If you follow or play sport, you will have heard on numerous occasions that sport is all in the mind.
Now that spring is here and the summer is fast approaching, our summer sports take centre stage. Sports such as Tennis at Wimbledon, Cricket at Lords, and this year, the Olympics come to town. These are all sporting events that really show up mental strength or mental fragility. How many times at Wimbledon do we see the player with the most confidence or mental toughness winning through a long 5 set match? How many times do we see the batsman who keeps their concentration the best, go on to put together big scores for their cricket team? How many times do we see athletes visualising in their minds their success? S
So how much of sport is really played in the mind? And to what extent can we train our minds to do better at our chosen sport?
How much is in the mind?
The difference at the highest level in sport often comes down to making the right decisions at the right time. Everyone has the necessary skill, the difference is those decisions a sportsman makes under the stress of the situation. Those with the right mindset often make the right decisions based on the situation they find themselves in, those who aren’t quite as focused, or as mentally tough, start to make decisions that could have been better.
In stressful situations, Tennis players start to make rash decisions, they go for shots that simply they shouldn’t have gone for or and don’t have the confidence to play the shot they know they should have. The greats appear to keep making right decisions in these situations – and that is what can determine if they go on to win a Grand Slam like Wimbledon.
Cricket is an interesting sport, especially at Test level. Here you see individual competitions all the time between the batsman and the situation they find themselves in. Often commentators get a feeling for when a wicket will be lost, and this is usually due to the batsman being under some form of extreme pressure. Such as not scoring runs for a while, or needing to score runs quickly if they want to win. It is these situations that more often than not lead to the batsman then making a rash decision and effectively “giving their wicket away”.
So what can a sportsman do to strengthen their mind?
Hypnosis for the sporting mind
Hypnosis in sport is individually designed to meet the need of that athlete and their particular sport, and the situations they may find themselves in. Though hypnosis and techniques are often associated with elite athletes, the fact is these techniques work for any amateur sportsmen too.
Here is a list of some of the areas hypnosis can help a sportsman improve:
- Increased concentration
- Control internal dialogue
- Decrease awareness of unimportant external stimuli
- Enhance sensory awareness and muscle control
- Control anxiety, anger and emotionality
- Enhance motivation and enthusiasm
- Increase energy levels
- Improve feelings of invigoration and endurance
- Enhance performance skill
- Increase confidence and self efficacy
- Control perception of time and focus on the present experience
- Resolution of unconscious blocks or conflicts
- Management of discomfort
- Muscle memory
- Deliver mental strength
Using hypnosis, performance can be improved by considering:
- Pre-performance attitude
- Performance attitude
- Post performance attitude
This helps an athlete train hard, to work hard on their skills and to focus their energy on improvement. In addition, it can address big game nerves, anxieties and remove negative self fulfilling prophecies of failure.
A good strong mental attitude while competiting helps an athlete focus; to get the maximum out of their skills; to put to effect all those hours of training; to block out any distractions and to help make the right decisions at the right time.
Post performance attitude
This is all about reflection and includes identifying what went right; areas you performed well in and areas to focus on. It is important to ensure that no matter the result, positives are always taken away from the competition and things learnt to help improve for next time.
A typical hypnotherapy approach is the inner game. This is all about mental practice and attitude, helping to mentally prepare and handle the pressures of competition. Using this approach, the athlete mentally visualises executing precise motor skills under pressure, at the same time, they visualise a physical experience in their bodies, which strengthens neural patterns. This approach is evident when you want a high jump competitor. You almost always see these athletes going through the motions of what they will do when attempting a jump. You can see them visualising their jump, visualising how that will feel and visualising success.
Direct suggestions to improve performance is an approach where the individual focuses on their best performance to date, accessing it in their mind and focusing on how they performed, and how it felt. The positives of the performance are emphasised. With direct suggestion, a positive state of mind / belief system is established. Athletes are also encouraged to describe in 3 words their best performance; these are then used to “anchor” the positive state so that the athlete can trigger this state as and when they need it.
Staying in the moment is a big thing for athletes, ensuring they focus directly on what’s at hand and block out all forms of distraction. This approach, “Suggestions for concentration” can be seen often when watching test cricket, especially players such as Jonathon Trott for England. He constantly goes through his routines and is unaware of any distractions around him; he uses his routines to stay in the moment and to “re-focus” for every ball he faces.
Keep in mind…
So a lot of sport really is played in the mind, and hypnosis can really help sporting performance. It can help with training, with muscle memory, mental attitude, visualization, concentration and promote feelings of confidence and endurance. Essentially hypnosis can help anyone improve their sporting performances.
Remember at the top levels of sport, the margins between success and failure are so small, and sporting hypnosis could well play the winning part.