Monday, January 24, 2011

Negative Self-Talk on the Tennis Court

Watching the Australian Open Tennis Tournament begins to convince me that negative self-talk is not  just an American women's habit.
 Here's what happened. Maria Sharapova, originally from Russia, but now living in the United States, double faulted at one point in a match. The female announcer said something like, "Once Maria double faults, she does it in bunches." At the same time, the viewers see Maria shake her head negatively as she moves to the other side of the court. The male commentator says, " Yeah. It must be hard for her to get that thought out of her head," while the first agrees and asks, "Yeah, how do you do that?" The man doesn't know. Neither does she. The discussion ends.

Although we all know that what goes on in the mind affects all of us in all aspects of life, sports, work, parenting, relationships I had never before noticed how obvious the inner thoughts are to the public eye. So I started watching body language meticulously. Here's what I tentatively hypothesized after my brief research.

• Men's body language seems less observable and translatable than women's. Or the men are entirely focused on the moment and the match. Stragetic allocation of attention keeps them from thinking negative thoughts or positive thoughts. They only think of next shot, next point.

• However, there are some men, in the minority, who show loud and clear, without words, that their inner critic is beating them up. Andy Roddick seemed to be in that group a few years ago, but has definitely moved into the unscrutable majority. But when you hear him in an interview now, he sounds not so negative about himself as defensive about others' criticism of him. I guess that's better than the NST alternative.

• Many women show their NST clearly. These women also seem to lose early in the tournament. As the quarter finals approach, fewer women look, sound or behave like NSTers. e.g. Kim Clijsters.

• Men and women from different parts of the world seem to be negative self-talkers. I'm relieved to speculate that it's not just Americans. I'm going to keep stricter observation notes through the finals on Sunday and will report.

I'll be interested in your thoughts and observations of golfers, basketball players, co-workers, your kids and friends. Am I just seeing it everywhere even if it isn't?
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