Reflections on the Maturing Research Literature of Self-Talk in Sport: Contextualizing the Special Issue

in The Sport Psychologist

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James HardyBangor University

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Nikos ComoutosUniversity of Thessaly

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Antonis HatzigeorgiadisUniversity of Thessaly

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Over the last 20 years research investigating self-talk in the context of sport has expanded rapidly enhancing our understanding of the construct. In the present article, we provide a brief historical review of the sports-oriented self-talk literature. In so doing we identify landmark investigations and review conceptual, research, and measurement themes present within the literature. We review this empirically based literature, distinguishing between three time periods: (1) the early foundations of self-talk research, up to the end of the 1990s; (2) the developmental years of systematic self-talk research during the 2000s; and (3) the modern day maturation of self-talk research, post-2011.

The foundations of self-talk research are intertwined with the complex interactions between cognition, affect, and behavior, and reflect the origins of the field of sport psychology and its connections with cognitive psychology, personality theories, and social-cognitive approaches to understanding human functioning. Consequently, how we think and how we talk to ourselves is inherently linked to how we feel and how we act (e.g., Ellis, 2003). It is highly likely that researchers’ interest in self-talk interventions within the sporting domain can be attributed to their direct applied value. Given the heavy focus of sport on performance, the idea that it can be enhanced through the regulation of how athletes think and what they tell themselves piqued the interest of sports researchers to explore the effectiveness of mental techniques, and the use of self-addressed instructions and reinforcement (see Hardy & Ringland, 1984 for an interesting counter perspective). Even from the beginnings of research focusing on self-talk, the performance-enhancing potential of self-talk was investigated through experimental research (e.g., Ziegler, 1987) and, in parallel, a descriptive approach examining athletes’ intuitive use of self-talk through self-reports (e.g., Mahoney & Avener, 1977).

With sports researchers’ attention on the topic of self-talk increasing, more elaborate description and definition of self-talk has resulted. In his seminal work on the conceptualization of self-talk, Hardy (2006) provided an overview of the available definitions and proposed what has since been the most identifiable definition in the sports oriented self-talk literature. Hardy (2006) viewed self-talk as including “(a) verbalizations or statements addressed to the self; (b) multidimensional in nature; (c) having interpretive elements associated with the content of statements employed; (d) is somewhat dynamic; and (e) serving at least two functions; instructional and motivational for the athlete” (p. 84). Alongside the efforts for defining self-talk and following the developing research literature, a number of classifications of self-talk types have been made. Honing the conceptualization of self-talk continues and recent contributions have brought new ideas to the literature (e.g., Latinjak, Zourbanos, López-Ros, & Hatzigeorgiadis, 2014; Van Raalte, Vincent, & Brewer, 2016a).

Reflecting upon how the existent sports self-talk literature has evolved, two broad research perspectives are evident: (a) research investigating the effectiveness of self-talk strategies, and (b) research examining athletes’ automatic self-talk (Theodorakis, Hatzigeorgiadis, & Zourbanos, 2012). The former is concerned with the development of effective interventions typically aimed at enhancing performance, and lately on the identification of mechanisms through which self-talk strategies influence performance; whereas the latter has assessed the content of athletes’ self-talk, its antecedents and functions, and to a lesser extent its relationships with performance. While it is probably still the case that research on self-talk is relatively underdeveloped as compared to the empirical literatures associated with other common psychological skills (e.g., mental imagery and goal setting), the topic has expanded rapidly since 2006 (e.g., more than seven book chapters on self-talk, one meta-analysis, one critical review), when the first review of self-talk was published (Hardy, 2006).

With direct relevance to the above glimpse at the nature of the empirical self-talk literature, the purpose of the present article was to provide a brief historical review of substantive sports oriented self-talk theory and research. To this end, we outline the developments in conceptualizations, models, research perspectives, and high profile research questions in the field. In addition to offering a unique perspective on the self-talk research literature, we also provide the necessary backdrop behind the content of the current Special Issue of The Sport Psychologist. In doing so, we distinguish between noteworthy eras based on what we perceive as landmark self-talk investigations in sport literature. After careful consideration, we identified three such eras: (1) the early foundations of self-talk research, up to the end of the 1990s; (2) the developmental years of systematic self-talk research during the 2000s; and (3) the modern day maturation of self-talk research, post-2011.

Historical Review

Early Foundations of Self-Talk

Conceptual and Research Advancements

It is possible to trace back the origins of the investigation of self-talk to a highly influential wave of research that shaped much of sports psychological research more generally. More specifically, in the 1970s there was a line of research focused on how successful athletes or qualifiers for high level tournaments mentally prepared and employed psychological strategies (e.g., Highlen & Bennett, 1983; Mahoney & Avener, 1977; Rotella, Gansneder, Ojala, & Billings, 1980). One of the strategies examined was self-talk. Based on the findings garnered from various sports (e.g., gymnasts, wrestlers, divers, skiers) and different competition levels (e.g., Olympic games, Pan-American games) we became aware that better performers use self-talk more frequently in both training and competition and report less frequent use of negative self-talk as compared to poorer performing athletes. Findings such as these spurred on research with a more dedicated or exclusive focus on self-talk (e.g., Van Raalte, Brewer, Rivera, & Petipas, 1994).

Perhaps because of the applied nature of sports psychology, some of the ensuing research stimulated by Mahoney and Avener’s (1977) ground breaking investigation involved interventions. With regards to experiments examining instructional self-talk, Ziegler (1987) reported on novices’ enhanced acquisition of tennis strokes, Mallett and Hanrahan (1977) demonstrated increased 100-m sprint performance, and Landin and Hebert (1999) showed improved tennis volley execution. When positive and negative self-talk was targeted, Rushall, Hall, Roux, Sasseville, and Rushall (1988) revealed enhanced cross-country skiing performance, and Van Raalte et al.’s (1995) data yielded superior dart throwing accuracy for positive self-talk compared to negative self-talk. Considered collectively, the above findings tend to endorse the use of self-talk as a potential performance enhancing strategy; however, a noteworthy feature of the literature at this stage was its atheoretical nature.

Measurement Progression

In this era, we saw initial attempts to assess self-talk using different methods. Van Raalte et al. (1994) were the first to assess observable self-talk using the Self-Talk and Gestures Rating Scale (STAGRS). This observational tool was developed to record external self-talk and gestures during tennis matches. Using a multi-method approach, the study examined positive, negative, and instructional self-talk, enabling the researchers to provide a fairly in-depth description of youth aged tennis players’ use of self-talk. For example, negative self-talk was more prevalent than either positive or instructional self-talk. Of greater applied insight, match winners used less negative self-talk than those losing their matches although a more substantive difference was that match winners responded differently to their negative self-talk as compared to match losers and were more likely to win the next point played. The first self-report inventory measuring self-talk in sport, that is, the strategic use of positive and negative self-talk in both training and competition, was the Test of Performance Strategies (TOPS; Thomas, Murphy, & Hardy, 1999). This scale continues to be refined (e.g., Hardy, Roberts, Thomas, & Murphy, 2010) and used in varying settings (e.g., military; Arthur, Fitzwater, Roberts, Hardy, & Arthur, 2017).

During the first era of the empirical self-talk literature, researchers as well as practitioners gained a more scientific understanding of the importance of self-talk for performance. This understanding helped set-up the next era to make more nuanced advances, employing more rigorous designs (e.g., use of manipulation checks) to examine the full potential of self-talk for performance (and other outcomes) as well as gauge how and/or why self-talk can be beneficial for performers.

Developmental Years of Systematic Self-Talk Research

Conceptual and Research Advancements

Prior to the beginning of the current century, self-talk researchers mainly concerned themselves with the effects of positive and negative self-talk on performance, and the importance of speaking positively while performing. Some effort was also placed on the effects of instructional self-talk on specific sports oriented skills (e.g., Mallett & Hanrahan, 1997). Since 2000 some continued examination of positive self-talk has occurred (e.g., Harvey, Van Raalte, & Brewer 2002); however, there has been much more investigation of instructional and motivational self-talk, conducted using either a descriptive (e.g., Hardy, Gammage, & Hall, 2001) or an intervention (e.g., Theodorakis, Weinberg, Natsis, Douma, & Kazakas, 2000) perspective.

Arguably Hardy et al.’s (2001) qualitative investigation represents the first comprehensive examination of athletes’ use of self-talk. Drawing from the sports imagery literature, this influential study reported on what has been termed the four ‘W’s related to self-talk, covering Where, When, What, and Why athletes use self-talk. Athletes reported using self-talk primarily in the proximity of the sporting environment (where), both before and during competition and practice (when). They also mostly endorsed their use of positive as compared to negative and irrelevant self-talk, through the use of phrases rather than shorter verbal cues or intact sentences, representing specific instructions to themselves (what). The reasons athletes provided for why they spoke to themselves were numerous. Categorization reflected Paivio’s (1985) orthogonal framework for the functions of sports imagery; multiple cognitive (aka instructional) and motivational self-talk functions were described. More specifically, instructional self-talk served athletes through its skill and strategy functions both with development and refinement aspects. Conversely, motivational self-talk aided performers by influencing their arousal and anxiety, helping them to master challenging circumstances, and facilitation towards the achievement of their goals. Although these qualitative findings were complemented by two quantitative studies (Hardy, Hall, & Hardy, 2004, 2005) that collectively provided a firm descriptive platform for future research to build off, perhaps the most relevant conceptual progression from the original Hardy et al. (2001) investigation was their recognition that the functions self-talk may serve the athlete can not necessarily be determined from its content. That is, two performers may say the same thing to themselves (e.g., “come on”) yet get different things from these statements (e.g., athlete A interprets this as encouragement whereas for athlete B this serves to berate herself). Interestingly, although this study highlighted the multi-dimensional nature of both instructional and motivational functions, this has largely escaped further empirical investigation (although it is unlikely that all motivational self-talk is alike).

Representing a much greater development in terms of theorizing specific to self-talk is Theodorakis et al.’s (2000) matching hypothesis concerning the effectiveness of instructional and motivational self-talk interventions for performance. This hypothesis is comprised of two halves; on the one hand, that instructional self-talk (e.g., “ball … step … swing”) ought to be more effective than motivational self-talk (e.g., “I can do this”) for precision and accuracy-based motor skills. This prediction is because instructional self-talk is supposed to facilitate performers’ understanding of task requirements helping them to attend to task relevant cues aiding their concentration during task execution. On the other hand, motivational self-talk is hypothesized to be superior to instructional self-talk for motor skills emphasizing strength and endurance due to the psychophysiological (e.g., mood, confidence, and effort) inducing benefits of motivational self-talk. Theodorakis et al.’s investigation examined this hypothesis through four experiments; two for each half. When the findings across the studies are considered together, stronger support was generated for the benefit of instructional self-talk for fine motor skills than for motivational self-talk enhancing gross motor skills performance. Not only was Theodorakis et al.’s influential self-talk paper the first to report on multiple studies within the same article (potentially aiding the rigor of the research), its conceptual footprint is by far the largest within the self-talk literature. In fact, Abdoli, Hardy, Riyahi, and Farsi’s (2018) and McCormick, Meijen, and Marcora’s (2018) papers in this Special Issue make direct use of its theorizing. As a result of research inspired by this self-talk specific theorizing we also gained some empirical understanding of the mechanisms through which self-talk facilitates performance. Data from these subsequent studies provided support for the presence of an attentional mechanism, that is, the reduction of interfering thoughts during task execution (Hatzigeorgiadis, Theodorakis, & Zourbanos, 2004) as well as motivationally related mechanisms pinpointing to increased self-efficacy (Hatzigeorgiadis, Zourbanos, Goltsios, & Theodorakis, 2008) and reduced state anxiety (Hatzigeorgiadis, Zourbanos, Mpoumpaki, & Theodorakis, 2009).

During this developmental era two other conceptual advances occurred. Both incorporate Theodorakis et al.’s (2000) theorizing and continue to have reach in terms of the contemporary self-talk literature. First, as a result of the burgeoning self-talk research literature and the differing perspectives within it regarding how researchers were describing self-talk, Hardy (2006) published the first critique of the literature. While the review by Hardy offered some initial clarity concerning the nature of self-talk, in the first research oriented book chapter on self-talk, Hardy, Oliver, and Tod (2009) offered the first model of self-talk and further reinforced the distinction that self-talk can refer to either automatic thoughts that may occur spontaneously or to the strategic use of self-talk plans. Hardy et al.’s throughput model of self-talk, based on the existing research evidence (for more info see Hardy et al., 2009), conceptualized both antecedents and consequences of self-talk, categorizing four mechanistic pathways (i.e., cognitive, affective, motivational, and behavioral broad mediators) through which self-talk exerts its influence on performance (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

—Throughput model of self-talk; adapted from Hardy et al. (2009).

Citation: The Sport Psychologist 32, 1; 10.1123/tsp.2017-0141

Measurement Progression

In this era, we witnessed the development of a number of scales purporting to measure particular aspects of self-talk. For instance, some of these scales assess the functions of self-talk. Hardy et al. (2005) developed the Self-Talk Use Questionnaire (STUQ), a broad-brush single-item survey aligned to Hardy et al.’s (2001) 4Ws descriptive dimensions of self-talk (i.e., Where, When, What, and Why athletes use self-talk). Although it reflects the multidimensionality of the functions of self-talk, the format of the STUQ’s items precludes traditional assessment of its psychometric properties. Conversely, Zervas, Stavrou, and Psychountaki (2007) developed the Self-Talk Questionnaire (S-TQ), an instrument comprised of two subscales with a specific emphasis on the instructional and motivational functions of self-talk. The S-TQ has not often been used in published research but available data suggests that while data from this scale is reliable, findings offering questionable support for the factorial validity have been reported. Third, Theodorakis, Hatzigeorgiadis, and Chroni (2008) developed the Functions of Self-Talk Questionnaire (FSTQ), a psychometrically robust instrument that better captures the breadth of the functions of self-talk via its attentional focus, increase confidence, regulate effort, control cognitive and emotional reactions, and trigger automatic execution subscales.

As noted earlier, a separate but related more descriptive line of research has focused on the content of self-talk (what athletes say to themselves) or automatic thoughts triggering the development of additional questionnaires. More specifically, Hatzigeorgiadis and Biddle (2000) developed the Thought Occurrence Questionnaire for Sport (TOQS), which assesses three dimensions of cognitive interference; performance worries, irrelevant thoughts, and thoughts of escape. Moreover, Krohne, and Hindel (2000) developed the Cognitive Interference Test—Table Tennis, assessing worry and self-doubt thoughts, irrelevant thoughts, and emotional tension in table tennis. Nevertheless, both of these instruments omit a focus on positive self-talk. At least two measures readdress this potential oversight. First, the two dimensional Self-talk Grid (Hardy, Hall, & Alexander, 2001) simultaneously measures negative and positive self-talk as well as athletes’ motivational interpretation of their self-talk. Researchers’ second option uses a more traditional questionnaire format; Zourbanos, Hatzigeorgiadis, Chroni, Theodorakis, and Papaioannou (2009) developed the Automatic Self-Talk Questionnaire for Sport (ASTQS), a comprehensive (and hierarchically structured) instrument that identifies 8 distinct dimensions of self-talk (positive: psych up, confidence, anxiety control and instruction, and negative: worry, disengagement, somatic fatigue, and irrelevant thoughts). As a result of measurement development work carried out during this timeframe, researchers now have a number of options available to them should they wish to measure athletes’ use of self-talk.

In sum, in this era research focused on the effects of motivational and instructional self-talk on performance as well as the functions of self-talk using different methodological approaches. As mentioned, a variety of self-report instruments helped practitioners to assess why athletes use self-talk (e.g., FSTQ) and the nature of what they are saying to themselves during training and competition (e.g., Self-Talk Grid). Furthermore, although the writings of Hardy (2006) and Hardy et al. (2009) provided some clarity and consolidation of the existing research literature, another consistent theme was the call for researchers to conduct more theoretically grounded investigations in the future and encouraging continued examination of the self-talk matching hypothesis.

Modern Day Maturation of Self-Talk Research

Conceptual and Research Advancements

After 2011, the self-talk research in sport has been more rigorous, implementing more advanced statistical analyses (e.g., meta-analysis) and more sophisticated conceptualizations of self-talk (e.g., Latinjak et al., 2014); all reflective of a maturing literature. In 2011, the first two independently conducted systematic reviews of the self-talk to performance relationship were published. Tod, Hardy, and Oliver’s (2011) review of self-talk interventions focused on the effect self-talk on performance and provided a meta-data perspective on the mechanisms of this effect. Their results showed that positive self-talk was consistently and beneficially related to performance although negative self-talk did not necessarily impede performance. Moreover, while there was support for both instructional and motivational self-talk facilitating performance, only relatively inconsistent support for Theodorakis et al.’s (2000) matching hypothesis was apparent. Results from the mediation-based analysis revealed that Hardy et al.’s (2009) cognitive and behavioral mechanistic factors had the most consistent (positive) relationships with self-talk.

In the first meta-analysis exclusively focused on self-talk, Hatzigeorgiadis, Zourbanos, Galanis, and Theodorakis (2011) reported a moderate positive effect size (d = .48); providing robust evidence for the value of self-talk interventions. The moderator analyses showed that self-talk interventions were more effective for tasks involving relatively fine, compared to more gross, motor demands, and for novel, compared with well-learned, tasks. Instructional self-talk was also found to be more effective for fine tasks than was motivational self-talk. This finding offers some support for one half the matching hypothesis although the data concerning the execution of strength and endurance oriented tasks remains less clear. Finally, interventions that incorporated a self-talk training phase were more effective than those not including self-talk training. Both of these empirical reviews helped to solidify and enhance the coherence of the research based self-talk literature. Both reviews also identified some common themes for future research to pursue. For example, both noted the lack, and difficulty of obtaining, competition performance data. While we are aware of one study that has since investigated and found support for the effectiveness of a combined instructional and motivational self-talk intervention in the competitive (swimming) setting (Hatzigeorgiadis, Galanis, Zourbanos, & Theodorakis, 2014); this highly sensitive context remains in need of further examination. Van Dyke, Van Raalte, Mullin, and Brewer’s (2018) paper in the Special Issue does this with US female gymnasts by examining the predictive ability of a number of aspects of self-talk using archival beam performance scores across a season.

As second issue identified by both reviews (Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2011; Tod et al., 2011) was the efficacy of self-talk for skilled athletes as the majority of research had used more convenient samples of participants (e.g., university students). Zourbanos, Hatzigeorgiadis, Bardas, and Theodorakis (2013) extended the original self-talk matching hypothesis; further developing expectations concerning fine motor skill execution. Zourbanos et al. proposed that the benefit of instructional self-talk over motivational self-talk may not hold for skilled performers as consciously attending to the requirements of task execution can trigger “paralysis by over-analysis”, constraining automated processing (Wulf, 2007). As a result, motivational self-talk was expected to aid skilled performance more than instructional self-talk for tasks involving precision. Although Zourbanos et al.’s findings based on data collected from PE students were somewhat ambiguous, data from skilled Gaelic Footballers demonstrated the superiority of motivational self-talk (Hardy, Begley, & Blanchfield, 2015). Adboli et al.’s (2018) paper in the Special Issue continues this line of research placing an emphasis on skilled athletes, and more specifically professional Basketballers.

As alluded to, there has been a strengthening profile of theory during this era (e.g., De Muynck et al., 2017) which enhances our mechanistic understanding of how self-talk works. Based on the earlier works from Hatzigeorgiadis and colleagues (2004, 2008, 2009) and Hardy et al.’s (2009) conceptual framework, mechanism oriented self-talk research has also grown within this most recent timeframe. In reviewing the available evidence, Galanis, Hatzigeorgiadis, Zourbanos, and Theodorakis (2016) provided an evidence-based model identifying aspects of motivational and attentional mechanisms. In terms of motivational perspectives, in addition to the previously identified mediating role of self-efficacy and anxiety, a new perceptually oriented mechanism, grounded in the psychobiological model of endurance performance (Marcora, Bosio, & Morree, 2008; Marcora, Staiano, & Manning, 2009), emphasizing the role of perceived exertion was reported. This model has inspired a number of recent studies of motivational self-talk used during endurance tasks. Spearheaded by Blanchfield, Hardy, de Morree, Staiano, and Marcora’s (2014) initial application of the model, these experimental findings support athletes’ use of motivational self-talk to enhance endurance performance and concurrently lower ratings of exertion (e.g., Barwood, Corbett, Wagstaff, McVeigh, & Thelwell, 2015; Blanchfield et al., 2014). McCormick et al.’s (2018) contribution to the present Special Issue is also anchored within this model and is the first experiment to examine the effects of motivational self-talk during a competitive endurance event.

With regard to attentional perspectives relevant to the mechanisms of self-talk, firmer evidence has begun to amass suggesting that self-talk can (a) enhance attentional focus and improve attentional performance (Galanis et al., 2016), and (b) help counter the aversive effects of factors impairing attention, such as when in a self-control depleted state (Gregersen, Hatzigeorgiadis, Galanis, Comoutos, & Papaioannou, 2017). Recently Hatzigeorgiadis and Galanis (2017) framed this evidence within the tenets of the limited capacity models of attention. They argued that while attention thwarting factors reduce available attentional resources and constrains the processing efficiency of relevant cues, self-talk can help preserve and/or renew attentional resources, benefiting attention and subsequent performance. Collectively, studies of the mechanisms of self-talk have helped to explain the effectiveness of self-talk as well as aid the development of effective real world interventions (e.g., Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2014). Galanis, Hatzigeorgiadis, Comoutos, Charachousi, and Sanchez’s (2018) paper in the Special Issue extends this avenue of investigation via a multi-study paper progressing from the laboratory to a field-based experimental design incorporating commonplace distractions found within the sporting environment (i.e., external distractions).

As well as the aforementioned conceptual developments, largely applicable to instructional and motivational self-talk and guided by the original distinction outlined by Hardy et al. (2009); Latinjak et al. (2014) adapted Christoff’s (2012) automatic thoughts framework from cognitive neuroscience to distinguish two broad categories of self-talk: either goal-directed or undirected. This distinction proffered a new conceptual framework to examine self-talk in sport. Goal-directed thoughts are described as a mental process deliberately employed towards solving a problem during reasoning and decision making. In contrast, undirected thoughts were described as unintentional and emergent thoughts, which were further categorized into: mind-wandering, stimulus-independent thoughts, and spontaneous thoughts. In a similar categorization, but using a different theoretical basis, Van Raalte et al. (2016a) developed a sport-specific model of self-talk adapting Kahneman’s (2011) dual-processing theory. In their model, they identified again two broad categories: (1) an intuitive type of self-talk (i.e., System I processing) that comes to mind spontaneously, and (2) a rational type of self-talk based on reason, which is emotionally neutral (i.e., System II processing). Rational self-talk was further subdivided into: (a) proactive self-talk, that is, self-talk used with a specific intention or outcome in mind that requires mental effort and (b) reactive self-talk, that occurs as a response to the emotionally charged and bias-driven intuitive self-talk. Moreover, building upon the Hardy et al. (2009) self-talk in sport framework, Van Raalte et al. highlighted the dynamic interplay among: the antecedents of self-talk (i.e., personal factors and situational factors referred to as contextual factors in this model); cognitive mechanisms (represented by System 2); affect, motivation, and anxiety related to both Systems 1 and 2; behavior; and of course, self-talk. More specifically they hypothesized direct effects from personal and contextual factors to both System 1 and 2 processing, which in turn are directly linked to athletes’ self-talk and behavior, whereas reciprocal relationships are expected between System 1 and 2 processing with self-talk; and System 1 and 2 processing with behavior. Finally, the self-talk dissonance hypothesis is another prediction originating from the model whereby System 2 self-talk (e.g., if I take my time, I can do this) that conflicts with System 1 impressions (e.g., another mistake … I’ll never get this right!) is likely to deplete cognitive resources and have a detrimental effect on performance. Although Latinjak et al.’s framework has been criticized (see Van Raalte et al., 2016a), it has been employed in several studies in the sport domain (e.g., Latinjak, Font-Lladó, Zourbanos, & Hatzigeorgiadis, 2016; Latinjak, Hatzigeorgiadis, & Zourbanos, 2017). On the other hand, Van Raalte et al.’s (2016a) framework has yet to be tested in the sport domain (Van Raalte, Vincent, & Brewer, 2016b). Two papers in the Special Issue are couched within Latinjak et al.’s relatively recent automatic thoughts framework. While Latinjak, Masó, and Comoutos (2018) examined the functions of goal directed self-talk during skill acquisition of Ultimate Frisbee players, Latinjak (2018) investigated the automatic self-talk of athletes within the competition context.

Overarching Final Comments

Up until relatively recently, scientists had not given much attention to conducting research on self-talk, possibly because of the presence of theory underpinning other popular psychological strategies (such as, imagery and goal-setting). However, as illustrated within the present review, based on the meta-analytic and systematic reviews, and summarizing book chapters, that have been published in the last 7 years, it is clear that self-talk has now received a fair degree of examination within the sporting context. Reflective of this volume of investigations, we now offer brief direction to researchers to further develop this expanding topic.

With regard to the examination of automatic self-talk, much of this research has been cross-sectional providing correlational results. We would encourage researchers develop this body of literature by using longitudinal designs to examine automatic self-talk in the pre-competition period as well as during competition. Experimental studies focusing on antecedents and consequences of automatic self-talk would also add value to the existent research base. Regardless of investigating automatic self-talk or the strategic use of self-talk, researchers should adopt methodological designs that enable inferences for mediating effects, generating more robust mechanism oriented data. Using more sophisticated analyses (e.g., structural equation modelling) to address mediation or moderation related research question should allow researchers to get closer to the complex nature of self-talk as well as test and potentially rule out rival hypotheses. Moreover, the utilization of multidisciplinary approaches, including physiological, psychophysiological, and neuropsychological perspectives could further develop a more comprehensive understanding of the self-talk phenomenon.

Cross-cultural research would also likely facilitate our understanding of the content of athletes’ self-talk used in different sports and at various competitive levels. It is also possible that the currently maturing sports oriented self-talk literature, supporting self-talk’s benefit for skill acquisition and motivation, presents a timely foundation to apply the mental skill to the related contexts of exercise and physical education. To date, some initial self-talk research has been conducted in both contexts (e.g., Gammage, Hardy, & Hall, 2001; Zourbanos, Papaioannou, Argyropoulou, & Hatzigeorgiadis, 2014, respectively), and we believe that these settings represent an opportunity for researchers to transfer some of the more health oriented benefits of using self-talk from the performance domain. Further sport oriented research focused on how to best deliver self-talk interventions would also likely yield useful findings, facilitating intervention work in other related domains.

Last but not least, the development of a unifying self-talk theory for sport established from both correlation and experimental studies, including not only the processes but also the origins, the antecedents, the mechanisms, and the outcomes of self-talk would be of particular importance for the advancement of the field (e.g., Van Raalte et al., 2016a).

Hopefully we have shown how the latest wave of self-talk research, show cased in this Special Edition, builds off the existing literature. Given that within each paper is the presentation of appropriate avenues of future research (linked back to each specific research question), we have only offered a few broad steers to researchers concerning study design, contexts, and theory. That said, two papers within the Special Issue dovetail with the existing literature slightly differently. Dickens, Van Raalte, and Hurlburt (2018) present a novel methodology, Descriptive Experience Sampling, to the evolving self-talk literature and Van Raalte et al. (2018) focus on how self-talk is said; more specifically, grammar, an aspect of self-talk that has not previously received specific consideration. Overall, the eight empirical papers contained in this Special Issue contribute to the advancement of the topic and represents the current research-driven knowledge underpinning self-talk. Praise worthy features within the Special Issue include the presentation and use of novel methodologies, rigorous study design, and multi-study approaches. We hope you find reading the content of this Special Issue intellectually stimulating. Finally, we would like to thank Bob Weinberg for allowing us to draw from his vast experience by passing on his reflections and commentary in the concluding article.

References

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  • Ellis, A. (2003). Early theories and practices of rational emotive behavior theory and how they have been augmented and revised during the last three decades. Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 21, 219243. doi:10.1023/A:1025890112319

    • Crossref
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  • Galanis, E., Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Comoutos, A., Charachousi, F., & Sanchez, X. (2018). From the lab to field: Effects of self-talk on task performance under distracting conditions. The Sport Psychologist, 32(1). doi:10.1123/tsp.2017-0017

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Galanis, V., Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., & Theodorakis, Y. (2016). Why self-talk is effective? Perspectives on self-talk mechanisms in sport. In M. Raab, P. Wylleman, R. Seiler, A-M. Elbe, & A. Hatzigeorgiadis (Eds.), Sport and exercise psychology research: From theory to practice (pp. 181200). London, UK: Elsevier.

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  • Gammage, K.L., Hardy, J., & Hall, C.R. (2001). A description of self-talk in exercise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 2, 233247. doi:10.1016/S1469-0292(01)00011-5

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gregersen, J., Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Galanis, E., Comoutos, N., & Papaioannou, A. (2017). Countering the consequences of ego depletion: The effects of self-talk on selective attention. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 39(3), 161171. PubMed doi:10.1123/jsep.2016-0265

    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J. (2006). Speaking clearly: A critical review of the self-talk literature. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7, 8197. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2005.04.002

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    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Begley, K., & Blanchfield, A.W. (2015). It’s good but it’s not right: Instructional self-talk and skilled performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 27, 132139. doi:10.1080/10413200.2014.959624

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Gammage, K.L., & Hall, C.R. (2001). A descriptive study of athlete self-talk. The Sport Psychologist, 15, 306318. doi:10.1123/tsp.15.3.306

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Hall, C.R., & Alexander, M.R. (2001). Exploring self-talk and affective states in sport. Journal of Sports Sciences, 19, 469475. PubMed doi:10.1080/026404101750238926

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Hall, C.R., & Hardy, L. (2004). A note on athletes’ use of self-talk. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 16, 251257. doi:10.1080/10413200490498357

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Hall, C.R., & Hardy, L. (2005). Quantifying athlete self-talk. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23, 905917. doi:10.1080/02640410500130706

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Oliver, E., & Tod, D. (2009). A framework for the study and application of self-talk in sport. In S.D. Mellalieu& S. Hanton (Eds.), Advances in applied sport psychology: A review (pp. 3774). London, UK: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, L., & Ringland, A. (1984). Mental training and the inner game. Human Learning: Journal of Practical Research & Applications, 3, 203207.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, L., Roberts, R., Thomas, P.R., & Murphy, S.M. (2010). Test of Performance Strategies (TOPS): Instrument refinement using confirmatory factor analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11, 2735. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2009.04.007

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harvey, D.T., Van Raalte, J.L., & Brewer, B.W. (2002). Relationship between self-talk and golf performance. International Sports Journal, 6, 8491.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., & Biddle, S.J.H. (2000). Assessing cognitive interference in sports: The development of the Thought Occurrence Questionnaire for Sport (TOQS). Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 13, 6586. doi:10.1080/10615800008248334

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., & Galanis, V. (2017). Self-talk effectiveness and attention. Current Opinion in Psychology, 16, 138142. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.05.014

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Galanis, V., Zourbanos, N., & Theodorakis, Y. (2014). A self-talk intervention for competitive sport performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 26, 8295. doi:10.1080/10413200.2013.790095

    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Theodorakis, Y., & Zourbanos, N. (2004). Self-talk in the swimming pool: The effects of self-talk on thought content and performance on water polo tasks. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 16, 138150. doi:10.1080/10413200490437886

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  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Galanis, E., & Theodorakis, Y. (2011). Self-talk and sports performance: A meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 348356. PubMed doi:10.1177/1745691611413136

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  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Goltsios, C., & Theodorakis, Y. (2008). Investigated the functions of self-talk: The effects of motivational self-talk on self-efficacy and performance in young tennis players. The Sport Psychologist, 22, 458471. doi:10.1123/tsp.22.4.458

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  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Mpoumpaki, S., & Theodorakis, Y. (2009). Mechanisms underlying the self-talk– performance relationship: The effects of self-talk on self-confidence and anxiety. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10, 186192. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2008.07.009

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  • Highlen, P.S., & Bennet, B.B. (1983). Elite divers and wrestlers: A comparison between open and closed skill athletes. Journal of Sport Psychology, 5, 390409. doi:10.1123/jsp.5.4.390

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    • Export Citation
  • Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

  • Krohne, H.W., & Hindel, C. (2000). Anxiety, cognitive interference, and sports performance: The Cognitive Interference Test—Table Tennis. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 13, 2752. doi:10.1080/10615800008248332

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Landin, D., & Hebert, E.P. (1999). The influence of ST on the performance of skilled female tennis players. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 11, 263282. doi:10.1080/10413209908404204

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    • Export Citation
  • Latinjak, A.T. (2018). Goal-directed, spontaneous and stimulus-independent thoughts and mindwandering in a competitive context. The Sport Psychologist, 32(1). doi:10.1123/tsp.2016-0044

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  • Latinjak, A.T., Font-Lladó, R., Zourbanos, N., & Hatzigeorgiadis, A. (2016). Goal-directed self-talk interventions: A single-case study with an elite athlete. The Sport Psychologist, 30, 189194. doi:10.1123/tsp.2015-0120

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Hardy is with the Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance, Bangor University, Wales, United Kingdom. Comoutos and Hatzigeorgiadis are with the School of Physical Education and Sport Science, University of Thessaly, Trikala, Greece.

Address author correspondence to James Hardy at j.t.hardy@bangor.ac.uk.
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  • Arthur, R.A., Fitzwater, J., Roberts, R., Hardy, J., & Arthur, C. (2017). Psychological skills and “the Paras”: The indirect effects of psychological skills on endurance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 29, 449465. doi:10.1080/10413200.2017.1306728

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  • Barwood, M.J., Corbett, J., Wagstaff, C.R.D., McVeigh, D., & Thelwell, R.C. (2015). Improvement of 10-km time-trial cycling with motivational self-talk compared with neutral self-talk. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 10, 166171. PubMed doi:10.1123/ijspp.2014-0059

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  • Blanchfield, A.W., Hardy, J., De Morree, H.M., Staiano, W., & Marcora, S.M. (2014). Talking yourself out of exhaustion: The effects of self-talk on endurance performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 46, 9981007. PubMed doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000184

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  • Christoff, K. (2012). Undirected thoughts: Neural determinants and correlates. Brain Research, 1428, 5159. PubMed doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2011.09.060

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  • De Muynck, G.-J., Vansteenkiste, M., Delrue, J., Aelterman, N., Haerens, L., & Soenens, B. (2017). The effects of feedback valence and style on need satisfaction, self-talk, and perseverance among tennis players: An experimental study. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 39, 6780. doi:10.1123/jsep.2015-0326

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  • Dickens, Y.L., Van Raalte, J., & Hurlburt, R.T. (2018). On investigating self-talk: A descriptive experience sampling study of inner experience during golf performance. The Sport Psychologist, 32(1). doi:10.1123/tsp.2016-0073

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  • Ellis, A. (2003). Early theories and practices of rational emotive behavior theory and how they have been augmented and revised during the last three decades. Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 21, 219243. doi:10.1023/A:1025890112319

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Galanis, E., Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Comoutos, A., Charachousi, F., & Sanchez, X. (2018). From the lab to field: Effects of self-talk on task performance under distracting conditions. The Sport Psychologist, 32(1). doi:10.1123/tsp.2017-0017

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Galanis, V., Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., & Theodorakis, Y. (2016). Why self-talk is effective? Perspectives on self-talk mechanisms in sport. In M. Raab, P. Wylleman, R. Seiler, A-M. Elbe, & A. Hatzigeorgiadis (Eds.), Sport and exercise psychology research: From theory to practice (pp. 181200). London, UK: Elsevier.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gammage, K.L., Hardy, J., & Hall, C.R. (2001). A description of self-talk in exercise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 2, 233247. doi:10.1016/S1469-0292(01)00011-5

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gregersen, J., Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Galanis, E., Comoutos, N., & Papaioannou, A. (2017). Countering the consequences of ego depletion: The effects of self-talk on selective attention. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 39(3), 161171. PubMed doi:10.1123/jsep.2016-0265

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J. (2006). Speaking clearly: A critical review of the self-talk literature. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7, 8197. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2005.04.002

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Begley, K., & Blanchfield, A.W. (2015). It’s good but it’s not right: Instructional self-talk and skilled performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 27, 132139. doi:10.1080/10413200.2014.959624

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Gammage, K.L., & Hall, C.R. (2001). A descriptive study of athlete self-talk. The Sport Psychologist, 15, 306318. doi:10.1123/tsp.15.3.306

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Hall, C.R., & Alexander, M.R. (2001). Exploring self-talk and affective states in sport. Journal of Sports Sciences, 19, 469475. PubMed doi:10.1080/026404101750238926

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Hall, C.R., & Hardy, L. (2004). A note on athletes’ use of self-talk. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 16, 251257. doi:10.1080/10413200490498357

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Hall, C.R., & Hardy, L. (2005). Quantifying athlete self-talk. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23, 905917. doi:10.1080/02640410500130706

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, J., Oliver, E., & Tod, D. (2009). A framework for the study and application of self-talk in sport. In S.D. Mellalieu& S. Hanton (Eds.), Advances in applied sport psychology: A review (pp. 3774). London, UK: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, L., & Ringland, A. (1984). Mental training and the inner game. Human Learning: Journal of Practical Research & Applications, 3, 203207.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardy, L., Roberts, R., Thomas, P.R., & Murphy, S.M. (2010). Test of Performance Strategies (TOPS): Instrument refinement using confirmatory factor analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11, 2735. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2009.04.007

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harvey, D.T., Van Raalte, J.L., & Brewer, B.W. (2002). Relationship between self-talk and golf performance. International Sports Journal, 6, 8491.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., & Biddle, S.J.H. (2000). Assessing cognitive interference in sports: The development of the Thought Occurrence Questionnaire for Sport (TOQS). Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 13, 6586. doi:10.1080/10615800008248334

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., & Galanis, V. (2017). Self-talk effectiveness and attention. Current Opinion in Psychology, 16, 138142. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.05.014

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Galanis, V., Zourbanos, N., & Theodorakis, Y. (2014). A self-talk intervention for competitive sport performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 26, 8295. doi:10.1080/10413200.2013.790095

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Theodorakis, Y., & Zourbanos, N. (2004). Self-talk in the swimming pool: The effects of self-talk on thought content and performance on water polo tasks. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 16, 138150. doi:10.1080/10413200490437886

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Galanis, E., & Theodorakis, Y. (2011). Self-talk and sports performance: A meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 348356. PubMed doi:10.1177/1745691611413136

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Goltsios, C., & Theodorakis, Y. (2008). Investigated the functions of self-talk: The effects of motivational self-talk on self-efficacy and performance in young tennis players. The Sport Psychologist, 22, 458471. doi:10.1123/tsp.22.4.458

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Mpoumpaki, S., & Theodorakis, Y. (2009). Mechanisms underlying the self-talk– performance relationship: The effects of self-talk on self-confidence and anxiety. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10, 186192. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2008.07.009

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Highlen, P.S., & Bennet, B.B. (1983). Elite divers and wrestlers: A comparison between open and closed skill athletes. Journal of Sport Psychology, 5, 390409. doi:10.1123/jsp.5.4.390

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

  • Krohne, H.W., & Hindel, C. (2000). Anxiety, cognitive interference, and sports performance: The Cognitive Interference Test—Table Tennis. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 13, 2752. doi:10.1080/10615800008248332

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Landin, D., & Hebert, E.P. (1999). The influence of ST on the performance of skilled female tennis players. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 11, 263282. doi:10.1080/10413209908404204

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Latinjak, A.T. (2018). Goal-directed, spontaneous and stimulus-independent thoughts and mindwandering in a competitive context. The Sport Psychologist, 32(1). doi:10.1123/tsp.2016-0044

    • Crossref
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