In the movie “Let’s Do It Again” (Warner Brothers, 1975), Clyde (Sidney Poitier) hypnotizes emaciated boxer Bootnie Farnsworth (Jimmie Walker, “JJ” on “Good Times”) into believing himself invincible (“Something I picked up in the Army”, says Clyde. Walker becomes a beast – ferocious, he even snarls!). Bootnie destroys the heavy favorite and Clyde and his partner Billy (Bill Cosby) clean up on their bet (that is, until the thugs show up).
Both before and ever since Bootnie’s tranced triumph, sports hypnosis has been producing real life champions. Ken Norton, a 7-1 underdog, trained with hypnosis before beating Muhammed Ali (and breaking Ali’s jaw) in their famous 1973 fight. (Ali began using hypnosis soon after). Tiger Woods, Mary Lou Retton, Rod Carew, Nolan Ryan, George Foreman, Jimmy Connors, Greg Louganis, and Wayne Gretzky stand out among the thousands of pro and amateur athletes who have utilized hypnosis to give themselves that mental edge in their training, their performance, and in winning and setting records. And then there’s Phil Jackson.
Mental performance training may go under a variety of assumed names: “guided meditation”, “guided imagery”, or “relaxation”, but it all comes down to an altered state of focused attention and heightened suggestibility – that is to say, hypnosis. In this altered state of mind the athlete can rehearse her strokes, moves, or routines, learn to control her emotional state, and dissolve the negative thinking and blocks that had been interfering with her giving her all and realizing her full potential.
Here are some of the ways that hypnosis can help you as an athlete:
We all know it when we see it and if you have ever been there, you never forget the feeling:
You move smoothly and easily, balanced and graceful, not consciously thinking about what you are doing or how, but only the result – the ball going through the hoop or into the hole, the arrow into the bull’s eye, your body perfectly poised after the landing, your fist striking the opponent, the ball curving past the outside corner of the plate, that cross-court shot into the corner. Everything is working; it all just happens.
With hypnosis – self-hypnosis, really – you can get into “The Zone” deliberately, not just on random occasions, and perform consistently at a high level.
In your mind’s eye, watch yourself swinging that golf club – the backswing, the hips, swinging smoothly and following through, and the ball as it flies. Watch it in slow motion, adjust every detail so that it is just right, then speed it up to normal. Now mentally step into that body, be that person, seeing with his eyes, feeling the movements of your muscles and your body, swinging the club exactly the way you just did. Practice the swing in this way over and over – 20, 30, 50 times. Then practice with a real club and a real ball. Studies have shown mental rehearsal – visualization – followed by physical practice, to be the best method for perfecting swings, strokes, and other sequences and moves in sports (including skating, diving, gymnastics, dancing, etc.).
Performance Anxiety, State Control, and Peak Performance
Performance anxiety is an individual thing, but in all cases it is learned behavior. Somewhere along the line, you inadvertently picked up a negative emotional response to a certain situation or “triggers”. With hypnosis and, especially, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) you can learn to change your mental state at will, to have different responses to those same situations and triggers.
And while we generally want to promote relaxed states of ease, especially while practicing, for the big game, meet, or performance you want a certain keyed-up, excited, edgy feeling. So that what used to be anxiety becomes transformed into the positive stress of being psyched; taking you beyond what you thought were your limits, to pull off the big upset, to break that record.
I asked one sports client whether it would be useful to him to be able to mentally slow down time, so that he could pay closer attention to the complex movements and positionings he must make in rapid order. His answer was an emphatic “YES!”
How does that basketball player double pump, shift the ball to his other hand, and move it to avoid the block, all during a single second as he glides through the air toward the basket? In a trance state, you can train yourself to do exactly this, so that one second becomes like five, so that you see the ball coming at you as if in slow motion, so that you can easily track and block your opponent’s thrust and strike back.
Carry visualization one step further by modeling another person and transferring their skills to yourself. In your mind, watch Serena Williams as she serves. (You will need to have watched Serena sufficiently with you eyes, in order to do this.) “Watch” her serve over and over again, in slow motion and then at normal speed.
Next, step into and be her – be in that body, seeing with her eyes, moving with her muscles, sweating her sweat. Do it slow, do it fast, memorize how she tosses the ball, what she sees; memorize every aspect of that serve, from the inside. Check to make sure you have it exactly right.
The final step is to become yourself, in your own body – tossing the ball up just so, bending your back, that little jump, extending, and bam! – just like you did as Serena. Do it over and over and over again.