Category Archives: Dance psychology


Talk to yourself, it helps!

Athletes and coaches often believe that self-talk can improve performance, confidence and motivation. Here we take a look at how it works and what is the evidence for the power of self-talk.

What is self-talk?

Traditionally, there has been emphasis on positive and negative self-talk. More recently researchers also talk about instructional and motivational self-talk.

Positive vs. negative self-talk

self-talk improves sport performancePositive self-talk has been proven to help your performance. At the same time, surprisingly, while many think that negative self-talk causes detrimental performance effects, scientific research has found no confirmation for this belief. It seems that negative self-talk does not make your performance worse.

A possible explanation for this finding is that some athletes may interpret their negative self-talk as motivating (for example, following a silly mistake, athletes may give themselves a “talking to”).

Some scientists have even highlighted the importance of an optimal balance of positive and negative thoughts for well-being. So don’t be afraid to go harsh on yourself sometimes – as long as it doesn’t demotivate you and is balanced with sufficient positive self-talk.

Motivational vs instructional self-talk

self-talk improves sport performance

A common belief is that the effects of instructional or motivational self-talk on performance depend on the type of task:

  • Instructional self-talk, which focuses on technical, tactical, and kinesthetic aspects of movements, should be most effective for precision tasks.
  • In contrast, motivational self-talk should work better for the condition-related tasks characterized by strength and endurance, as it is used to increase effort, enhance self-confidence, and create positive moods.

In reality, most research studies conducted to date show that both types of self-talk are equally effective for both precision and condition-related tasks. This means that you are free to decide what to tell yourself. Self-talk, be it “Lift that leg higher” or “Come on, let’s do it”, it will surely help.


How does it work?

Self-talk improves motor skills via four possible mechanisms: cognition, motivation, behavior, and affection.


Cognitive mechanisms include information processing, concentration, and attention. Athletes use self-talk for a variety of attention-based outcomes, for example, to concentrate, shift attentional focus and decrease interfering thoughts.


Motivation refers to self-efficacy, persistence, and long-term goal commitment. While it is not yet fully clear whether self-talk has any effect on self-efficacy, the use of self-talk has been associated with persistence and better performance on a challenging task.

Although self-talk is often promoted as a means of enhancing confidence (which in turn can boost motivation), research findings to date are inconsistent: motivational and instructional self-talk appears to enhance confidence, whereas positive self-talk does not.


Researchers have identified improvements in both subjectively and objectively assessed technique resulting from self-talk. Furthermore, during early phases of skill learning, novices sometimes “talk” themselves through movements. During later stages of learning, the performance becomes more automatic and self-talk may be less necessary. As such, novice athletes may benefit more frequently from the use of self-talk as compared with their skilled counterparts.


Many studies offer support that positive and motivational self-talk can reduce anxiety in a sporting context, even though this mainly applies to cognitive, but not somatic anxiety.

To sum up:

  • The use of positive, instructional, and motivational self-talk improves athletic performance. At the same time, contrary to the popular opitnion, currently available data suggest that negative self-talk may not have a detrimental effect on motor skill performance.
  • The strongest influence of the self-talk us upon concentration and attention, anxiety, and technical execution of the movement skills.

Full text: Tod, D., Hardy, J., & Oliver, E. (2011). Effects of self-talk: A systematic review. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 33(5), 666-687.


Do you perform better when you’re in good mood?

There is a strong intuitive association between mood states and sport performance. But what does science say? Peter Terry and Andrew Lane from the UK’s Brunel University have spent several years investigating the mood-performance relationships. In a comprehensive review article, they highlight the three most common research questions:

  1. Are mood responses different between athletes and non-athletes?
  2. Can mood responses differentiate athletes of varying levels of achievement (expert versus novice)?
  3. Can mood responses differentiate performance outcome among athletes of similar ability?

First, a few general remarks:

Profile of Mood States: TestMain test used to measure the mood is Profile of Mood States, or POMS. You can give the test a try yourself here.

The influence of mood upon performance may differ depending on the duration of sport, as well as on how success is defined. The duration of dancing events varies depending on the dance style and number of rounds in a competition. Generally, the longer the duration of sport, the less accurate the pre-competition mood can predict performance, because the mood will have more time to fluctuate. The definition of success can be based either on objective criteria (e.g. win/loss, selection/non selection into the team), or self-referenced criteria (e.g. achievement of personal goals, percentage of personal best). Self-referenced success is a more sensitive measure of the quality of performance and may also better reflect the impact of pre-competition mood.

1. Are mood responses different between athletes and non-athletes?

In respect of the first question, research has demonstrated quite clearly: When compared to general population, the mood profiles of athletes – especially at the elite level – are typically characterized by above average Vigor scores and below average scores for Tension, Depression, Anger, Fatigue, and Confusion. Such pattern of mood responses is called an iceberg profile and is possibly a sign of positive mental health.

2. Can mood responses differentiate athletes of varying levels of achievement (expert versus novice)?

Here, reliable conclusions have been far more elusive, with majority of studies suggesting that it is unreasonable to expect mood to predict athletic achievement of experts vs. novices. Thus, we can rest assured that mood responses do not reliably differentiate between athletes at different levels.

3. Can mood responses differentiate performance outcome among athletes of similar ability?

The suggestion that POMS scores are predictive of performance among athletes of homogeneous ability is perhaps the most intuitively reliable association, yet a definitive answer to this research question has also proved elusive. Some studies and reviews suggest that the link is very weak and the mood accounts for less than 1% of the variance in performance. However, when taking into consderation the influencing factors (duration of sport, the type of skills involved, definition of performance), pre-performance mood responses do have utility in the prediction of performance outcome, especially when the duration is short, performance is judged using self-referenced criteria, and when the sports involve more open skills rather than closed skills. Overall, although POMS has been shown to have utility in predicting performance of athletes of similar ability, the overall effect is moderate at best.

When investigating the indivudual elements of the POMS test, the athletes’ scores in Vigor, Confusion, and Depression have the highest correlation with their later performance. The negative effects upon performance of Tension and Anger are quite small. The reason is that tension and anger are influenced by depression: They will debilitate performance for an athlete in a depressed mood, but have no influence on a happy athlete.

To sum up:

  1. Are mood responses different between athletes and non-athletes?
    YES! Athletes have an iceberg profile (high Vigor and low Tension, Depression, Anger, Fatigue, and Confusion).
  1. Can mood responses differentiate athletes of varying levels of achievement (expert versus novice)?
    A definite no.
  1. Can mood responses differentiate performance outcome among athletes of similar ability?
    Sometimes. The link between mood and performance is stonger when sports are of short duration, and success is defined using self-referenced criteria.

Don’t forget to see how you score on the POMS test

Full text publications:
Beedie, C. J., Terry, P. C., & Lane, A. M. (2000). The Profile of Mood States and athletic performance: Two meta-analyses. Journal of applied sport psychology, 12(1), 49-68.
Grove, J.R., & Prapavessis, H. (1992). Preliminary evidence for the reliability and validity of an abbreviated Profile of Mood States. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 23, 93-109.


Profile of Mood States: Test

Below is a list of words that describe feelings people have. Please choose the option that best describes how you feel right now.

Once you’ve completed the test and checked your results, make sure to read this article about the effect of your mood state on the athletic performance.


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