Hypnotherapy in Sport

Often refered to by sports people as ‘The Mind Game’ sports psychology is now a major component in the competitive athlete’s preparation. This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a series of lectures by Dr Karl Morris (www.Golf-Brain.com) who is a leading expert in the field of sports psychology.

Dr Morris’s approach to helping Golfers, Cricketers and other athletes achieve their best is based on his extensive experience as a professional golfer. He is aware that athletes are interested in only one thing ‘performance’ and that all athletes need evidence. Using simple NLP and Hypnotherapy techniques Dr Morris was able to demonstrate to us that we could all improve our performance essentially providing us (those present at the lectures) with evidence that these techniques work.

 The Four Sporting Types

The first link to NLP is how Dr Morris categorises the different types of athletes. Here they are relating to golfers:

  1. Untrained Swing/Untrained Brain
  2. Trained Swing/Untrained Brain
  3. Untrained Swing/Trained Brain
  4. Trained Swing/Trained Brain

At position one we have the beginner, neither their swing or mind game have been developed. At position two we have a golfer who’s worked on their swing, they have ‘functional technique’ and probably spent some time at the driving range and may have had a few lessons. Position three is the golfer that appears to not be able to hit the ball but still gets around the course in a consistent number of shots. Lastly we have the golfer that has a trained swing and is on top of his or her mind game.

The Four Quadrants to Mastery

Dr Morris then goes on to partition the times where the mind game comes into play:

  1. Before Sport
  2. During Sport
  3. The ‘In Between’
  4. After Sport

 In golf the position three, the ‘in between’ stage is probably most interesting in that this is where the golfer is walking between shots. Just watching golfers physiology between shots is often enough to tell whether they’re having a good game. Dr Morris has a very simple technique for helping golfers work on their ‘in between’ stage – by simply telling them to keep their eyes above the level of the flag. If, for instance, a player has had a bad shot you can often tell this by the fact that they’re looking down at their shoes – by actively changing their physiology they’re changing their mood and thoughts. There is a famous quote that goes:

 “Look up towards the Sun and your shadows will fall behind you.”

Dr Morris quoted Shane Warne who said that the most important change to his game was learning how to control his bodylanguage. By doing this he has managed to create an impressive fear in his oponents as he comes out onto the pitch.

Before Sport

When an athlete goes out to compete they take with them three things: Their Beliefs, Their Expectations and their level of confidence. So, before sport they need to bolster all of these.

Effective Practice: Training both the mind and the body in the practice arena.

For practice to be effective it requires three key elements:

  • Consequence – don’t avoid pressure.
  • More difficult than the game/event itself (stress the system)
  • Be based on Facts NOT Feelings

 One thing that most of us are guilty of is negative self-talk. We’ve all experienced negative thought chains that are triggered by small minor things that go wrong but end up as major catastrophies. The golfer may experience a bad shot which escalates in his mind into “I’m rubbish always rubbish at this hole” and then to “I’m rubbish at putting” then “I’m rubbish at golf!”. This is where it’s important to base practice on facts and not feelings – having a bad shot at a particular hole should educate the golfer to question, constructively, ‘why’ they’re always bad at this hole and how they can build some practice routine around improving this specific area.

Here’s a simple visualization and action exercise for developing a new skill or move:

  1. Think of someone in your sport whom you admire and respect for being an expert in the specific area in which you wish to improve – we’ll call them your model.
  2. Be in the standing position and see, feel and hear your model.
  3. View your model from numerous angels.
  4. See your features on your model.
  5. When you’re ready, step into your image.
  6. Physically make the move or skill.
  7. Step forward to a future time and see, hear and feel yourself making that move or using that skill – see, hear and feel yourself making this move or using this skill in COMPETITION!
  8. Step forward in time again and see yourself making this move or using this skill whilst under pressure.
  9. Now, step backwards in time and bring all that learning with you…

During Sport

Dr Morris explains that there are two twins in sporting disaster and these are: Nervousness and Anger.

What is nervousness?

  • Physiologically it is an increase in heart rate.
  • It is a FEELING

Golfers have all been conditioned to believe in ‘First Tee Nerves’, just as actors have all been conditioned to believe in ‘stage fright’. When Carly Simon stopped performing because she’d developed (learnt) stage fright she described her feelings in detail. When Bruce Springsteen read the description of how Carly Simon felt he exclaimed that those exact same feelings are what enable him to perform and that he absolutely could not perform without them. So, what would it be like if golfers were conditioned to believe in ‘first tee energy’?!

Dr Morris has had great success in helping athletes deal with this nervousness with the Heartmath Solution. This works by concentrating on the body in order to bring the mind to the present time. The athlete practices to become aware of their heart and breathing and how their body feels. Taking a moment to feel how good it is to be alive…

I had an experience at the conference which put this in perspective for me:

Dr Morris requested some volunteers to come up on stage and help him with a demonstration and although I attempted to avoid his gaze he selected me. Now, being on stage is something with which I’ve personally struggled with before and this time was no different. I coped with being in front of 190+ people by playing the fool a little. Dr Morris then got each of us to imagine we two buttons, one on each side of our heads. One button which would switch our attention inwards and one which would switch our attention externally. When I had my attention focussed inwards I was completely aware that my left leg was starting to twitch, my heart was pounding and my palms were sweating. Upon switching to an external focus I was aware of the light in the room and features of the decor I hadn’t noticed before. Once again switching back to an internal focus I was still aware of my heart racing etc. but it was as though I was looking at it from a different perspective – by looking at the crowd of onlookers when externally focussed they were not percieved to be a threat.

Here’s another method for focussing your energy (this is very similar to the NLP Fast Phobia Cure):

  1.  Focus on the feeling of nervousness so that you take your attention away from the story as to why you’re nervous.
  2. Where, in your body, does the feeling start?
  3. Where does the feeling move to?
  4. Take the feeling out
  5. Give the feeling a colour
  6. Ask yourself “Is this feeling useful?”
  7. Take the feeling and throw it away.

 Dealing with Anger

Darren Clarke is famously quoted as saying “My temper has cost me well in excess of five million quid!” and because of our evolutionary learning we all contain a certain level of aggression. This is sometimes referred to as ‘The Caveman Within”.

Dr Morris goes on to explain: It is very difficult, if not impossible, to talk ourselves out of our anger but in just the same way that we could fly into a rage it is possible to ‘fly into a calm’ with the use of symbols.

In your mind, before you play, create a symbol of calm. This can be anything you like and is unique to you. Then simulate anger, imagine and really try to remember every detail of a time when you experienced anger. Then activate (imagine, see, hear & feel) your image of calm.

In a similar way to the NLP Swish technique (see previous article) you can learn to activate a trigger which fires you from one (undesired) state to a more positive (desired) state.

The ‘In Between’

Imperative to the ‘in between’ game is the ability to switch on and off. Sports like Tennis, Snooker and Golf all require bursts of focussed concentration and then the need to switch off.

Dr Morris has found that the analogy of the mind having two channels is a very useful and practicle metaphor:

  • BBC1 is the Outside Broadcast
  • BBC2 is Internal Affairs

 This is a simple ‘picture’ to which Fritz Perls notable quote is apt:

“We need to STOP thinking and come to our Senses!”

Again body language is a very important part of the ‘in between’ game. In order to relax between shots start with your body language – relax your shoulders, open your eyes and take in the scenery. Look for something that you’ve not noticed before. Look up.

If you’re playing a team sport then the dynamics are no different except that you have to be careful not to mirror those on your team who are not displaying a positive physiology. If you’re the team captain for your soccer squad you’re feeling crap because you’ve just missed a goal then be very aware of how your body language is sending signals to the rest of your team.

After Sport

Tiger Woods is quoted as saying:

“The SECRET to the mental game is the ability to INSTANTLY recall past successes and LET GO of failure.”

The basic message here is to make sure that you anchor and enforce any and all successes and don’t anchor the mistakes and failures. Tiger Woods twists his club twice for every successful shot; what do you do?

At the end of your day make a good shot diary and make sure that you re-live at least three of those good shots. Write down, in detail, everything about those three shots. This will help you solidify your memory and create those positive anchors as well as providing that all important EVIDENCE.

Final thoughts:

You create your thoughts

Your thoughts create your intentions

Your intentions create your reality.

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