Sports performance

Written by Becky Banham
Becky Banham
Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Faye Hatch
Last updated 18th March 2024 | Next update due 18th March 2027

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.

Here, we explain more about hypnotherapy for sports performance including some of the techniques involved, and how they can help you to enhance natural ability, promote relaxation, and improve your focus – and 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 achieve and progress in your chosen sport, you need to let go of these limitations. You need to work 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.

Happiful spoke with Cognitive Hypnotherapist Sophie Parker about fixed VS growth mindsets.

A fixed mindset often comes with a lack of self-belief. This poor self-belief can lead to sports performance anxiety. Often referred to as ‘choking’, performance anxiety is where the stress and pressure leads to a decrease in athletic performance.

Performance stress can happen for many reasons. You may feel worried about the pressure of an audience watching you, or you may doubt yourself when facing a tough opponent. The pressure that you put on yourself, and your worries about how others see you, can have a significant impact on how you perform.

Once identified, it can still feel impossible to overcome a fixed mindset. As our limits manifest in our subconscious, they can feel particularly tricky to tackle. This is where hypnotherapy can help. By helping you to access your subconscious mind, a hypnotherapist can help you to move towards a growth mindset.

What is sports hypnosis?

Sports hypnosis incorporates cognitive and sports science methodologies. It overlaps 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 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 benefit from sports hypnosis just as much as professionals. Perhaps you have committed yourself to a tough physical challenge like a marathon and are worried about completing it. Whatever your reason, if you are looking to improve your physical performance, changing your mindset with the support of hypnotherapy can help. 

Sports hypnotherapy can also be helpful for coaches and managers, too. Relaxation techniques taught through hypnotherapy can help you to learn valuable skills you can use while working with your athletes. 

How can hypnotherapy help with sports performance?

Hypnotherapy can help improve sports performance in a number of different ways. Sports performance hypnosis can help with:

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.

Reinforce self-belief

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 example, hypnosis can help you to maintain or improve good nutrition. If your relationship with food may be negatively impacting your performance, hypnotherapy can help you 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 to achieve sporting success. We need our minds and bodies to be equally well-rested 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.

Mental imagery

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 helpful for athletes who 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 set up mental anchors to trigger that resourceful state again when required.

Recovery from injury

The use of mental imagery and other hypnosis techniques can not only help athletes to perform at their peak during competition. 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.

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