Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Sports Hypnosis Explained

Sports Hypnosis:

Athletes fail to succeed for two generalised reasons. 1. Their body fails them through injury of fatigue so they cannot continue to perform. 2. Their mind fails them; they lose their head and their performance goes with it.

Bodily injuries are concentrated upon by the world of medical science; a sports person gets injured and they are sent to the very best hospital to be repaired as quickly as possible. But what about mental issues? Years ago athletes had no one to turn to bar their own coaches, who were expected to perform the role of all things to all people, often with a severe ignorance toward anything involving issues of the mind. Luckily for the modern day athlete there are now several professions created to cater specifically for that very need, one of which being the sports hypnotherapist.

As documented in earlier posts hypnosis works by opening the mind, making it more suggestible to new ideas and then implanting new positive ideas within it in order to bring about positive changes to behaviour or mood. This can be applied to numerous different cases and profiles, and sports performance is just one of them.

Maybe you are reading this article and have followed sport enough to know examples of famous athletes losing their form suddenly for no reason other than psychological problems, Tiger Woods springs to mind immediately, or maybe you have experienced yourself what can go wrong in the sport setting when you mind just isn’t right. How hard can it be to keep exercising or going to the gym when you feel demotivated and without energy? How easy is it just to give up and go home to lounge in front of the television? I played competitive sports myself for many years and I know first-hand how important both confidence and motivation are to achieving and maintaining optimum performance levels, without them you can expect to achieve nothing, either in competition or on a personal level.  

For whatever reason it might be, if you mind is not completely focused on the task in hand then that task will not be completed either efficiently or to a high standard. Athletes speak frequently about the importance of being in ‘the zone’ during performance; where somehow time becomes lost, your body moves automatically or without conscious effort as focus is narrowed in toward a goal. Hypnosis is a means by which you can train your mind to be in this zone and block out the factors that might sway your mind away from it, thus being a very powerful tool towards achievement.

Regularly practiced hypnosis by itself reduces stress and anxiety allowing both your body and mind to rest more comfortably, conserving energy and facilitating a more restful night’s sleep. So you rest better and sleep better, this means you have more energy in both your mind and body which in turn increases both enthusiasm and motivation to do more. What sports hypnosis does next is to concentrate that natural energy and focus it into achieving your sporting goals.

A sports hypnotherapy session will first relax you into light hypnosis then gradually guide you into a deeper trance state, where your brain operates at a slower frequency and becomes more suggestible. Once in this relaxing state there are many different methods that can be used to incorporate relevant suggestions, tailored to treat the problems being faced. These methods include:

  • Focusing on success, or strategies toward success, for example the ideal technique
  • Overcoming mental blocks, such as associations with failure or making mistakes
  • Reinforcing positive thinking, motivation and self-belief
  • Visualisations, using mental rehearsal
Visualisations are commonly used amongst athletes and can be done alone or guided by a therapist, but it must be understood that using visualisations to aid performance will not work as a one-off practice, but instead as a regular part of an athlete’s routine. Visualising past successes is a good place to start, connecting the mind to what the body did so well before and all the emotions that went with it, then applying that knowledge to future situations and events to mentally rehearse success in advance. In the athletes mind a battle has already been won, they have succeeded even in the most trying circumstances albeit mentally, and are therefore one step ahead of the actual encounter. Such practice can help with ‘big game’ nerves in the same way hypnosis visualisation can be used to conquer a fear of public speaking. Practice makes perfect, even in the mind!

Post-hypnotic suggestions can also be used to great effect in sports. Under hypnosis a clear and focused mind set can be established (‘the zone’) which would then be anchored to some sort of cue, either a word, a thought or a bodily action. ‘Every time you say the word ‘Panther’ out loud, you will become totally focused and in control of your mind and body just as you are now’. Using the trigger word ‘Panther’ in the moments preceding a performance would then transport the individual’s mind into the anchored state of ‘the zone’, leaving them perfectly poised to achieve their optimum performance. This same kind of trigger can be seen when watching professional athletes perform various bodily routines before their own performance, be it a certain stance or pep talk they give themselves under their breath, the routine is a trigger to produce mental clarity to aid their performance level.

Being mentally switched-on can also help the athlete immeasurably in training properly and consistently, as well as living a healthy lifestyle that will come to aid their performance over the long haul of their career. But aside from performance itself hypnosis can also be utilised in different ways to help the athlete. When injury occurs and the sportsperson is undergoing physical therapy to heal their injuries, hypnosis can be used to actually speed up their recovery. Research has shown that regular hypnosis decreases the physical body’s healing time while also managing the stress and anxiety of being unable to perform for long periods of time. It is the belief of hypnotherapists that the subconscious mind can be instructed to focus its energies on healing one particular area of the body instead of spreading it throughout, in turn delivering more of the body’s vital ingredients to the injured area so that it recovers much faster than under normal circumstances. Mentally the mind can suffer from injury also through a lack of confidence in the body part or anxiety that the wound will reoccur, another two frequently occurring problems that can easily be dealt with using hypnosis in the sports setting.

To summarise then, even just scratching the surface of sports hypnosis it is clear the benefits of such practice are numerous, both to the professional performer and the keen enthusiast.  This point has been highlighted in recent years by the ever increasing call for specialised sports psychologists and hypnotherapists to serve equally fully fledged professionals, promising youngsters learning their trade and those just wishing to improve their performance at an amateur level. The results of sports hypnosis speak for themselves, and I certainly feel the more that is understood about the mind and the effect of hypnosis in all areas of human development the greater this need for specialists will become in the future. 

http://www.sportshypnosis.org.uk/ is a good site to visit for more information on sports hypnosis, or email me at healnowtherapy@hotmail.co.uk if you have a question.

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