Hypnotherapy and Sporting Performance
Hypnotherapy is particularly efficacious for assisting athletes in building confidence, overcoming poor past performances, and visualising new or complicated techniques. Hypnotherapy is now widely used in sports to help both professional and amateur sportsmen and women with competition nerves, mental blocks, overcoming slumps in performance, building confidence, improving focus & concentration and also returning from injury.
Hypnosis has been used in sport for over 50 years now, often under different names such as mental or autogenic training. In his book, ‘Hypnosport', Les Cunningham describes how in the 1978/79 tour of Australia, England cricket captain, Mike Brearley consulted a medical Hypnotherapist and also how at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the Russian team brought 11 hypnotists with them. Hypnotherapy has recently seen a renewed interest from both the research community and sports participants. More recently, a number of high profile sportspeople have been known to use hypnosis, including ASP Tour surfer Russell Winter, and Beijing Olympic champions Vince Hancock (Olympic Skeet) and Steve Hooker (Pole Vault).
Most coaches will at some point introduce visualisation to their athletes. Visualisation involves the athlete seeing and experiencing success in their mind, often they are asked to imagine doing something - typically something related to his or her performance, style, start, finish or the like. The results from this will very much depend on whether the person doing the visualisation is a visual person or not - in other words can they actually see themselves performing or not. A ‘visual’ person will easily be able to close their eyes and actually see themselves performing the task successfully. But, there are many who find it difficult to actually see the image in their minds eye, and they might find it easier to sense or feel a particular situation. Unfortunately the inability to 'see' themselves makes it more difficult for the person to achieve the desired result with straightforward visualization. It may prove more beneficial for these people to rather imagine another person doing the tasks - this sometimes helps as it dissociates the individual yet allows the mind to observe correct performance, style, etc. However this is not ideal because as a result it will require tremendous effort to maintain concentration during visualization.
Taking this to the next level and introducing a Hypnotherapist will achieve far greater results, as the therapist can help the athlete achieve a state of hypnosis and thus a state of higher awareness, thereby enabling far greater concentration and also improving their ability to visualize or immerse themselves in the imaginary experience. Hypnotherapy enables people to use any and all of the best methods of actualising their natural potential. Under hypnosis a person would be able to better 'see, hear and feel’ themselves performing the tasks with the advantage of the correct expected result being placed into the subconscious where it would form part of the individuals 'programming'.
Let us take hypnosis and apply it to a track or field athlete for example and we can see the benefits that can be obtained. A Javelin thrower instinctively knows when the throw is a good throw as it just 'feels right' - so how do we get the athlete to perform like that most of the time instead of some of the time. Coaches will have the athlete practice and practice; correcting style, posture and technique along the way. Hopefully with feedback from the athlete on how it felt especially when the throw was a good one. Then asking the athlete to try and repeat the 'good throw' feeling on the next throw and have them try and remember that feeling so that it could be produced again in the future. Through hypnosis an athlete can be taken back to that good throw and all the elements of the throw replayed in the subconscious, this would entrench the feeling in the mind. The athlete would also be given the required suggestions so that during practice and competitions it would be far easier to produce good throws.
Following on from this any underlying doubts the athlete may have of reproducing 'good throws' repeatedly could be removed. It is known that self-doubt is one of the contributors to poor performance on the day of an event - even when everything else is done correctly, personal doubt can foil the best athlete. Remember imagination is very powerful and can override logic reason!
Similarly self doubt or negative thoughts can bring about an injury or cramp just at the crucial moment. Take for instance a couple of competitive ballroom dancers. During a major competition this particular couple are competing with other top dancers and have the ability to perform exceptionally well. They have put in months and months of training, their technique is excellent they look really good on the dance floor; in fact they could easily place in the top three, except the man does not believe that he is capable of even getting to the final. He doubts his ability, in fact he is not really a confident person deep down and although he portrays being confident and assured in actuality merely a veneer. During the early rounds there are no problems and they sail through with ease looking like podium finishers. However during the semi-final he starts to feel cramp in his calf which forces him to pull out of the competition. Then during another competition, he needs to pull out again due to cramp. Remember that he is good enough to get through the early stages easily however it is only once he reaches the semi-finals that he needs to pull out due to cramp. The coach cannot understand why this dancer always gets cramp in the semi-final. It seems to make no sense as the couple are both supremely fit and they train for hours on end with no problems whatsoever. So what could it be that is causing the problem?
Let us call our male dancer Mark. Mark we have said is not a confident person deep down and more importantly does not believe that he is good enough. Mark's subconscious has been programmed with this belief and this manifests itself in a way to compound the belief hence the cramp. Now this in turn feeds the belief so that Mark now has self-doubt about ever reaching a final. All their fellow competitors give encouragement and tell them how good they are and that if it not for the cramps they would definitely be in the final with a chance at a top three finish. Subconsciously Mark does not believe this and so the cycle continues. However Mark’s dance partner believes their coach and other competitors and puts more pressure on Mark, adding more stress. Left to continue they would eventually split up and never reach their true potential.
Through hypnosis two approaches could be taken. One approach could be to address the cramp by programming the subconscious to relax the cramping muscle as soon as it starts to tighten, thereby avoiding the cramp and allowing them to continue. This might work well for the competitions, however depending on the process; it could possibly result in the belief manifesting itself in other ways. If after the hypnotherapy sessions Mark and his partner went into a competition and placed in the top three this may give such a boost and help to change that old belief into a new belief, a more positive belief that they will win and that Mark is great at dancing. This would be fine for Mark as a dancer but it would not thoroughly address the underlying belief system rooted in a lack of confidence and self worth.
The second approach would be to address the underlying problem thereby removing the self-doubt and reprogramming the subconscious so that moving forward, Mark becomes more confident and believes in himself not only as an athlete but also as a person. Incidentally there would be no harm in using both approaches one after the other, thereby using the improved performances in competitions to reinforce the reprogramming of the subconscious.
Lastly, it is possible that neither of these approaches would work. The human mind is an amazing and complex mechanism and it is always important for a therapist to maintain how each individual case is unique and that there is always a possibility of a secondary gain and/or hidden motive on the part of the subconscious mind. Through further Hypnoanalysis it would be possible to find out the intricacies of Mark’s self sabotaging behaviour and to contact the part of Mark that feels that he should not be ‘allowed’ to win. Often the part of the person that is sabotaging the person just needs to be heard, supported and sponsored. It is almost always possible for the unconscious part to have what he or she wants, in harmony with the complete person.
You do not have to be a champion to use hypnosis to improve your sporting performance. Even simple self-hypnosis techniques can be learnt and perfected by anyone and can be used for Visualisation/Mental imagery and rehearsal of future success, focusing on success and strategy tools to get in the 'zone' when you need to, overcoming mental blocks and barriers and phobias, reinforcing self-belief and motivation and positive thinking.
Having a mental edge is often the difference between great and truly great! Belief success is achieved when the mind TRULY believes and sincerely EXPECTS the imagined result to happen.
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Tara Guthrie-Knight BA(hons), DHP HPD MNCH(Lic)AFSFHMay 16th, 2017