Vincent Hancock is a nervous person, who by his own admission simply cannot keep still.
How does a jittery 19-year-old kid from Georgia keep cool under the intense pressure of an Olympic final when everyone around him is sweating bricks?
That's where Daniel Vitchoff steps in.
"I specialize in hypnosis," said Vitchoff, a performance coach and sports psychologist hired to work with the U.S. shooting team. "When you are shooting in the Olympics, it comes down to who can best perform under extreme pressure. Out there, everybody is as good as the next person. It's not a physical thing anymore. The difference between the best and the rest is the mental game."
Shooters must control their emotions yet still maintain their intensity and concentration. It is especially hard because there is no physical outlet for all the adrenaline that is building. It is a recipe for the yips.
"There are guys who shoot perfect scores in practice and then they fall apart in the competition," Vitchoff said. "It's like having a phobia. It gets into their head and tears them apart. A lot of what I do is teach them to let it go."
That's where the hypnosis comes in. The idea, Vitchoff said, is to put the athletes into a meditative state by lowering their blood pressure and heart rate, sometimes with music. Vitchoff then uses what is essentially the power of suggestion to reinforce positive thoughts. He said he goes over the relaxation techniques repeatedly until his subjects are able to reach what he calls the "zone."
"Look at Michael Jordon. When he played, his tongue was out, his jaw was relaxed. He was in a zone," Vitchoff said.
Another technique is called modeling, in which he takes something the athlete is struggling with and has him or her watch video over and over of that particular thing being done successfully.
"In our business, we always say success has a structure," Vitchoff said. "If you watch success, you can duplicate it."
Eating right and proper exercise are crucial parts of such a regimen, Vitchoff said. For shooters, he recommends more protein - because carbohydrates hype you up and then make you crash - and repetitive exercise like running and biking.
"The stronger your heart, the slower it beats, so if I have to pull the trigger between heartbeats, I want to work on slowing it down," Vitchoff said.
This article appeared on page C - 12 of the San Francisco Chronicle