Mobilize Your Mind: Athlete Self Talk

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It is a known fact that we talk to ourselves all the time – sometimes inside our heads, and sometimes out loud. For those of us CrossFitters, this means we are also, inevitably, talking to ourselves in a certain way in the time leading up to a workout, during the workout itself, and afterward. What if we consciously tried to prep and train our ways of thinking in order to improve performance? In the same way that we work on perfecting our physical movements and techniques, we can develop positive habits of our mental performance.

Anyone who has ever completed a tough WOD knows that more often than not, the greatest obstacle to finishing is not our bodies, but our minds. In Part 1 of this 3-part series, find out how to define athlete self-talk and “mobilize” your mind before a workout.

What Is Athlete Self-Talk?

Henry Ford said it best: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
The answer is exactly what one might expect: the way athletes talk to themselves – before, during, and after any athletic performance – is considered athlete self talk. Sometimes thoughts come in the form of mental imagery or concepts, but it is there regardless of an athlete’s level of awareness about it.

As one tennis article explains, “if we opened up a person’s head, we would see a popcorn machine full of thoughts and emotions endlessly popping, perculating (sic) and colliding.”

It is the “colliding” aspect of self-talk that can often inhibit performance, especially when negative thoughts or feelings become part of an athlete’s internal dialogue.

During a workout or other athletic performance, these negative thoughts are likely to enter our minds as our bodies start to feel fatigue. Thus, athletes have to prepare to battle actively against those negative thoughts before the workout even begins. In the brief one-minute commercial below, James Hobart of CrossFit New England demonstrates how he responds to every negative thought with a positive rebuttal.

Being Your Own Coach

1. Establish a Positive Mental Framework

Ben Bergeron, who coached the CrossFit New England team all the way to the CrossFit Games Affiliate Cup Championship in 2011, emphasizes this unique mantra: “Think like a bumblebee; train like a racehorse.” He explains this way of thinking for his athletes:

  • Bumblebees, from a physics perspective, should not be able to fly:  You, as an athlete, need to have unyielding belief in yourself. Don’t let your past, your peers, your family or your competitors limit your performance.
  • Racehorses do what is asked of them: Racehorses don’t look at other horses’ training programs and freak out because the other horses are doing double days. Racehorses just do exactly what is asked of them—nothing more, nothing less. Racehorses have 100 percent commitment to their program, to their coaches and to being the best they can be.
In the simplest terms, believe in yourself and your potential to achieve elite levels of fitness and performance. While this may be easier said than done, it is a necessary part of an athlete’s mental fitness.

A good, general way to prepare before a workout is to ask yourself the following three questions, as suggested by Dawn Fletcher, a CrossFitter and expert in sport psychology:

  1. Why am I here today?
  2. What do I hope to accomplish?
  3. How will I make this an enjoyable experience?

While the answers to these questions will vary on a daily and maybe even hourly basis, having a clear purpose in mind about the “why” of a training session will lead to greater focus during the workout itself.

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