Self-Talk in the Swimming Pool: The Effects of Self-Talk on Thought Content and Performance on Water-Polo Tasks

Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, Yannis Theodorakis, and Nikos Zourbanos

Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 16: 138–150, 2004

Self-talk acts to reduce the occurrence of interfering thoughts during tasks as well as improve task performance. However, this latter aspect is affected by the type of self-talk and the type of task involved. Researchers studied this relationship by examining two types of self-talk (instructional and motivational) in regards to two types of water polo tasks (precision and power throws). In two separate experiments, students in a swimming class (a different one for each experiment) with no experience in water polo served as participants. Two weeks after they were tested in their respective task, they were randomly divided into three groups, control and two experimental groups, instructional self-talk and motivational self-talk, and the task repeated, only with the experimental groups being cued on the talk they needed to say.

In the precision task experiment, both experimental groups showed improvement, with the instructional group improving more. In the power task experiment, only the motivational self-talk group improved. In both experiments, the frequency of interfering thoughts decreased. Based on this latter finding, the researchers proposed that the ability of self-talk to reduce interfering thoughts and thereby improve concentration indicate it may be a mechanism through which self-talk improves performance.