropped to = 0.26 in gross tasks (large sport movements) as opposed to fine tasks (0.67), i.e. dart throwing.

  • These studies were less effective with more experienced athletes.

  • The sample sizes within the studies analyzed were small thus potentially over-exaggerating effect sizes.

Importantly, the authors themselves also stated there is a— “lack of systematic examinations of the effectiveness of self-talk in competitive settings.”

The relatively few experimental studies on athletes in actual competitive situations has also been addressed by Martin and colleagues (2005). Weinberg and Comar (1994) have also brought up shortcomings of PST studies which were applicable within the self-talk meta-analysis. Having looked at just the studies within soccer/football (which were very few), I found such concerns. Some of these included:

  • Manipulation checks (these were missing in some studies)

  • Did self-talk improve say shooting or did repetitive practice aid performance?

  • Inclusion of placebo groups to address a potential expectancy effect
  • Diverse and large participant sample sizes

I also found one study (not included in the meta-analysis) by Hardy and his colleagues (2005) which found no correlation between performance and self-talk in gross movements.

Concluding Thoughts

The mere fact that the authors themselves stated that self-talk has not been studied in actual competitive environments, nor systematically, provides grounds for concern.

Compounded with the potential for the Ironic Process Theory to affect self-talk in competitive and stress induced environments, it appear the jury should still be out regarding self-talk, especially in gross motor movements and competition.

Updating outdated techniques isn’t new in scientific fields. Lobotomies and phrenology were also once common practice. Critical and skeptical reviews have changed that. Maybe sport psychology has also some growing pains and closer reviews to endure.



Hardy, J., Hall, C. R., Gibbs, C., & Greenslade, C. (2005). Self-talk and gross motor skill performance: An experimental approach? Athletic Insight. 7 (2).

Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Galanis, E., & Theodorakis, Y. (2011). Self-talk and sports performance: A meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6: 348

Martin, G. L., Vause, T., & Schwartzman, L. (2005). Experimental studies of psychological interventions with athletes in competitions: Why so few? Behavior Modification, 29, 616–641.

Moore, Z. E., & Gardner, F. L. (2011) Understanding models of performance enhancement from the perspective of emotion regulation. Athletic Insight. Vol. 13, Issue 3.

Nesti M. 2010. Psychology in Football. Routledge.

Wegner, D. M., Ansfield, M. E., & Pilloff, D. (1998). The putt and the pendulum: Ironic effects of the mental control of action. Psychological Science, 9, 196-199.

Weinberg, R. S., Comar, W. (1994) The effectiveness of psychological interventions in competitive sport. Sports Med. Dec;18 (6): 406-18.


Alex Titkov studied the European master’s in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Lund University (Sweden) and at the Universität Leipzig (Germany) with a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Science and Russian Area Studies from St. Olaf College (USA). Alex has worked with Swedish football club Ängelholm FF’s U21 squad and is the editor of the EMSEP blog. His areas of interest include imagery and mindfulness.

Follow Alex on Twitter: @alextitkov



“Successful clubs really thrive because of the groundwork they put in and consistency in club values, goals, and strategies. Ajax is a hallmark example because they do exactly this. And even though they are not as “successful” as they used to be, they have survived and continue to produce world-class talent because unlike many clubs in Europe, they focus and value their youth academy.

The Ajax scouting process is thorough and time-invested. They have a model that is consistent and developmental that begins the day a player steps foot into the club up until they enter the senior team. Their specific model is called TIPS; a mix of innate and trainable traits an Ajax player will have.”

Whether it’s while we are getting ready in the morning, creating that road-trip playlist, dancing, or just enjoying music for its sheer pleasure with a glass of scotch, music is an essential part in providing a soundtrack to our lives. Even while I am writing this post, I am listening to Kendrick Lamar’s latest album—good kid, m.A.A.d city (which I recommend if you’re into quality hip-hop).

Confidence is the key for successful performance


Confidence is crucial for successful performance, or more specifically your confidence in your ability to perform the required task(s). You probably think that this is an obvious statement, surely the more confident you are the more likely you are to perform well. However, while there may be general agreement that this is the case the question of how to make sports performers more confident more of the time has not been answered quite so well. Athletes and players refer to this as confidence but in the field of psychology we refer to this specific form of confidence as self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). Self-efficacy theory was first introduced by Bandura (1977) to explain and adapt human behaviour. Self-efficacy was defined by Bandura (1997, p.3) as  ‘beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the course of action required to produce given attainments’, reflecting the confidence the individual has in their ability to perform a specific task. Bandura suggested four specific antecedents of self-efficacy beliefs: enactive mastery experiences, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological/affective states.


Looking at self-efficacy in the domain of sport, one of the main issues regarding this confidence is that many sports performers are confident when they are performing well or in form, but are far less confident when they are not performing well. This lack of confidence in their ability to perform is an issue because by being less confident the performer is less likely perform well. This is because when you are confident your movements are smoother, there is less tension in your body, you make better decision more of the time, and your skill execution is better. This can serve to further reduce confidence, which has a corresponding negative impact upon performance.

When you lack confidence the opposite to the above happens. You get tense, start questioning yourself, your movements become overly jerky and your decision-making and timing can become worse. So, the question really is how can you remain confident even when you are not performing well?

Knowing that you have done enough or have done your usual preparation can give you the confidence that you are ready. The Ex England cricket captain Andrew Strauss used to relieve on this source of confidence. For Straussy if he had put in all his physical preparation he felt that he was ready to perform.


Positive feedback from important people whose opinions you trust (such as coaches, captains and mentors) can also help. So the coach who’s opinion you respect telling you that you have done a good job in training and that you are ready will also give you confidence. Maybe not as much as when you are in form, but it helps.

Having a number of different places from which you get your confidence will make sure that you only suffer slight changes in your confidence, which will result in you being more confident more of the time. Being more confident more of the time will then result in better performances on a more consistent basis. Which has got to be a good thing for the performers ability to deliver when it counts. So form is important, but knowing where you get your confidence from is crucial to having consistently high confidence in your ability to perform.

So, as sport psychologists we need to be looking to develop ‘robust’ confidence in our athletes. This is the best way to ensure that they have the best possible chance of performing. Sometimes you get the call to play for a national team, or first team because other players are injured or out of form rather than when you are playing well. So, it might be that you are not playing well when you get the call, so ensuring that your confidence is not just dependent on your current form is crucial.



Dr Stewart Cotterill is a sport & exercise psychology consultant with Performance Mind and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Winchester, UK.He gained his PhD in Sport Psychology from the University of Edinburgh and has over 12 years of experience as an applied consultant. He is currently working for the England and Wales Cricket board and his research interests focus on team performance and performing under pressure.


Twitter: @drstewc

Blog: drstewc.wordpress.com

Mental Health Difficulties in Sport

“Getting help, for someone like me who saw getting help as a weakness, was a big step.”

                                 - John Kirwan, Rugby World Cup winning All Black.


     Sport can be most helpful in maintaining one’s mental health. Regardless of what standard you participate at, the camaraderie of team sport and the personal achievement in individual sport are significant buffers for maintaining a positive and healthy lifestyle. On the flipside, the stress and heartache that comes with competing at a high standard are somewhat overlooked triggers for athletes’ poor mental health. Furthermore, the ‘super-athlete’ perception portrayed in modern professional sport can contribute to unwillingness for athletes to talk about and seek help for their inner struggles.

     Athletes are seen as all-conquering and superhuman in their ability to deal with highly stressful situations in the public eye but the heartache that comes with not reaching one’s goals, the pressure of having to maintain incredible standards of professionalism or the realisation when you are no longer the athlete you once were, can have detrimental effects on any athlete’s mental health. When trying to understand the huge pressures athletes are faced with to succeed, images such as those of Samuel Kuffour in the Champions League Final 1999, Jon Drummond at the World Championships 2003 and, more recently, Jordyn Wieber at the 2012 Olympics, are examples of world class athletes experiencing extreme distress at major sporting events that come immediately to mind. There are also high profile cases of top European athletes who have openly spoken about their continuous struggle with depression, such as Kelly Holmes, Stan Collymore, and Frank Bruno. Then, there are the tragic cases of sportsmen dying by suicide, such as Robert Enke, Darren Sutherland and Gary Speed. These are regretful examples of how athletes can be just as fragile and in need of support as the general public when dealing with their inner demons.

     Constant media scrutiny, disappointment in not achieving personal goals after a lifetime of training and commitment, or the realisation that one is no longer the centre of attention following high profile careers or sporting events (e.g. The Post Olympic Blues) are added dimensions to athletes’ lives that require additional mental strength. The competitiveness of professional sport can also force athletes into bottling up any thoughts of distress, perceiving them as signs of weakness. In not wanting to give away feelings of inadequacy to team mates or opposition, athletes can spend their time disguising their worry in order to purvey a picture of power and control. This may actually have a paradoxical effect as inner turmoil, when not dealt with appropriately, can emerge later to have a negative impact on the athlete’s performance and their personal life. Wayne Rooney and Tiger Woods are examples that come to mind, from the last couple of years, as peak performers whose mental health (be it their own undoing in these cases) had a serious negative impact on their sporting form.

      All Black rugby legend, John Kirwan, has had well-documented periods of depression and his mini-documentary, All Blacks Don’t Cry, promotes how hard it can be to talk about one’s difficulties when immersed in sport at the top level and the need for professional mental health support for top athletes. In fact, the death by suicide of Robert Enke, in 2009, sparked a revolutionary concept in the German Bundesliga, of a network of mental health professionals being made available to all players to support them through whatever difficult situations they find themselves in; this could be a great solution to normalising mental health issues for athletes. While mental health support would obviously be beneficial for the health and welfare of sporting professionals, it would also make sense from a performance point of view as athletes with better mental health are more likely to perform better in their sport (Jones, 2007).

     Final food for thought, is there a further link between openness about mental health in sport and openness about sexuality? It took Welsh rugby legend, Gareth Thomas, over a decade of playing professional rugby before he could be open about his homosexuality. Thankfully, Thomas has been given much support in the wake of his openness but, for English footballer Justin Fashanu who ‘came out’ about being gay in the early 90s, the support was not so forthcoming. Fashanu subsequently took his own life and, in the following decade, not one professional footballer came out as being homosexual.

     Ultimately, breaking down the stigmas around mental health in the sporting world could lend itself to doing the same for the general public. Seeing sports stars being open about their mental health and having well-promoted access to mental health services in sporting organisations could help normalise the concept of talking and looking for support worldwide. Developing professional and athlete-friendly mental health services within sporting organisation, therefore, may be the way forward for instigating change.

If you have thoughts of distress or are feeling down, there are free support services available at Samaritans and Pieta House.


Cian Aherne is currently a trainee clinical psychologist, studying in the University of Limerick (Ireland). He has a paper on mindfulness and flow in sport that has been published in The Sport Psychologist and he has a keen interest in sport psychology. Cian also plays rugby for Lansdowne RFC in Dublin. 

Twitter Account: @CianAherne

The effects of self-talk on performance, self-confidence and anxiety among junior floorball players : A Lund University Master Thesis

People talk to themselves more often than they are actually aware. Regardless of our professions and life-styles we speak with ourselves constantly. These little voices in our heads can be either positive or negative. There is no doubt that we say a lot to ourselves but the question is: “Does it really affect our behaviour and performance?” It sure does!image

The truth is that these inner voices have very powerful influence on our behaviour and our actions. In another words, what we say to ourselves can affect our results dramatically, either positively or negatively. But how does it actually work? It is simple, just like statements which we get from other people, our own thoughts have direct impact on our level of success. If your self-talk is very often negative (e.g. “I can’t do this”) there is a greater possibility that you will fail. In contrast to that, tell yourself constantly something positive (e.g. “let’s go, I can!”) and you will have greater chances to succeed.

In the world of professional sport, this technique can be a very powerful tool for performance enhancement. Nowadays, we are witnesses that players’ technical, tactical and physical readiness for the competition has almost reached the highest possible level. Therefore, the athletes seek new ways to improve their results. But at the same time, a vast majority of them, including their coaches as well, never seriously consider self-talk training as an effective strategy for performance enhancement. Contrary to this belief, many researchers have already proved that positive self-talk leads to performance improvement. Particularly, it has been revealed that inner voices play an important role in how good the athletes perform.

One such a study, conducted on young floorball players, showed that positive self-talk lead to performance enhancement as well as self-confidence improvement. The study involved 35 highly-skilled junior players recruited from two different floorball clubs in Sweden. During an extended period of time, the players were instructed to use either motivational or instructional self-talk in order to improve their performances. Depending on the situation and their personal needs, they were able to choose and combine the different words and phrases which included positive statements. The athletes used instructional self-talk in order to improve performance by providing a focus on the technical aspects of a skill (e.g., ‘‘see the opponent’’) as well as providing instruction related to the strategy (e.g., ‘‘strong’’, “fast“), and technique (e.g., ‘‘bend knee’’). Additionally, they utilized motivational self-talk in order to increase effort and energy expenditure (e.g., ‘‘give it all’’), build confidence (e.g., ‘‘I can do it’’), and create a positive mood (e.g., ‘‘I feel great’’). At the end, the results revealed that athletes from the experimental group significantly improved their results comparing to the participants from the control group who did not have opportunity to practice self-talk strategy. Apart from that, the results showed that self-confidence significantly enhanced among the participants in the experimental group, whereas non significant differences were found in this variable for the control group.

These findings should be great news for athletes and those who work with them (coaches/teachers/instructors). It should encourage them to use self-talk in the future as an effective strategy for performance improvement. Therefore, the players and others who work in a sports environment should become aware of the beneficial effects of self-talk. It sometimes can make a small but essential distinction between wining and losing. Therefore, including self-talk strategy in a regular training regiment is always a smart and easy decision.


Boris Stankovic earned a double degree from the European Master’s in Sport and Exercise Psychology Program at Lund University, Sweden and at the Universität Leipzig, Germany (2012). He completed his Bachelor in Sport and Physical Education (2008) at the University of Belgrade. His area of interests are psychological skills and their implementation; mainly in football and tennis.


Helping Athletes Manage Injury and Pain: A Non-Invasive, Drugless Mental Technique

Bradley Kanaris (getty)Mental techniques can be used for more than helping athletes to improve performance, dealing with psychological problems or team issues. They can be used to safely eliminate pain and speed healing while allowing athletes to return to play at a high level of skill. Take concussions, for instance.

Concussions in the News
Concussions have been in the news a lot recently. Primarily, the focus has been on education about concussions and tools for its diagnosis.  Rest and Tylenol® seem to be the only treatments. There, however, is another option. It is a technique that has quickly, safely eliminated the concussion symptoms of headaches, nausea and dizziness while improving concentration. For example:

Case 1
Header Injures Soccer Player
A University of Minnesota women’s soccer player received a concussion doing a header. Conventional treatments (rest and medication) failed to help her headaches. She was sent for a PsychoNeuro Pain Response™ (PNPR™) treatment. In one session, her headaches were gone. This outcome totally caught the team physician and trainer off guard. They voiced concerned because, without pain they did not know how to measure if the athlete was sufficiently healed to return to play. They decided that the athlete would be allowed to return to play but with no contact or headers. It is important to understand that the team physician and trainer monitored her throughout the process. They made the decision on how she was to proceed.

How much benefit would it be for a team to have its best players available most of the time? What if an injured soccer (futbol), hockey or baseball player or an Olympic athlete could come back safely, more quickly and at a high level of performance? Sometimes medications and surgery are not an option.

Medical Team
Once the medical team completes the diagnosis, prognosis and the athlete is on a treatment plan, there are techniques presently available to safely manage an athlete’s pain and injury. The athlete can generally return to play sooner and at a high level of performance and confidence.

One such technique is called PNPR™ (also called Talking Away Pain™ (TAP™)). It is an aid to trainers, medical staff, athletes and coaches who have exhausted conventional, standard channels to enhance performance, safely speed healing and reduce pain from injuries. It has worked when conventional standard medicine (CSM) and training methods have failed.

PNPR™ is a combination of well-known techniques found in literature.* It allows the body act as its own biofeedback device.  It offers hope for health by engaging the conscious mind in interesting, focused, neutral and positive self-talk while the mind-body automatically improves in the quickest, most efficient and healthful way possible.  Four steps are generally involved. The first is to define pain. The second is to show the individual how to control pain. The third is to determine if it is okay for the pain to be eliminated or reduced. The final step is to deal with any stress of fear the individual may be experiencing due to the pain, injury or otherwise.

There is little to no risk with the PNPR™ technique. A physician, physical therapist, trainer or other medical professional generally refers the athlete. During the sessions, the referring healthcare professional is kept appraised of the condition of his or her patient. At the completion of the sessions, the individual returns to the referring healthcare professional, in order for him or her to determine the appropriate activity level or other treatments. Since the introduction of the technique in 1989, there has never been a problem observed or reported.

PNPR™ is based on work with cancer patients, worker’s compensation injuries and with healthy and injured athletes. The original work started with cancer patients. Our purpose was to see, if mental techniques could be utilized to reduce pain so the drug dosages could be reduced.

Clinical trials and research have been conducted with City of St. Paul, MN (Worker’s Compensation, Risk Management Divisions) {1} and at the University of Ottawa’s Sports Medicine Centre {2}. Results show that PNPR™ is safe, effective, immediate and long lasting.

PNPR™ helped save the City of St. Paul, MN over $1 million dollars in workers’ compensation costs in 1994. These results were published, as the cover article, in the California Workers’ Compensation Endeavor (CWCW) {3}.

Table 1: A Partial List of Conditions Responding to the PNPR™ Technique:


Does PNPR™ work for everyone?
Clinical trials and initial research seem to indicate that the PNPR™ technique can work for everyone.  However, some individuals may require more frequent and closely spaced sessions to obtain significant results?

Can PNPR™ work for those with a general illness?
Yes!  It appears that the PNPR™ technique can help reduce the time and severity of general illnesses.  For example, a 21-year-old male football player had flu-like symptoms.  The school doctor was unable to determine the exact problem, but he was vomiting, unable to eat and felt very weak.  After approximately 20 minutes of using the PNPR™ technique, the athlete indicated that he felt great.  He went to eat and kept it down for the first time that day.  From that point on, he was fine.

Are there any other benefits?
Yes, there are many.  The PNPR™ technique is drugless, noninvasive, quick, without physical contact, and no special equipment is needed.  It may also help prevent further injury.  For example, if you drive with a stiff neck, you may be unable to turn and see a car coming in a potential accident situation.  The PNPR™ technique has, at times, acted like a fail-safe mechanism.  If the pain does not go away, or if it returns, it is telling the individual to seek proper attention, something physical still needs proper medical attention. Finally, athletes enhance their performance automatically when they were taught how to control their pain.  

Are the results permanent?
In some cases, there is total and permanent elimination of pain.  In most cases, there is rapid improvement and substantial reduction in pain.

Swedish Videos – Cases 2 & 3
Dr. Lars-Eric Uneståhl, in Sweden, filmed Case 2 & 3 during a Mental Trainers conference in the fall of 1995.

Case 2Knee Pain-2 yrs: Gone in Minutes - How? 

It consists of a short demonstration with a conference participant (volunteer) who was being treated for his 2-year old knee pain that limited his range of motion.

Case 3Painful Broken Arm Heals Miraculously - How? 

This clip is about another conference participant who was watching the demonstration. He had a cracked the radial bone in his left arm. This happened two weeks before the conference and was confirmed by an x-ray. He wore a brace to reduce movement, which caused him pain. After watching and following along during my demonstration on the gentleman with the knee pain, his pain left. The next day, he carried his luggage without discomfort. He went to his physician, after returning from the conference, to obtain an x-ray, to see if the bone had healed. His doctor said, “If it did not hurt, there was no need to take another x-ray.”

As can see from these three cases, the mind is a very powerful asset and ally. Unfortunately, it is woefully misunderstood and underutilized. We are only beginning to understand and harness some its abilities.

So besides using the mind to enhance performance, it can be used to safely eliminate pain and speed healing. About the use of PNPR™, Brenda Wilcox Abraham, MD, MS wrote:

“It helped me better treat the patient in a timely fashion. It decreased their pain and anxiety, and subsequently enabled them to return to play and activity with less need for medical intervention, therapies, etc. Often times these injuries can turn into more chronic problems if the anxiety and pain continues at a higher level than it need be. I am sure this technique helped prevent some chronic problems…this approach can accomplish things that we cannot accomplish with medications, therapy, etc.

Steven Elias, MD, PhD, Medical Director for the Schwan’s USA Soccer Cup, Blaine MN feels that,

“This approach ought to emerge as a standard of care.”


Some of the literature that helped me formulate and refine the PNPR™ technique is listed below. The underlying theme has always been how do we perform better, no matter what it is that we do? So, the PNPR™ technique comes from a motivational and performance framework versus a pathological one.

  1. Pain Management & Physical Functioning Study (1998) submitted to the City of St. Paul, MN. Roger Schwagmeyer, Project Manager.
  2. Unpublished dissertation submitted to The Union Institute (1994). PsychoNeuro Pain Response™ (PNPR™): A technique for reducing pain and improving the range-of-motion in athletes and non-athletes after injury.
  3. California Workers’ Compensation Endeavor (CWCE). January 2001, Vol. 18, No. 6. When Drugs, Surgery and Rehab Fail – Relieving Pain, Reducing Costs and Returning Employees to Work by Dr. Raymond J. Petras and Roger Schwagmeyer, pp. 9-14. (www.cwce.com)
  4. Arons, Harry (1961). Master Course in Hypnotism.
  5. Carnegie, Dale (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence People. Pocket Books-Simon and Schuster, Inc.
  6. Deleuze, J.P.F. (1837). Practical instruction in animal magnetism.
  7. Dossey, Larry (2003). Healing Beyond the Body: Medicine and the Infinite Reach of the Mind. Shambhala. See other books by Dr. Dossey.
  8. Ginder, John & Bandler: Various Neuro Linguistic Programming early works.
  9. Hicks, Ester & Jerry (2004). Ask and It is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires. Hay House, Inc.
  10. Kroger, William S. (1977). Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. JB Lippincott Co.
  11. Markides, Kyriacos C. Books: The Magus of Strovolos, Homage to the Sun, Fire in the Heart.
  12. Pert , Candace, (1997). Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine. Touchstone.
  13. Pope, Carmen Sun Rising ed. (1999). Rolling Thunder Speaks: A Message for Turtle Island. Clear Light Publishers, Santa Fe, NM.
  14. Sarno, John E. (1982). Mind Over Back Pain. See other books by Dr. Sarno.


Dr. Raymond J. Petras’ expertise is in the areas of sports psychology (performance) and injury/pain management. He has helped amateur, university and professional and Olympic teams and individual athletes improve performance, deal with injuries and win championships. He may be reached at 1.888.447.1429 or by email drpetras@reliefforyou.com. More information is available on his website <www.reliefforyou.com>, blog.reliefforyou.com, YouTube.com (type relief4u2 in the search bar) and Twitter @relief4u2.

©2012. Raymond J. Petras. All rights reserved.

Networking in applied sport psychology

There was a time that I had an aversion to the term “networking”. I associated it with these slick businessmen, all dressed-up in their neat suits and always prepared to pull out their business cards.  So when I finished my studies in human movement sciences and I was looking for a job, I did not want to hear that I needed to network. That would not suit me, as it felt like I had to sell myself. However, after discussing it with some people, I realized that I misunderstood the term.  As the definition of networking states, it is about, “getting to know as many influential people as possible”. So I started thinking: well, I like getting to know people, and actually I don’t care if they are influential or not. In addition, I learned that networking is also about people getting to know you and what your interests are. So the whole image of networking changed for me, which was very useful for my career as an applied sport psychologist and my personal development. I would like to use this blog to share my experiences with networking in sport psychology, which might make readers feel more comfortable in networking themselves.

During my studies in human movement sciences, I realized that I wanted to specialize in sport psychology. However, I finished my studies with no network in this field at all. Therefore, I followed some extra courses in sport psychology afterwards and a year after I finished my first study I started a second master in psychology. Initially, with the purpose of gathering more knowledge of sport psychology but also to meet more people with the same interest as me. For my master thesis I had some external supervisors and followed an internship at a sport psychology practice. This internship led to my employment as an applied sport psychologist at the practice. I now realized that doing a study created great opportunities for networking that I initially was not aware of.

I also decided to present my master thesis at the European Congress of Sport Psychology in Halkidiki, Greece. A problem was that I did not know that many people that went. Luckily, a colleague of mine knew some former students of the European Master in Sport & Exercise psychology who attended. I contacted them and asked if I could share an apartment with them. They agreed, and although I was pretty nervous for my first “big” conference, flying there all by myself and sharing an apartment with people I did not meet before, it turned out one of the best weeks I have ever had. I learned a lot, but more importantly, I got to know people with shared interests and who I still consider as friends. It was also my first introduction to facebook (“you don’t know facebook?”), which is a great medium to stay in touch with everyone I meet at conferences. It is great to be among people who have the same passion and are in the same stage of their career as you are, or who might have “been there, done that”. Since then, I visit conferences and symposia yearly and it always gives me a great boost to continue doing my work.

Although it is inspiring to network among fellow sport psychologists, I realize that they are probably not going to pay me for my applied work. To make a living as an applied sport psychologist, it is important to expand my network into the field of sports, especially if you are an entrepreneur like I am. I experienced that contacting sport associations or clubs just out of the blue did not work out that well, however it brought me one big project with the national association for bridge players. This way of networking is a lot of effort and not very fun to do. Thus, I changed my tactics and started using the same strategy I use in networking with fellow sport psychologists. I visit conferences and symposia for coaches or sport medical support professions and get to know people. This became easier as I got to know some people, because they started introducing me to others. I like to invite people for a cup of coffee and to share some thoughts about sport psychology. I prefer meeting at their sporting location, because there is a higher chance of meeting more people. Lastly, I collect email addresses for a digital newsletter when I give a presentation to stay in touch with the network I have created.

I have dropped the focus that all these networking activities need to lead to more work. I just focus on meeting new, interesting people with the same passion for sport as I have, and explain to them what I do. This opinion about networking also fits in the theory of being task-oriented. You do not have control over the decision if people want to work with you or maybe employ you. Focusing on that outcome would be a result-oriented focus, which also leads to more anxiety and less confidence in the process of networking. If you just focus on doing your best in getting to know each other and explaining what you do, the networking is much more fun, relaxed, and in the end, I believe, more rewarding.

I still think networking is not one of my strengths, so I have to remind myself about this regularly. Nevertheless, getting better at it is an informative process and I am experiencing much more fun in it. This is because it is not about getting yourself on the market, but about meeting new people, which enriches your life. Finally, since I am a managing council member of the European Network of Young Specialists in Sport Psychology (www.enyssp.org), I cannot deny anymore that I am officially a “networker”. So here is my business card…image


Mark Schuls, MSc. is an accredited applied sport psychologist in the northern part of the Netherlands and has his own practice, called “TipTop Sport” (www.tiptop-sport.nl). He supports athletes, coaches and teams to translate principles from the science of sport psychology to the field. Also, Mark is a member of managing council of the European Network for Young Specialists in Sport Psychology (ENYSSP), representing the applied department. To contact: info@tiptop-sport.nl or mark@enyssp.org.


Spontaneous and Voluntary Imagery in Professional Hockey Players: A Swedish Study

AP Photo


“I would like to learn how to control the negative thoughts during longer slumps in order to quickly return to playing well”. This quote is from one of the ice hockey players in the study when he described what he wanted to improve with his imagery. Studies on imagery have found that imagery is used in ice hockey (Hall, Rodgers, & Barr, 1990; Hallman & Munroe-Chandler, 2009). Moreover, athletes in general seem to experience voluntary and spontaneous imagery (e.g., Murphy, Nordin, & Cumming, 2008) with positive and negative effects. Based on previous imagery research Hall (2001) writes that most imagery is experienced to have positive effects rather than negative effects. Substantial research has focused on the positive effects of imagery (e.g., Salmon, Hall, & Haslam, 1994). However, not all athletes can use imagery in a controlled way and hence sometimes experience imagery with negative effects (e.g., Dridiger, Hall, & Callow, 2006). Therefore, the distinction between voluntary and spontaneous imagery and its effects is interesting. This article presents a discussion about spontaneous and voluntary imagery experiences and its effects.


Eleven male professional ice hockey players participated in the study. They were between 20 and 32 years old (M = 23.09, SD = 3.41). The eleven players had played ice hockey for a mean of 16.63 years (SD = 3.38). Four players had represented the junior national team of their country. They all filled in IPIES that is an instrument examining imagery experiences in sport.


Ten out of 11 ice hockey players in this study experienced voluntary and/or spontaneous imagery. Nine players used voluntary imagery with positive effects. Six players experienced spontaneous imagery with positive effects and five players experienced spontaneous imagery with negative effects.

Research has found that athletes use imagery more in relation to competition compared to practice (e.g., White & Hardy, 1998). This was also found among the ice hockey players in this study. The ice hockey players used imagery in all the major contexts except for directly after practice. The reason why athletes seem to use imagery more in relation to competition compared to practice is probably because the competitive situations are more important to them. Research (e.g., Weinberg et al., 2003) shows that athletes seem to use imagery more often after competition compared to after practice. If athletes find it beneficial to use imagery after competition it should also be beneficial to use imagery after practice.

One player imagined driving a Porsche during competition. Irrelevant contents of imagery were found by Nordin and Cumming (2005). The dancers reported that they took a “mental holiday”. Imagining driving a Porsche might also be used in order to think of something else, and although the image may be seen as irrelevant it had a positive effect for the athlete. The contents reported by the ice hockey players were mostly reported in a general form (e.g., positive performances). The content Positive performances consist of several different performances. During an ice hockey game there are a great variety of different specific performances and situations. This might be because ice hockey is a team sport and it is difficult to single out specific situations to imagine. Tennis players, playing an individual sport, reported more specific contents, for example, good serve and good shots (Weibull, 2005). There are also a great variety of situations to imagine in tennis. However, there are more different variables to keep in mind in ice hockey. For example the player may have several teammates and opponents to consider. Imaging specific performances before competition might therefore have debilitative effects on the performances of an ice hockey player.

Most of the ice hockey players’ imagery patterns were used to experiences positive feelings. To experience positive feelings is a rather vague purpose. It would be interesting to further investigate the feelings involved. Athletes in Munroe et al.’s (2000) study alluded to use imagery to help get into a certain “mode”. Other purposes that were reported by the ice hockey players were for example to enhance motivation, enhance confidence, and improve concentration. This is in line with previous research that found imagery to be used to enhance motivation and self-confidence (White & Hardy, 1998). More specifically, the results of this study support the notion of a relationship between imagery and self-confidence (Rattanakoses, et al., 2009). Moreover, several players in this study used imagery to re-create past experiences. This is an interesting way of using imagery and has been found in previous research (e.g., White & Hardy, 1998).

Imagery was experienced voluntary and spontaneously by the ice hockey players in this study. Nine players used voluntary imagery with positive effects, although this study has used a small sample, this offers some support to Hall’s (2001) conclusion that imagery most often has positive effects rather than negative effects. No voluntary imagery was found to have negative effects in this study. However, this can be experienced by athletes and in Wallsbeck’s (2009) master thesis one ice hockey player reported that he used a voluntary imagery pattern with a negative effect. 

This study supports previous findings that athletes experience spontaneous imagery (e.g., Smith & Holmes, 2004). Three ice hockey players experienced spontaneous imagery patterns with positive effects and 5 players experienced spontaneous imagery patterns with negative effects. This supports previous findings that spontaneous imagery both can have positive (Smith & Holmes, 2004) and negative effects (e.g., Dridiger, et al., 2006). Moreover, the effects of spontaneous imagery are complicated. For example, one ice hockey player experienced spontaneous imagery of positive situations and perceived this to have a negative effect. This study did not present what the spontaneous imagery had an effect on. In a study by Hanton et al. (2004) the participants reported to experience negative images. These images were perceived to have negative effects on their performance and be related to low self-esteem.

There are still no clear guidelines for athletes and sport psychologist on how to work with spontaneous imagery. Spontaneous imagery has been reported to be easy to control (Starker, 1974) and to have positive effects (Smith & Holmes, 2004). This suggests that spontaneous imagery might facilitate athletes’ performances in certain situations. However, spontaneous imagery can have negative effects for athletes (e.g., McIntyre & Moran, 2007) and this was also found in this study on ice hockey players. In order to control the negative effects, the athletes need to learn how to control their imagery use. Hence the athletes need to have the imagery ability to do this. This perspective of spontaneous imagery supports Gerard (1961) in his suggestion that the goal of imagery is to have controlled voluntary imagery. Spontaneous imagery with negative effects has also been reported to be reduced after an intervention (Weibull, 2006). Athletes differ in their ability to generate images (Isaac & Marks, 1986) and therefore sport psychologist should consider these differences in order to successfully work with athletes’ imagery experiences.

Several players in this study did not reflect over the fact that they used imagery. In order to handle the negative effects and enhance the positive effects of imagery, it is important to increase the athletes’ awareness of their voluntary and spontaneous imagery experiences and its effects. Using the IPIES and receiving help from sport psychology consultants can be one strategy helping athletes becoming more aware of their imagery experiences.



Mikael Wallsbeck has a European masters in sport and exercise psychology. He has a background in hockey and is currently a referee. Mikael also consults with athletes and groups in order to enhance their performances, he owns the company “Imagine that” with Fredrik Weibull that deliver workshops andindividualized imagery programs in business and sport settings. He is also a board member of the Swedish association of sport psychology (www.svenskidrottspsykologi.se) .




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