SPOTLIGHT ON HYPNOSIS: Sports Performance Enhancement
By Jimmy Eldred Quast
You have heard the old expression, “Seeing is believing.” Well, for some years now, many of our athletes have been taught that believing is seeing. To believe something is to imagine it clearly in one’s mind and to accept it as being possible in the external world. When this idea is applied to sports performance, as well as many other fields of endeavor, it simply means you can only DO something if you can first clearly IMAGINE doing it. If an athlete wishes to set a new world record, there is obviously no way to preview that event because the new record has not yet been achieved. In such a case, imagination is a powerful and highly respected tool. Some examples will be useful.
Susan Clements is a former national women’s skydiving champion. She credits her mastery of her sport to a single technique -- the use of mental imagery. To succeed as a competitive skydiver, one must have lots of time and financial backing. You must pay for a lot of airplane trips into the sky so you can jump out and have a very brief few moments to experiment with different maneuvers and skills. Susan was able to perfect her moves, and create new ones, on a budget. And clearly she took her training to a level that none of her competition could match. Obviously, in order to do this, Susan had to first be a very experienced skydiver, which she was. However most of her training for competition took place on the ground, in a relaxed position, with her eyes closed. She would simply imagine performing various maneuvers, and if it didn’t feel like it was working, she didn’t have to wait to reach the ground and get into another airplane with a fresh parachute. She could just mentally stop the action, pause for a moment to collect her thoughts, and jump again - and again until the particular moves felt smooth and easy. Then she would really get into an aircraft and try the routine out for real. Most of the time it worked smoothly the first try. This concept is well understood today by nearly all professional and serious amateur athletes. Our imaginations can train our bodies to do new things just as effectively as physical training can. The fact that I am writing about this phenomenon should already be a tip-off that this is yet another example of hypnosis, or in this particular case, self-hypnosis.
In another example, a scientific study was performed on a high school basketball team. The team was divided into three equal groups. The first group was required to practice free throws for a specified amount of time each day for 20 consecutive days. The second group would shoot free throws on day 1 and day 20, but on all the in between days they were to have nothing to do with basketball. The third group also shot free throws on day 1 and day 20, but in between they were to meet in a quiet classroom where they were coached to relax into an alpha state and to vividly imagine shooting free throws for the same length of time that group one was actually practicing free throws in the gym.
On day 1, each team member was tested and had their accuracy recorded as they shot free throws.
On day 20, everyone was tested again. The first group had increased their free throw accuracy an average of 24%. The second group, really the test group, did not improve at all which is just what you might expect. The third group increased 23%, which was, in statistical terms, insignificantly different from the first group‘s improvement.
This is just a normal aspect of human functioning. When one relaxes significantly (hypnotic state) and vividly imagines practicing some physical skill, the skill will be mastered just as quickly as if the person were actually doing the thing physically. The textbook version of this statement is as follows: “The central nervous system cannot differentiate between reality and a vividly imagined version of it.”
Sometimes an athlete will have some quirk or problem with their personal performance that their regular coaches are unable to overcome. Hypnosis can be very useful in this situation as well. I will give an example that I treated a few years ago. A golfer came to me complaining of a problem with his swing. His vision would shut off just as the club approached the ball. The problem did not occur while putting, but only during a full swing of a golf club. He was actually wincing during his swing, and despite all attempts, could not control it. I used several hypnosis techniques to determine the basis for the wincing. We discovered that the energetic swinging of a golf club symbolized violence to the golfers subconscious mind. We were unable to determine whether or not the subconscious association with violence had any real basis in the past, but I was able to use the information about violence to formulate effective imagery. Subsequently a recording was made of the actual hypnosis portion of the client’s session for him to take home and listen to every day. Each time he used it, the recording first induced a state of moderate hypnosis and then facilitated him to vividly imagine practicing his NEW PEACEFUL AND SMOOTH golf swing.
The wincing stopped and the client’s golf score immediately improved.
Note: hypnosis for medical issues may require a physician’s referral.