Sports hypnosis to improve your sports performance
Sports hypnosis: If you are serious about taking your professional, semi-professional or recreational sports performance to the next level, then you are already investing time and energy into a number of key performance strategies. This can include expert skills coaching, a training schedule to practise and integrate these skills, performance monitoring, achieving and maintaining high levels of fitness, exercise recovery, diet and hydration.
Training your brain or your “mental muscle” to get the best out of your body is another key performance strategy. It will enable you to access your peak performance potential. At the elite level of professional sports, there are few differences between an athlete’s performance skills, physical characteristics and innate talent. What can distinguish a good performer from a competition winner is your state of mind.
Sports hypnosis can help you achieve a strong mental game and a winning mindset by overcoming your own internal limitations. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Dan Luger, Andre Agassi, Nigel Benn, Billie Jean King and Andy Cole are just a few of the elite sports professionals who have used sports hypnosis. It has enabled them to develop key ingredients like focus, confidence and self-belief into their game.
I can appreciate the importance that you give to your sports performance. I bring to your hypnosis treatment sessions a strong personal background in sports participation, sports coaching, and health and fitness. Before qualifying as a hypnotherapist in 1997, I previously played basketball at county level, graduated with a Sports Studies degree, have coached adults and children in various sports and then worked in the health and fitness industry.
Is it sports hypnosis, sports hypnotherapy or sports mind coaching?
Sports hypnosis is the application of hypnosis techniques to improve your sports performance. It’s also a type of hypnotherapy, sports mind coaching, and a branch of sports psychology techniques specific to sports (and athletics) situations in which your psychomotor skills are optimised. In sports psychology journals it is often referred to as “mental training”.
The brief hypnotic treatment process is not unlike dealing other performance problems in hypnotherapy that can affect situations in education, the work place, the performing arts and relationships. In all performance situations you assemble and apply your thoughts, emotions, beliefs and learned skills into a specific task or situation with the intention of maximising your ability. The non-sports hypnotherapy treatment sessions will often follow the same structure and goal as sports hypnosis sessions: to reframe your negative performance issues.
As a Cardiff hypnotherapist, I commonly treat performance-related issues like fear of public speaking, exam and test anxiety, sexual performance issues like erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. These conditions can be affected by performance anxiety, stress, low moods, self doubt, low self esteem, low self confidence, perfectionism etc. Similarly, these are just some of the negative traits that can affect amateur and professional athletes at any stage of your sporting career.
These various terminologies like sports hypnosis that embrace hypnotherapy for athletes all give emphasis to improving your sports performance. With my sports background, I can draw from my own coaching experiences, empathise with your sports situation and give value to what you want to achieve in your specific sport.
What is sports hypnosis?
Hypnosis can be referred to as a state of heightened, focused attention. Positive mental rehearsal or guided imagery in sports hypnosis is one technique that hypnotherapists commonly employ to help sports clients rehearse a desired “mind-body in-action confident performance”. At its best, the technique will give the sportsperson a positive new or renewed kinaesthetic and emotional sensory experience that resets a performance that (for different reasons) has become negative.
The term “hypnosis” may not be used in many of the “mental training” techniques employed by sports psychologists to enhance performance, yet when you engage someone to visualise or mentally rehearse a situation whilst say, being sat, stationary in a chair, the process is almost identical. There is so much more than visualisation that hypnosis can do to enhance an athlete’s performance, however.
Are sportspeople responsive to hypnosis? There are many factors that affect your level of suggestibility e.g. client need (i.e. you have a problem that you are struggling to resolve), expectations about hypnosis, common fears and misconceptions of hypnosis, level of rapport between the hypnotherapist and the client, effective use of suggestions etc.
This hypnosis test and the article that follows it give more details about the hypnotic experience, when hypnosis works and why it works. Many of these points are also reinforced in this article about the role of hypnosis in sport.
In my previous hypnotherapy treatment experience of sportspeople and other clients who perform on stage (dancers, musicians, singers etc.), they have been highly responsive to suggestions and the hypnotherapy treatment. It’s not surprising when those previous clients have been actively involved in using their imagination, emotions and kinaesthetic (bodily) functioning into their performance.
How effective is sports hypnosis?
Elite athletes are more than aware of the power that cognitive, emotional and psychological qualities can have on sports performance. With the growth of hypnotherapy as a therapeutic modality, combined with the search for broader performance-enhancing strategies, hypnosis for athletes is becoming an increasingly popular mind-coaching tool within sports psychology programmes.
Although psychological approaches for sports performance enhancement have been used for over 60 years, studies on the effects of hypnosis on athletic performance are only recently becoming more established. In a study of mental training techniques for professional athletes, it was concluded that hypnosis and biofeedback had a significant positive impact on athletic performance. In another study that examined various complementary and alternative practices using secondary data, hypnosis was identified as one of the practices that benefited athletic performance. Hypnotherapy was also reinforced as a viable treatment method in another study.
In other research on small test groups, hypnosis had a positive impact on golf-chipping performance and “flow states”. One particular study states that it is evident from the review of research and conceptual literature that hypnosis can enhance self-efficacy and improve athletic performance.
Who can it benefit?
Sports hypnosis is beneficial for any level of participation including professional, semi-professional and amateur sportspeople. If you are serious about your sport, have hit a performance block, are feeling the pressure of a commitment or competition, then hypnotherapy could benefit you.
It can also be used to help performance in any sport. There are various ways that sports can be categorised. Below is a list of some of the more common sports that have been helped with hypnosis.
Individual sports: Skiing, archery, athletics (track and field), bodybuilding, bowling, boxing, cycling, darts, diving, fencing, golf, gymnastics, horse riding, martial arts, motor sports, power lifting, running, self-defence, swimming, tennis, skating, snooker, squash, shooting and other target sports, swimming, trampolining, triathlon, weight lifting, etc.
Partner sports: (Any of the above sports that can be partnered), figure skating, volleyball, etc.
Team sports: (Any of the above that can be played in teams), American football, baseball, basketball, cricket, hockey, ice hockey, netball, rowing, rugby (league and union), soccer, etc.
Extreme sports: bobsleigh, BMX, climbing, kayaking, water skiing, motor racing, etc.
Mind sports: Chess, poker, etc.
Any sports not listed above can still benefit from hypnosis.
How can hypnosis help your sports performance?
Hypnosis can improve your concentration
Achieving and maintaining a narrow focus of attention into the task in hand is a key mental skill that sportspeople aim to perfect. Your focus of attention is constantly shifting internally and externally to make the best decision to fit the demands of the situation. However, distractions can come in many forms e.g. worrying about what others might think, intrusive thoughts of self doubt, having flashbacks from past failures with the potential to magnify your mistakes in the present. Hypnosis can help reconnect you with a concentration “trance” to be fully immersed into the moment. The treatment process can also help you reframe and release those nagging distractions that are affecting your focus of attention.
Hypnosis can reconnect you with your “performance zone”
Taking your concentration to the next level is another name for being “in the zone” or achieving a state of “flow”. The performance zone is a state of complete absorption into your activity. Your thoughts and actions are flowing freely with spontaneity and fluency.
There are more tips to help you access your performance zone in this article.
Hypnosis can treat your performance anxiety
Performance anxiety can strike you long before the competition starts. Anticipatory anxiety can overwhelm your build up to the competition causing sleep problems and associated mental and physical fatigue. Feeling the pressure of the Wimbledon Championships last 16 in 2018, Emma Raducanu famously experienced anxiety-related breathing difficulties and withdrew from the competition, before overcoming her nerves in her following US Open Championship title.
Various terms are given to how issues like stress and performance anxiety can affect the performer’s body and associated skills in a specific sport. With anxiety, the body can experience physical tension affecting how the muscles function. Some people refer to it as a type of sports phobia.
It’s common for the muscle groups being used to tense up, “lock”, go into spasm or start shaking, preventing the necessary skilled movement from being completed. For example “dartitis” affects darts players ability to release the darts, “cueitis” affects a snooker player’s ability to follow through with the cue, “trigger freeze” prevents those in shooting sports from squeezing the trigger.
The “yips” is another general term that can affect sports like golf, cricket, archery, bowling, tennis, football and rugby in which you “choke” or panic at the last moment and particularly when performing a “closed skill” like taking a penalty in the sport.
Hypnosis can be used to alleviate the build up of anxiety and the management of your performance skills during your competition. Using visualisation, there is evidence that sports hypnosis can help you to feel calmer and more adapted to stressful competitive situations e.g. when taking penalties.
Alternatively, hypnosis can also create a visualised “virtual reality” for competition anxiety. Simulating the high pressure of competition (e.g. penalties to decide the winner) in practise can be difficult if you aren’t experiencing the same adrenaline rush that you would experience in a cup final. Hypnosis can be used to help you revisit and re-create past stress-evoking situations, drawing attention to the stress sensations within the body. With repetition, the athlete can adapt to the stress response and visualise successful performance in competition with reduced anxiety.
Hypnosis can help you create a winning mindset
You’ve probably heard the phrase “You get what you believe!” Beliefs have a huge impact on how you perform. Your beliefs produce your emotions that direct your actions. When your beliefs are positive, they can energise your behaviour into success. However, your beliefs can be self-limiting without you realising that you are holding yourself back from reaching your potential.
World records continue to be broken because athletes train to the best of their ability and believe that it is possible. During early 1950s, people doubted the ability to run the mile in under four minutes; their mindsets were fixed, until Roger Bannister achieved this feat in 1954. Suddenly, this barrier had opened up people’s beliefs that the four minute mile could be done. Over one hundred people run the sub-four minute mile the following year. The “Bannister effect” is term given to this phenomenon that when one person achieves something, it prompts others to change their mindsets that the achievement is now possible.
You may have self-limiting beliefs that are acting as your personal obstacles e.g. “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not ready for this”, “I failed this in training” etc. Past criticism and doubt from authority figures can be the source of these negative self beliefs. Cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy can help you identify these automated thought patterns and irrational beliefs. Positive affirmations can then be developed to restructure your thinking patterns and help you reframe them into a winning mindset.
Hypnosis can help you control your aggression
Controlled (instrumental) aggression can be tactical in many sports especially where there is contact between players. Within the rules of the game, controlled aggression can be a necessary part of winning. However, some (verbal and physical) aggression can be considered hostile particularly when it is aimed at another person and with the intention of harming them. There are notable examples of acts of hostility such as Zidane’s retaliation towards the Italian defender in 2006 World Cup Final. Hostile aggression is preceded by anger and frustration, and can be inflamed by many factors such as past conditioning, revenge, loyalty to one’s teammates, your biology, social facilitation e.g. crowd incitement and having over-inflated expectations.
Emotional control is a desirable feature in life as it is in sport. If your anger has become a negative feature in your performance, hypnosis can help you deal with your anger and help you to develop a more admirable level of assertiveness.
Hypnosis can help you develop a healthy perfectionism
Perfectionism in your practise can reap good rewards later in your competition. But it’s important to leave that trait on the practise field so that you are free to automate those learned processes when it’s needed. It’s too late to perfect the finer details, reflect on them and over-think them when the demands of the situation are live and relentless; quite simply, during the competition, it’s time to get on with it! Perfectionists struggle to disengage the “practise mindset” from the “competition mindset”.
Perfectionism in the competition can keep you dwelling on your mistakes and missed chances. When you are expecting perfection, you will become more self-critical, give too much attention to your errors and lose confidence. Your “practise mindset” during the competition will hurt you and steal your concentration needed for the demands of the live competition.
Understanding and accepting the differences between these stages is the start of adopting healthy perfectionism. Hypnosis can be used to reframe past criticism from authority figures that is driving your perfectionism. Building your self-esteem will help to convince you that you don’t have to prove them wrong and help you release the fear of what failure might say about you.
Hypnosis can build your self-belief (self efficacy)
Although the mind is a powerful tool, it is vulnerable to variations in performance when training. Confidence in your abilities is an important part of being successful. When there are positive outcomes in the build up to a competition, it can reinforce your self-belief that you will perform well during the competition. However, external issues and a continuous run of poor training days can damage your self-belief. This can create a cycle of self-doubt that adds more pressure into a competition. It can change how you might perform a skill and be stuck in fear of the outcome.
Self belief is considered to be one of the most powerful predictors of successful achievement in sports. When your self-belief has diminished, sports hypnotic suggestions treatment can strengthen your self-belief. Common treatment strategies include accessing your personal or a teammate’s past positive performance states. This will help you change your inner dialogue and help to diminish the effect of poor performances.
Hypnosis can be used for powerful visualisation (mental rehearsal)
The ability to picture and feel your future success can have a powerful affect on your state of mind and your body. Visualisation is frequently used to build an athlete’s self-belief and confidence in performance by imagining your desired future positive achievement. It can also be used to “over-trace” recent dips in performance by retrieving past positive resourceful states of success and paste them into the present.
There is evidence that guided imagery, when combined with physical practise, can be more beneficial to an athlete’s acquisition of skills, than when compared to practise alone, without additional visualisation. Mental rehearsal is described as a process of “passive exercise” that primes the neural pathways and muscles (kinaesthetic sensations) to perfect the minute details of a technique. It can also speed up the rate at which you learn motor skills and be retained in the memory as if the movement has actually occurred.
Combine the physical hard work of training with hypnotic visualisation to give you that additional edge over your competitors.
Hypnosis can boost your motivation
You can hit a motivational slump for so many reasons e.g. training fatigue, boredom, long-term injuries, changes in your lifestyle, a lack of goal achievement, etc. As your desire and determination weakens, it can damage your training habits, mental preparation, lifestyle issues like diet and sleep patterns, and your relationships. This can cause an even deeper disconnect from your self-belief, who you are and what defines you.
An objective discussion to review your intrinsic and extrinsic goals can be the start of your turnaround, refreshing what you want to accomplish. Suggestions can also be given about how to anchor some fresh motivational triggers to lift your inspiration and pride.
Hypnosis can re-connect you with past emotional motivated periods and paste them into your renewed goal. This can lift your mood, your desire and determination to succeed again.
Hypnosis can reframe your negative self-talk
Your internal dialogue (conversation) says a great deal about how you are performing, your attitude towards yourself, your teammates and competitors; it is integrated with your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Modifying your self-talk can be a useful way to empower yourself, boost your self-belief, stabilise your mind from a bad run of play or let off some frustration “steam”.
Recurrent negative internal dialogue that is self-critical can be damaging to your performance, lowering your self-confidence and motivation. When negative self-talk is the trigger that brings down your performance, hypnotic cognitive restructuring techniques can help you to internalise alternative affirmations to keep your focus in the moment. It can also improve the precision in your fine motor skills.
Hypnosis can teach you self-hypnosis
In my sports hypnosis sessions, I aim to teach you self hypnosis with breathing techniques so that you can apply your learned techniques as part of mental practises when resting, training or competing. Helping you to develop you internal script, self hypnosis can be used for many of the benefits of sports hypnosis listed in this article e.g. with performance anxiety, motivation, self talk, visualisation etc.
Hypnosis can help you maintain good self care habits
Setting up and maintaining good habits are essential for a good quality of life including those for a performing athlete. Habits are automated ways of thinking and behaving. Underpinning the habit is a motive and combined with repetition, the natural expectation of the habit will encourage it to happen without needing to give it too much thought.
Your training and performance habits will be balanced with self care habits like nutrition, hydration, rest and recovery, a good sleeping routine, practising mindfulness exercises etc. These habits will change with the demands of the performance schedule and how the season affects this schedule.
Good habits can turn into bad habits however, particularly at the end of season, following a run of bad performances or after an injury. Comfort eating, drinking excessive alcohol, smoking and skipping training are just some of the bad habits that can take you out of your performance zone. Hypnotherapy can help your self-care routine by reintegrating your good training and lifestyle habits and eliminating the bad from your routine.
Hypnosis can help your emotional recovery from injury, trauma and pain
Following an injury, you will have consulted your medical professionals to diagnose the injury and the best way forward for rehabilitation. Physical and mental recovery is an essential part of your return to competition performance. Athletes can be plagued with emotional setbacks following an injury or trauma. The way that you were injured (e.g. a hard tackle, fall etc.) and the severity of the subsequent physical injury (e.g. muscle rupture, fracture etc.) can leave an emotional scar in your mind. You can then become over-protective of the injured part of your body, withdrawing from tackles or dynamic phases of a complex skill to guard against another injury.
Some injuries can create post traumatic stress with flashbacks and anxiety. This can be particularly common in combat and contact sports. But can also be evident in other non-contact sports in which there was an unexpected trauma e.g. if your pole vault snaps and causes you injury in your fall.
Traumas don’t have to involve injuries though. Some emotional traumas are triggered after you have “choked” under the pressure of competition e.g. by missing a penalty that causes your team to lose and your audience to feel disappointment. The subsequent distress can have a long-lasting effect on the sportsperson’s confidence. Hypnosis can help reframe your lost trust, confidence and self-belief caused by the trauma and subsequent reaction.
Managing pain is another area that hypnosis can benefit. Hypnosis for the treatment of chronic pain (longer than 6 months) is well documented. Pain and suffering is a subjective experience and can be affected by many factors, notably the context of the injury, perceived loss of control, the attention that you give to pain, general anxiety and expectations about how the injury will be in conflict with current lifestyle and future plans. Jurgen Klopp may have inferred this ability to manage pain with reference to the injuries sustained by Daniel Sturridge. Hypnosis can help you reduce pain by analysing the emotional issues that surround it.
Hypnosis can help you get psyched-up
Hypnosis is often considered as a relaxing treatment. Relaxation is part of the treatment process to increase your suggestibility, but is rarely the treatment aim. During your sports training and competitions, there can be moments when under-arousal can be just as limiting as being over-excited or having high anxiety at the other end of the (focused) continuum. Hypnosis can help you develop “regulation arousal” or the desirable “psych-up” (or “psych down”) to empower you to perform with the necessary emotions during precise moments in your sport. Self-hypnosis pre-performance “psych-up” rituals are often used just prior to the start of the competition to be ready, alert and appropriately powered-up. They can be developed in your hypnosis treatment.
Using hypnosis for performance “psych-up” rituals can also serve useful during performance rest periods e.g. in tennis and during your sport dynamic changes of open and closed skills. (Some sports have closed skills in which the same technique is applied in a fixed, predictable and self-paced situation e.g. when diving or when performing a vault in gymnastics. Open skills require decisions to made on the basis of a more externally paced unpredictable situation or position of the opponents e.g. when passing a football in mid-play. Some skills are on the continuum of being open and closed e.g. when teeing off in golf.)
Hypnosis can help you practise overcoming “what if scenarios”
Coming up with ideas to brain storm and solve individual or collective team problems can help you take the heat out of the situation. Having identified and discussed your strategies, you can use the learned self hypnosis (or mindfulness) as exercises to mentally rehearse and visualise strategies to solve problems. Problems can include issues like “what if our best player is sent off?”, “what if we arrive late at the venue?”, “what if we have penalties?” etc.
Hypnosis can help you manage stress
Exercise can be a useful way to alleviate stress, but sometimes external stress can be a trigger that negatively impacts on your training and your sports performance. A stressful life outside of training and competitions can affect concentration, performance and self-belief. It’s important to individualise your hypnosis treatment by working holistically, exploring coping strategies or treating the specific external issues that are affecting you and your performance.
For example, you may be suffering bereavement, feeling guilty about being away from your family, having interpersonal issues with other teammates, have financial worries, worrying about how to cope with a family member being ill etc. Some therapists may disregard offering more obvious practical solutions like assertiveness training, in their pursuit of helping you by using deep and meaningful psychological strategies. It’s important to use pragmatic strategies too.
Sports hypnosis can help you achieve your optimum sports potential
Sports psychologists and trainers often use hypnosis or hypnotherapy but may not label it as such. Listed in this article are the numerous ways that sports hypnosis can help athletes.
As the research evidence continues to grow, many famous athletes continue to benefit by the practice of sports hypnosis. Using hypnosis is not limited by the sports activity, any sport can benefit. Each sports client brings with them personal and situational traits and issues that can be helped in a therapeutic context. Many hypnotic techniques can be applied to suit the individual and the situation. How receptive you are to hypnosis is again individual, but the biggest impact on your treatment progress (not just with hypnosis) will be related to the therapeutic relationship between you and the hypnotherapist.
Sports hypnosis accessibility
Face to face sessions are available in the Cardiff hypnotherapy practice. If you are unable to travel to Cardiff, you can access sports hypnosis online.