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The importance of the mind in sporting performance

24 Jul

2012 has already been a great year for sports fans, and it is set to get much better in just a few days with the London 2012 Olympic Games getting underway. The Olympics is a great showcase for sports and athletes across the globe, it pits the best against the best while we mere arm chair athletes watch on with excitement, cheering on our own personal favourites.

Most of the sports in the Olympics though focus very much on the individual. Unlike team games like cricket or rugby, at the Olympics the majority of athletes are out there competing all alone. Being part of a team can be mentally a little easier, allowing you to gain re-assurance and confidence from your team mate’s performance. In many ways, being in the spotlight as part of a team is a lot easier than being out there competing on your own. In many sports such as Athletics, Archery, Tennis and Gymnastics, the athlete is alone with just their own thoughts and performance.

100mFinal

Mental strength and focus is always on display just before the start of the 100m sprint final

Push to improve

Something that is often overlooked when we talk about sporting performance is the importance of the role of the mind in training. This was picked up in the recent BBC documentary series: Faster, Higher, Stronger. Athletes have to be mentally strong and ready to train every day for their event, pushing their limits almost every training session, disciplined in their diet and motivated enough to get up and do it all again the next day. It is this daily grind that is the building blocks of any athlete’s achievements, no matter their sport.

Mental Pressure

Mental pressure for athletes grows the bigger the stage of competition is…

This year at Wimbledon, we saw just how strong Roger Federer is mentally, coming back from 2 sets to love down early on in the tournament and finding his best tennis and performances right when it mattered most, in the semi-finals and final against Britain’s own Andy Murray. Even though many said he would feel the pressure of being in his first Grand Slam final in over 2 years, Roger was able to focus his mind on himself and his performance. It is this mental strength that can make all the difference between winning and coming close.

Mental strength though is not just about self belief, or being able to push your body to train each day. It includes being able to make the right decisions at the right time. The Olympic 1,500m race in 1984 illustrates the importance of the combination of athlete and mental strength. Seb Coe, the reigning Olympic champion, lined up to defend his Olympic title against Steve Ovett (the world record holder) and Steve Cram (Reigning world champion).  His training leading up to the games ensured he had the stamina of a marathon runner and the explosive speed of a sprinter when needed. Physically he was ready to win. However, his mind played a massive role, ensuring that tactically he made the right decisions in the race and he executed the right strategy that would see him retain his Olympic title. This is even more impressive since he ran a poor 800m only a few days before. All of this he was able to achieve under the microscope of the world on the biggest athletic stage there can be.

Seb Coe strikes for Gold in the 1,500m final in LA Olympics, 1984

Seb Coe strikes for Gold in the 1,500m final in LA Olympics, 1984

At the Olympic Games this year, athletes like Usain Bolt will feel the world’s eyes on them as they line up for their own personal events. They must remain mentally strong and mentally focused on delivering the performance of their lives. This can be hard to do, especially when as an individual so much is placed on this one single performance. Many of the athletes would have been training for the past 4 years solidly for the Olympic Games, if not much longer, and to know that all that hard work can be rewarded or for nothing, can be all too much for some.

Techniques to stay mentally strong

Hypnosis in sport can help athletes focus, and increase their concentration levels, blocking out other distractions. That’s going to be important for every single athlete at the London 2012 Olympic Games this summer.

Hypnosis techniques can be used to help improve performance by considering the athletes pre-performance, performance and post performance attitude.

Pre-performance attitude helps athletes train hard and to work hard on their sport, focusing their efforts to get the most from their training regime. Performance attititude ensures a good strong mental attitude during the athletes sporting event. It helps them put into effect all the skills they have learned from all their previous training sessions, and helps the athlete produce their best performances when it matters most. Post performance attitude helps an athlete reflect and learn from their performances, addressing areas that can be improved and remembering areas that went well.

There are also a number of hypnosis approaches that help athletes:

  • The inner game: This is mental practice and includes mental visualisation of what the body is about to do
  • Direct suggestions: This is where the athlete focuses on their best performance to date and remembers that, keeping it in their mind.
  • Staying in the moment: This helps athletes focus on the moment as opposed to being distracted (something that is becomes increasingly important at bigger sporting events)

Positive thinking

As the summer of sport continues, and we sit by and watch the Olympics unfold, keep in mind the pressures they must feel and try to imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes at that moment.  The difference between winning that Gold medal could all come down to mental strength…

Sporting Mind Games

30 Mar

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?

Jonathon Trott

Jonathon Trott is well known for doing his own thing, and not getting distracted

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

Pre-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.

Performance attitude

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.

Hypnosis approaches

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.

Can New Zealand learn from using Sporting hypnosis in the RWC 2011 final?

21 Oct

This weekend sees the Rugby World Cup 2011 Final fast approaching, and no doubt there are a lot of scenarios running through the players’ minds; lots of emotions flying about and, on the day, lots of
adrenaline too. For many, you only ever get one shot at becoming a World Cup winner, so on that one day you need to take control of your emotions, your fears, your hopes, and focus on playing the best you possibly can, bringing your “A” game.

New Zealand Haka - focussing the mind?

New Zealand Haka - focussing the mind?

In many past World Cups, New Zealand have entered as outright favourites, but for whatever reason, they haven’t performed on the big stage, winning the world cup just once back in 1987. So could the New Zealand rugby team gain anything from using hypnosis? The simple answer is yes, and that all sportsmen and women could benefit massively from hypnosis, and many already do.

What can hypnosis do for the sportsman / woman?

Hypnosis in sport is individually designed to meet the need of that athlete no matter what sport they partake in, and at what level.

Here is a list of some of the areas in which hypnosis can help:

  • Increase concentration, control internal dialogue and decrease awareness of unimportant external stimuli
  • Enhance sensory awareness and muscle control
  • Control anxiety, anger and emotionality
  • Enhance motivation and enthusiasm
  • Increase energy levels, feelings of invigoration and endurance
  • Enhance performance skill
  • Increase confidence and self efficacy
  • Control perception of time and focus on the present experience (time contraction or expansion)
  • Resolution of unconscious blocks or conflicts
  • Management of discomfort
  • Muscle memory
  • Deliver mental strength

Many of the areas listed above help rugby players dramatically, increasing their discipline so as to not give away penalties, ensure they focus on their role within the team, to ensure they feel motivated,
enthused and full of invigoration and endurance…

At almost all sporting occasions you will hear the commentators talking about mental strength, mental preparations, attitude and believing that they can win. These are all areas where hypnosis can help.

Hypnosis and the athlete

It is typical for many athletes to come with a negative self fulfilling prophecy, or “worry” about their performance / capabilities. This is a problem at all levels of competition, but once at a professional level, mental attitude plays a massive role in the difference between winning, and losing.

Using hypnosis, performance can be improved by considering:

a)      Pre-performance attitude

b)      Performance attitude

c)       Post performance attitude

Ensuring an athlete’s mental attitude is right before the big game ensures they focus, train hard, avoid nerves and are ready for the big occasion. Mental attitude during the game ensures they focus and play / perform to the best of their abilities, blocking out distractions. Post performance attitude helps identify what went right, areas to focus on and ensures positives are always taken.

Some hypnotherapy approaches

Hypnotherapy is when hypnosis is applied in a therapeutic setting. There are a number of approaches to using hypnotherapy for sporting performance, here we will list just a few of them, illustrating how hypnotherapy can help all round performance, concentration, and ability.

The inner game: This is all about mental practice and attitude, helping to mentally prepare and handle the pressures of the game, the crowd, and even pressures athletes place on themselves.  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.

Direct suggestions to improve performance:   Here the individual focuses on their best performance to date, accessing it in their mind and focusing on how they performed and what it felt like. The positives of this performance are emphasised. Suggestion is also used, suggesting to athletes that what they visualised, should be put into action, for example a runner, running at the same level they visualised.

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.

Suggestions for concentration: 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.

Time distortion: Here the athlete “speeds through” challenging or uncomfortable moments while slowing down positive moments, making them last longer.

Self hypnosis: This can be taught so the athlete can effectively visualise and mentally rehearse their winning performance. This is often seen in action when watching “high jumpers” prepare for an attempt. Self hypnosis can also really help with muscle memory, ensuring your body moves as desired.

Keep in mind…

Hypnosis can really help performance in sport, it can help muscle memory ensuring athletes can repeat specific actions over and over again, it can help improve mental attitude and strength, promote feelings of confidence and endurance, and it can raise concentration levels and remove distractions. All in all, hypnosis can make the difference between winning and losing.