Sports Performance and Hypnosis by Shelley Halpern, C.Ht.

You can achieve your full potential by using both your body and your mind. You might have noticed when two athletes have comparable body types and abilities and one excels at kicking a ball past the goal with amazing precision or swim faster, always defeating their competition. Have you ever noticed how a seemingly average athlete can exceed his or her potential while the athlete with more ability never reaches their goal? It is true that physical training is essential but consider how important mental training is as well. You can improve your performance, not by increasing your workouts or resorting to drugs. The most powerful tool you have is the grey matter located between your ears. Your mind is your greatest friend. Working physically and mentally are tools to help you work smarter not harder.

Mental training and imagery can help you achieve your full potential. If you want to get more out of your workouts or if you experience stress or anxiety in competition, learn how to control it and reframe it to your advantage. We all have worry and anxiety but there is a functional and dysfunctional type. There are positive parts of anxiety, the kind that prepares us for competition or when you are learning a new skill or getting “up” for a performance. Eliminate toxic worry! Worrying and stress weakens the athlete physically, spiritually and emotionally. Learn how to redefine the moderate levels of worry and anxiety.

You can learn to be a better athlete by eliminating the “stinkin thinkin,” by allowing your body to do what it was trained to do. Stop over thinking every movement and detail. Don’t become overwhelmed by the moment, your body knows what to do. Start letting go of your analytical, left brain side and allow your right side, the creative, visual side to take over.

In 2002 Johan Hedberg, the goal tender for the Pittsburgh Penguins used hypnosis and imagery to improve the mental side of his game. He was quoted as saying, “I think back on last year and I feel shame. I feel sick, I didn’t just want to work out my body to get rid of it. I wanted to work out my head as well. But Hedberg wasn’t just sick over losing – he was losing his composure.” 1

In an article written by George Smelch in Nine called “Baseball’s Mental Game,” he states that “about one-third of the players interviewed said they visualize before games. Visualization or what many sports psychologists alternatively refer to as imagery or mental rehearsal, is used to create and concentrate on the mental images of a physical act before doing it.”

Jamestown Expos pitcher Mark Larosa learned to visualize from his girlfriend’s father who is a psychiatrist and who uses hypnosis and imagery in his practice: While they are announcing the line-ups, I sit in the corner of the dugout by myself, and breathe deeply and try to relax, and I see myself on the mound going through the motions, delivering the pitch. I don’t see the batter’s face or anything, just my arm action and my ball action. Once I think I have it down, that’s it. It doesn’t take long, just three to five minutes.”

How does imagery work in sports performance? Imagery is seeing something in the back of your mind’s eye (in the back of the eyelids) but it uses sensory recruitment as well. This includes using all of the senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and emotions. By training physically and mentally you will enhance your performance. Words create images and the brain learns through images. There are two hemispheres of the brain, the right and the left side. We use both hemispheres all of the time but often times, one side is dominant. The left side is the logical analytical side. The right side is responsible for imagination and making pictures. By using both hemispheres of the brain you are using all of the mental tools available to the athlete. Imagery allows you to mentally rehearse your athletic performance, enables you to connect with your own inner resources and affects you physiologically. When you are in hypnosis you are in homeostasis, your mind and body are in balance. Your body doesn’t discriminate between real and imagined events. So you are actually practicing and pre-training for your sport, you are rehearsing for your physical activity.

Mental training and imagery allows the athlete to merge the physical and the mental side of the game. If you want to get more out of your workouts, learn to control and conquer your fear and enhance your performance during competition, learn the tools and strategies to help you be the best you can be. The athlete cannot rely solely on physical training. Enhance your sports performance by unlocking your potential and tapping into the body and the mind.

1 Wednesday, August 28, 2002