Motivational Phrases During Warmup Help Young Athletes

Youth Sports Psychology

When Self-Talk Isn’t Enough for Athletes

Brad Donohue, a psychology professor and sports psychology expert at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) is conducting some eye-opening studies about how motivational phrases help athletes perform.

In one of his studies, coaches or peers said a string of phrases to runners during warmup.

“By standing above an athlete during warmup, we can give them a motivational statement,” he said. The statements were a select group of phrases about how well the athletes would do. “It’s hard to think of negative talk when someone is standing above you doing this.”

The UNLV researchers found that doing this would increase the runners’ speed. 

“We mixed them up with instructions, ‘Run with your hands nice and loose,” and then five seconds later, ‘You look slim and mean and will destroy today.’”

That increased their speed even more.

“The motivational statements lower their anxiety, prepare them and help them focus on what they’re going to do,” Donohue said.
Sometimes, the researchers gave the athletes headphones that allowed them to listen to the phrases, and that also increased their speed.

The researchers also categorized the motivational statements to determine which ones worked best for different athletes.

They’d ask the coach which instructions would best benefit certain athletes. For example, the athlete might be told that she needs to breathe more from her diaphragm when running. 

“Some responded best to aggressive statements like ‘I’m going to dominate.’ Others would be motivated by spiritual statements like ‘I’ve been blessed,’” said Donohue.

UNLV researchers also identified which statements teammates thought would be helpful to specific athletes. They then compared them to the statement the athletes said they preferred. The researchers found that teammates didn’t always know which statements would be best for their team mates.

That part of the study showed that team mates, coaches and parents weren’t necessarily communicating the kinds of ideas that worked for athletes.

Not only did the researchers learn that motivational phrases help runners perform better. They discovered that when it comes to motivational phrases, there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all for athletes.

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