Mind games in sport and how to cope with them

Have you had opponents play mind games on you in sport, trying to defeat you by using mental tactics to put you off your game? And you are wondering how better to cope with it?

Understanding the different types of mind games helps you better able to be aware of them, and awareness is your prime defence against it. Here is all you need to know about the use of mind games in competitive situations to get an edge over your opponent.


The cold shoulder

This works on the premise of how we as people seek recognition from others. The perpetrator simply shows a lack of interest in the other player, no matter how superb they may be. The effect this has on the opponent receiving the cold shoulder is trying harder and harder for recognition and end up playing worse.

Former professional basketball player Bill Russel gives us a classic example of this. While in a restaurant he saw a player who he was competing against the next day, a player he says, “Younger and stronger than I was.”

Russel deliberately sat in full view of him and ignored him the entire time and didn't even look over at him. The next day during the game, his opponent was out to get Russel. As Russel says, “I had him thinking about me instead of his own performance.”

The underlying message the cold shoulder gives is, “You are a nobody” and it works best on young players who are eager to impress.

Cage rattling

Here the psych-out artist constantly taunts their victim, often under the disguise of friendly kidding. For example, “Is that the best you can do?”

The underlying message this gives across is, “You don’t scare me, not even your best can scare me”. The victim who falls for it is caught up trying to prove otherwise, instead of concentrating on their own performance.


This is when one opponent gives 'lessons' to the other. For example, “You didn't flex your knees enough on that last shot.” The underlying message this puts across is, “I am the expert, you're not.” The effect of this is that the victim feels inferior.


The intimidating player tries to impress superiority over the opponent, mostly used in contact sports but it can also be used in non-contact sports. The Wimbledon football team of 1988 was well known for their intimidation tactics through the use of aggression.

Wimbledon would intimidate their opponents so much with their hard-tackling, physical strength, back chatting and overall aggressiveness on and off the pitch. Despite being a small team, they went on to win the FA Cup in 1988.

The effect Wimbledon F.C. and other intimidating players have on their rivals is they feel inferior or even fearful and feel “they don't have a chance against them”.


There are a few methods in which guilt-tripping can be used. One of which is to play “Mr. Nice”, making the opponent like you. Secondly, the guilt tripper can play the victim, pretending to struggle with an injury, for example.

Lastly, the guilt tripper can pretend not to care much about the competition, making the opponent feel bad in case they give them a heavy defeat. The effect all these methods have on the victim is they don't try as hard; they don't want to make them feel bad.


The best examples of distraction techniques come from tennis. The grunting sounds players make with each swing. When the opponent’s attention should be on their own game, diluting it with grunting sounds.

Another method of distraction is making the opponent self-conscious; a simple phrase like “Do you breathe in or out as you serve?” can distract a player from focusing on their own performance.

How can hypnotherapy help?

The subconscious mind is the driving force of our behaviour and emotions, and this is the area of the mind hypnotherapy works with. Hypnotherapy can influence how you want to feel, think and behave in response to opponents attempting mind games on you.

The key thing to remember about mind games, when someone attempts to play mind games on you, what they are truly saying is “I am not good enough to beat you, so I am going to psych you out.” Knowing this alone can give you the confidence and resilience you need against your opponent's mental trickery.

The most effective way to avoid mind games affecting your performance is to not engage in them at all, focusing and feeling secure in your own game.

Could I use these mind games myself?

If it is within the rules of the game, yes, you yourself could employ some of these tactics on your opponent. But remember, any time the mind games become more important to you than the game itself, it will negatively affect your performance. It is far better to communicate with your performance instead of your mouth.

If you feel that you or someone you know may benefit from help to increase their own sporting performance or dealing with sporting mind games, hypnotherapy can support and guide you in improving your sporting performance.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Rochester, Kent, ME1 3EJ
Written by Andrew Laing, Rochester Hypnotherapy Clinic - BSc (Hons), HPD, NCFE
Rochester, Kent, ME1 3EJ

Andrew is a qualified Hypnotherapist who runs Rochester Hypnotherapy Clinic and specializes in Sport and Exercise. I adopt an integrated approach using Hypnotherapy, NLP, TFT, CBT, EMDR, Counselling, and Psychotherapy to help clients with a full range of issues.

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