Everyone knows that being a successful athlete involves maintaining high levels of physical fitness. However, this is only part of the strategy required for success; sports performance has as much to do with mental ability as it does physical ability.
To many people, this may sound like a strange concept, but thousands of sports people have recognised the power of their mental state having a positive effect on their sports performance.
In a similar vein to sports psychology, hypnotherapy has been used for many years to help professional athletes enhance their natural ability, through therapeutic and performance-enhancing functions. The theory behind sports hypnosis is that relaxation is key to improved sporting performance. Athletes may perform better if they are able to relax during practice and competition, in order to focus on the task at hand.
On this page, we will explore hypnotherapy for sports performance in more detail, including some of the techniques involved and how it can help you improve your game.
Achieve a winning mindset
People often believe they can only run a certain distance or can only lift so much weight, so, once they reach this target, they stop. This can be referred to as a fixed mindset. But, in order for you to really achieve and progress in your chosen sport, you need to let go of these limitations. You need to aspire towards a winning frame of mind or a ‘growth mindset’.
This is how a sprinter breaks their personal best - they haven’t necessarily become fitter or stronger since setting their previous record, it’s their attitude that has changed. Something in their mind has switched, allowing them to believe they can better it.
To consistently win at sport, one needs to have a tremendous desire to win and to believe one is worthy of winning. Both of these qualities are mental qualities, and it's important to realise that winning starts in the mind. All the exercise in the world won’t give you the motivation you need to win.
- Read ‘Hypnotherapy for sport improvement’.
The following video explores the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset:
A fixed mindset is often accompanied by a lack of self-belief, which can lead to sports performance anxiety. Often referred to as ‘choking’, performance anxiety is where the stress and pressure that comes with competitive sports leads to a decrease in athletic performance.
This stress can arise for many reasons, from the pressure of having an audience watch to feelings of self-doubt when faced with a tough opponent. The immense pressure to achieve - and the worries about failing not only yourself but everyone who has supported you - can severely impact performance.
For many people, it can feel impossible to overcome a fixed mindset, since these limitations manifest in our subconscious. This is where hypnotherapy can provide a helping hand, accessing your subconscious mind and helping you to move towards a growth mindset.
What is sports hypnosis?
Sports hypnosis incorporates cognitive and sports science methodologies, overlapping with areas such as biomechanics, nutrition, physiology and sports psychology to help athletes overcome self-doubt and perform to the highest level.
The relaxation techniques incorporated in hypnosis may also help to control anxiety and manage stress.
Who is sports hypnosis for?
Sports hypnosis can be extremely beneficial for individual athletes as well as sports teams. It’s not only professional athletes that can benefit, though.
Amateur sportspeople can come across a vast amount of pressure and can benefit from sports hypnosis just as much as professionals. Perhaps you have committed yourself to a tough physical challenge and are worried about completing it. Whatever your reason, if you are looking to make a change to your mindset in order to improve your physical performance, hypnotherapy could benefit you.
Sports hypnosis can be helpful for coaches and managers, too. The techniques hypnotherapy will teach you are invaluable skills to pass on to your athletes.
How can hypnotherapy help with sports performance?
Below we will explore some of the key techniques for success that can be learnt from sports hypnosis.
Focus on success and strategy
You might be highly confident in your ability to perform but feel that something is still missing. Some athletes describe this as a ‘winning edge’ or being in the ‘zone’ - basically, being highly focused and driven in that all important moment.
Successful athletes are often able to control their state of mind so they have a psychological advantage, which prevents them from underperforming or giving in to their nerves. This means they can become totally absorbed in what they are doing, barely noticing outside distractions when performing at their best.
Hypnosis can often help individuals access the ‘zone’ and engage an athlete’s mind in a positive way to help them focus on their goals and achieve them.
Being able to control negative thoughts and emotions is the basis of sports psychology. Hypnotherapy can help to remove negative thoughts or beliefs from your subconscious mind, replacing these with feelings of confidence and self-belief.
Now when I feel anxious I think back to that place in my mind and find strength from there somehow. I'm not really sure how it works but I have felt differently since having my hypnotherapy session.
- Read Sandra’s story of how hypnotherapy helped her to feel more confident.
Maintain healthy habits
Hypnotherapy can be very helpful for instilling habits that will have a positive impact on training and performance. For instance, in maintaining good nutrition. If food is a stumbling block in your performance, hypnotherapy can help you to view food as a source of fuel for the body.
Self-care and relaxation are important for all of us to make time for but particularly so if you are putting yourself through rigorous training in order to achieve sporting success. We need our minds and bodies to be equally well-rested in order to perform at our best.
Hypnotherapy is a well-recognised form of relaxation therapy. It can reduce stress chemicals and bring the body back to balance. Regular sessions ease built up pressure and tension, helping you to learn how to look after yourself before, during and after a sporting performance.
Picturing future success in your mind is incredibly important for instilling self-belief and this can be achieved by various hypnotic techniques, such as neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Developing the ability to visualise your successes, almost in a trance-like state, can be really helpful for athletes that may need to perfect their technique in minute detail, for example in diving or gymnastics. This can help athletes to envision themselves practising in slow motion.
Equally, revisiting a previous winning performance in the mind can be helpful. A hypnotherapist can help you to set up mental anchors to trigger that resourceful state again when required.
The individual's state of mind is an essential factor in bringing out his or her best performance. A lot of sports performers spend a great deal of their time focusing on improving their fitness and technical ability and often the mental element is neglected, even at world class level.
- Hypnotherapist Biodun Ogunyemi (ANLP, BNLP, SNLP, C.H, Dip.Hyp) discusses how hypnosis for sports affects the mind.
Recovery from injury
The use of mental imagery and other hypnosis techniques can not only help athletes to perform at their peak during competition but it can also aid in recovery from injury.
Sports injuries can often invoke negative feelings, as the process of recovery can be long and frustrating. However, growing research suggests that, by using specific mental skills and maintaining a positive growth mindset, injured athletes can place themselves in a stronger place for recovery.