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Is Positive Self Talk Bull****? I Think This Is What Mcdavid And Jordan ACTUALLY Do To Motivate Themselves

Updated: Apr 18

Everyone wants to gain an edge in hockey.

Players search endlessly for new skills, techniques, and workouts to improve their physical game.

I see so many players obsess over getting the perfect mechanics and the perfect workout program.

Don't get me wrong, you have to be good.

But let's think of our hockey career like F1 car racing.

Most players spend so much time working on the car and making it go fast (workouts and skills training for their body) that they forget that they need to also be a great driver

So when players are young, they may get ahead when they are physically way more gifted than everyone else.

But when they get to a higher level and everyone else has equally good physical abilities, they get crushed by players with better IQ, confidence, and ability to get into the flow state!

The main problem I see at almost all levels is that there are so many players out there with F1 cars, but they drive like they have never been on the road before.

They play scared and hesitant.

They are afraid to shoot, afraid to take risks, afraid to be the guy who makes things happen.

The Common Solution...

Traditional sports psychology has always talked about the power of positive thinking, positive self-talk and positive affirmations.

They paint a picture where affirmations and uplifting mantras lead to goals, assists, and saves.

However, beneath the surface of these well-intentioned messages lies an unexpected mistake.

They assume that the player has a deep belief in himself already.

You see, thinking positively works great if you deep down (consciously or subconsciously) believe that the positive things are true.

In a study by the University of Waterloo, they found that "Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, but backfire for the very people who "need" them the most."

"Positive self-statements are widely believed to boost mood and self-esteem, yet their effectiveness has not been demonstrated. We examined the contrary prediction that positive self-statements can be ineffective or even harmful. A survey study confirmed that people often use positive self-statements and believe them to be effective. Two experiments showed that among participants with low self-esteem, those who repeated a positive self-statement ("I'm a lovable person") or who focused on how that statement was true felt worse than those who did not repeat the statement or who focused on how it was both true and not true. Among participants with high self-esteem, those who repeated the statement or focused on how it was true felt better than those who did not, but to a limited degree. Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, but backfire for the very people who "need" them the most." (Wood JV, Perunovic WQ, Lee JW, 2009).

Essentially what this is saying is that if you feel like you really need positive self-affirmations because you do not believe in yourself, then it will likely make you feel worse about yourself.

It's like putting icing on a piece of mud and calling it a cake.


A Different Kind of Motivation

Let me offer you another strategy that often worked for athletes like Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant in basketball.

Imagine skating down the rink, the puck at your stick, and a voice inside whispers, "You can't make this shot."

I bet you might have just gasped and clenched your teeth thinking, "How could he say that!!!" or "How could a mental coach tell me to think anything but magic and happiness about myself!!!"

I say this because as we mentioned above, if you have low self-esteem, positive self-talk will likely make it worse.

And if you have tried the positive self-talk and it didn't work for you, then maybe it's worth trying something else.

So instead of trying to say "You can do this" or "You've got this!"

For someone who has a low self-belief - will just make them feel worst about themselves

Instead when you say. "They don't think you can't do this." or "This goalie thinks he's better than you." or They don't believe you can handle the pressure."

Whenever we do this, we create a mental challenge for ourselves.

There will be another voice that comes in and says: "Watch me." or "F*** you, I've got this!"

And if you are anything like me, the voice will likely say many swear words too haha.

So Why Does This Work?

The short answer is that I don't know for sure.

There is not any solid science that explains this fully.

One study that stood out to me was by C. DeWolfe, and David Scott in 2017.

Negative self-talk, when framed as a challenge, can have a motivational effect. For example, athletes might use statements like "my legs are tired but I can push through it" during endurance tasks, such as cycling, to enhance performance. This type of self-talk, termed "negative-challenging," has been shown to improve performance in the final stages of endurance tasks, suggesting that the context within an endurance task influences the self-talk-performance relationship (DeWolfe & Scott, 2017).

The key here is that the negative must be seen as a challenge.

For some, when challenged, this is the moment where determination ignites.

This is how Michael Jordan was.

If you doubted him, it was like a monster was awoken from his sleep.

He used to search for things that would wake up the monster and get him pissed off.

Often times he would have to bring it out of himself.

I wasn't in his head, but I would be willing to bet money that Michael wasn't shouting positive affirmations to himself when he was barrelling down and slamming the ball down in a rage.

He wasn't saying these things to make himself feel bad.

He was saying these things to challenge himself.

When someone says you can't, you say "F*** you, watch me."

And then you go into a deep flow state.

This internal defiance can supercharge motivation, propelling players to push their limits and prove the doubt wrong.

This works because even the best have doubts and fears.

But that best challenge those doubts and fears, they do not move away from them.

The Pursuit of Perfection

Perfection is a horizon that always moves away as you approach it, and negative self-talk is the compass that keeps some players oriented toward it.

Critiquing one's performance harshly might seem counterintuitive, but for those driven by excellence, it's the fuel that burns the fire of relentless improvement.

It's not about wallowing in self-doubt but about refusing to settle for mediocrity.

Sharpening the Mental Edge

You know the saying: "Pressure makes diamonds."

I fully believe that.

High-pressure moments are not a physical battle - they are a mental one.

That is because we create pressure in our minds. After all, we want to win and succeed so badly.

There is a deeper conversation to be had about letting go of the pressure altogether, but for now, we will focus on a tactic that will work for you in your next game.

For some, a dose of negative self-talk is the psychological slap needed to elevate arousal to peak performance levels.

It's a reminder of what's at stake, focusing the mind with laser precision on the task at hand.

The key is to use this technique when you are not excited or motivated to train or do something important.

I know when I don't want to edit a video or make a piece of value for you guys, I sometimes will say things like "you're just gonna let these players miss out on this stuff?" or "You're just gonna give up today, really?"

Again, that is why I know Michael Jordan and Kobe were intense practice players.

It was because they were constantly creating that internal challenge.

When you have one player who acts like this one the team, it inspires everyone!

Crushing Weaker Teams

I get this question a lot: "I struggle to show up against the weaker teams and find myself not having the motivation to crush the weaker teams in our league."

They find they "can't get up for the less important games".

This happens for many pros in the season games when they have 50-80 more games to go hard.

They think the solution is to say some good things about themselves and repeat positive affirmations.

This has been shown to work for some, but if you have been down that path, instead try challenging yourself with some negative self-talk.

If you are the type of person who plays well against a better team, you know you respond well to challenges.

So create a challenge.

Trash-talk yourself a little.

Say things like:

"You are just gonna let them walk over you."

"Maybe they are better than you."

"Maybe you just are not cut out for this"

This might make some sports psychologists have a heart attack, but remember that uncommon actions get uncommon results.

If you are the type of person who plays well against a better team because they challenge you, then this is the challenge you need right here.

Now you are taking control of your intensity level instead of relying on others to bring it out of you.

If you need others to make you play better, then this is a weakness you need to solve.

A Balancing Act

While the benefits of negative self-talk are nuanced, it's crucial to approach its use with caution.

The line between motivation and self-sabotage is thin, and what fuels one player may extinguish another's spirit.

Athletes and coaches alike need to recognize the individuality of motivation, ensuring that any engagement with negative self-talk is constructive, balanced with positive reinforcement, and aligned with each player's psychological makeup.

In the high-speed, high-stakes world of hockey, negative self-talk, when harnessed correctly, can be a powerful tool in a player's arsenal.

It's about channelling the energy of the self-critique into a force that drives performance, resilience, and ultimately, success.

As we lace up our skates and hit the ice, let's remember that sometimes, the voices that challenge us the most are the ones that lead us to our greatest achievements.

So don't forget about positive thinking, but remember that there are many ways to unlock higher levels of performance in yourself.

See you guys at the next level!

  • Corson


Wood JV, Perunovic WQ, Lee JW. Positive self-statements: power for some, peril for others. Psychol Sci. 2009 Jul;20(7):860-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02370.x. Epub 2009 May 21. PMID: 19493324.

DeWolfe, C., & Scott, D. (2017). Is negative self-talk all that bad? Examining the motivational function of negative self-talk. Journal of Exercise, Movement, and Sport, 49, 75-75.

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Who is Corson Searles?

I am a former player & mental/performance advisor for AAA, junior, college, and pro hockey players. I am obsessed with dissecting atheletic performance potential, lifestyle design, and hockey development.


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