Tweaking the performance: how sports science/hypnosis/NLP makes the difference

I was always fascinated with how therapeutic techniques could be used to help manage and fine-tune a ‘performance’, whether this was in the arts or sports arena.  On completing my various counselling, hypnotherapy and NLP courses, I felt well equipped to channel these ideas and resources into working with individuals in order to enhance their capacity on stage or in their particular athletic arena.  As I worked sporadically with people in drama or sports, I took it upon myself to specialise further and in recent years was awarded qualifications in Sports NLP Coaching (much of which overlaps with conventional sports science/psychology) and Sports Hypnosis.  Being an avid sports fan, I am continually drawn towards the psychology of the game, whether it’s watching a cricketer low on confidence enmeshed in a bad run of form, a footballer or even a team overawed on the big stage, a golfer losing his swing accuracy, or a tennis player unable to clamber to the finishing line.

I now feel excited sportsimagethat my resources across sports science, hypnosis, psychology and NLP, are ready to be integrated into a model that can manage just some of the problems outlined above.  A few months ago, I did see a young amateur sportsman (aspiring footballer), who was clearly talented and had been scouted, and maybe had started to feel both persuaded and pressurised by his own potential and success.   He was still a teenager and came to see me in a negative state given that he had started freezing on the pitch and his more fluid performances and feelings from a little further back had deserted him.  I agreed to do a block of sessions with JJ (who I will now refer to him as) in order to endeavour to challenge this.  Initially, we thought about the specific goals that he wished to work towards during our sessions using hypnosis. Following much discussion between the two of us, we established the following goals:

–          To be more confident on the pitch (both ‘on’ and ‘off’ the ball)

–          To be more clinical in front of goal

–          To enjoy the game as he had done previously

Before finalising these ‘goals’, I wanted JJ to create an ideal, so  I asked him to give me one or two useful ideal  pictures he had in mind (e.g. scoring a winning goal in a FA cup final).  With the future ‘ideals’ collected, I also asked for the two or three recent difficult memories on the pitch which we would use in the course of our work (e.g. a very poor performance where he missed a penalty).  Finally, I asked for two or three ‘great’ memories (e.g. one from early childhood where he was happy and skilful, another when he first got ‘realised’ as being great, and then his greatest performance on a pitch).

So what did I do?  At first, I wanted to teach JJ hypnosis and offer him the experience so that he would be able to use it independently.  Initially, I would introduce him to hypnosis and provide him with an idea of what was involved.  Given that hypnosis was quite a new and possibly alien thing for him, I repackaged this as ‘focused relaxation’ or ‘being in the zone’ and think with him how this would be useful before and during a game.  We explored some of the ingredients of his ‘alert hypnosis’ including a ‘safe’ mental space that he could go to in order to remain focused (e.g. a  beautiful meadow), some positive affirmations/words (e.g. I am calm), posthypnotic suggestions and deepeners to enhance his experience

I wanted JJ to experience a hypnotic state during this first session so I’d make sure I’d introduce him to both abdominal and calm breathing, and discuss the benefits of respiratory control for his performance, as well as incorporating confidence-boosting suggestions.  Whilst exploring what to incorporate into this trance, we would explore ‘cues’ that he would be able to use (both consciously and pre-consciously); these would include useful words that he could repetitively use (e.g. goal, pass), affirmations (e.g. ‘I am a great footballer), a physical cue (e.g. pumping his fist or touching his boot), and an image of his first goal. I’d throw in post-hypnotic suggestions (e.g. every time I walk on the pitch, I am in command) and some reframing of when things have not gone well as being a positive thing..  Following this first session, I’d expect JJ would be able to use self-hypnosis and become both physically and mentally relaxed, be accustomed to entering a calm ‘place’, and to start to experiment with the power of visualisation.

In subsequent sessions, we would set out to enhance the mental representations of the past sporting performances of success, confidence and pleasure, whilst conversely, we would be trying to remove (or greatly diminish) the more difficult and distressing images of recent performances of diminished success/failure, low confidence and low enjoyment. I would be focusing on strengthening his ego.   In sum, we would be both using ‘amnesia’ (the motivated forgetting of a ‘bad’ performance) and ‘hypermnesia’ (the the perfect recall of a past success or am imagined one).  Following this ‘collapsing’ of the negative episodes, I then took JJ forwards in time to an imagined game in the future where everything goes perfectly according to his expectations and aims.  I wanted to embed this ideal into his psyche.
It was apparent that he was feeling better in himself and this had even made him more sure of himself on the pitch, but I felt the work was not complete without doing some regression work wo using hypnosis took him back to the very early experiences in his time line where he would be viewing a younger version of himself in a variety of different positive and useful situations (e.g. first time as a toddler that he kicked a ball, first time he played for a team, first time he scored a goal, his biggest performances in recent memory).  We would then take him forward to one of the more difficult recent memories where things had started to go wrong. I would again get him to view his ‘self’ (dissociated) and view it, before asking if he could ‘associate’ his ‘adult’ (or even ‘child’ self) with this episode, and attempt to find a way of integrating the parts, so that he could find a way of providing that ‘version’ of himself with some positive resources/advice, both from younger JJ and adult JJ, so that he could succeed  We would work through this whole process before I asked him to view the same scene in a new and confident fashion with things going well.  This felt quite a breakthrough and emotionally transformative for him.

Though progress was evident in what JJ was telling me, I felt the work was incomplete until he had a clear challenge to work towards so he could move forwards.   He had a big trial opportunity in a few weeks time and I felt with what we had done, he could channel resources into preparing for this. I would see him every few weeks rather than weekly.  In order to really strengthen our work, I thought it would be great if he could almost create a ‘strategy’ or ‘model’ of everything going well which would contain the finest detail.  He then was able to memorise, use in trance and bring to mind at regular intervals. He had his ‘recipe’ of success which would involve specific choices in how he thought and behaved.  I have just heard from him that he has made positive progress and is feeling ready and confident.