Hypnosis and Sports Performance

The Hypnosis Session

Hypnosis and Sport Performance

If only you could capture and put in a jar that magical ingredient that makes the difference between those days when you're really playing well and those days when you're completely off your game. It would be especially nice to understand those ugly days when you're physically the same, your skills haven't change, but you just can't perform.

Unfortunately, there isn't a great deal of sympathy for the loser. The guy who misses the field goal that could have won the game is a good example. Overheard hundreds of times: "Everyone else played their heart out, and all he had to kick the ball. And it was from a distance he was capable of handling."

When you fail in sports, you're treated as if you missed the kick or the shot because you didn't try hard enough. Obviously there are often legitimate reasons for losing: the opponent was more skilled; you had a physical problem; or your game strategy was poorly designed. For now, let's have the legitimate causes for the coaching staff and focus on the one you personally can do something about. Namely, those times when your training was adequate, and the task was well within your capability, but you don't perform very well.

In all fairness to young people in sport, the biggest reason for breakdowns in their performance stems from lack of training in basic skills. They are still learning the game and need to focus on fundamentals and enjoying the sport. If that's the case, please don't burden them with learning the mental skills before they're ready.

Back to the Point

Are there ways to help ensure performance under pressure? We have seen the great ones perform: they step up and nail the shot; they seen remarkably balanced under pressure. Yes, the ability to find your groove can be learned.

Will hypnosis help? Maybe.

Maybe is a pretty weak answer, especially in the section on Hypnosis and Performance. The problem is that the ability to find your groove is influenced by the mix of messages that float around in your head. Some messages you're aware of, others happen below your consciousness level. The ones you don't notice are the ones that cause slumps. The skills and techniques for controlling your messages are spelled out in detail in an earlier section titled "Finding Your Groove." They are easy to learn and are more effective than you ever thought possible. If you want to improve your performance under pressure, the best suggestion is to study and learn every technique in the "Finding Your Groove" section. The benefits of hypnosis are a bit more indirect.

So where does hypnosis fit in? When you do find your groove, your consciousness has changed. You've slipped down into a state where you're seeing things differently; you feel smooth; you're hearing the right messages in your head. This is shifting consciousness, and shifting conscious levels is what hypnosis is about. Hypnosis can teach you about concentration levels.

Looking at hypnosis in the context of learning a skill: hypnosis is like warm-up exercises; the "Finding Your Groove" techniques are the actual performance skill.

In contexts other than sport, hypnosis can be more useful because the situations are more limited and have a better chance of control. But in sports, with all the distractions, hypnosis is best thought of as a warm-up exercise.

Warming Up

(For an introduction into mild trance states you can refer to the Hypnosis and Creativity session described in the Writers' section.)

Hypnosis is the manipulation of concentration levels. And, in sports, most of the benefit can be achieved by slipping down a couple of concentration levels. Some form of this shifting of concentration you've already experienced. If you've ever spaced out while driving or glazed over during a boring lecture, you know what it's like to slip down a couple of concentration levels. The trick is to be able to do it at will.

Props can help you shift concentration levels, and sports are full of props. There's always a ball, or a stick, or a glove, or your shoes. Some equipment is usually involved with the game.

First Steps

Let's try a few concentration shifts right now.

Find a prop in the area you're in right now. It might be your favorite racket, or a pencil, or the floor under your feet. If you don't have a prop, let something catch your attention, something like the picture on the wall, the clock, or the arm of the chair.

Think back to when you first started looking for the prop. If you didn't bother look for one, remember that also. How were your feet positioned? Flat? Crossed?

Please, take a moment and remember how your feet were positioned.

As you recalled that scene and the position of your feet, you shifted down at least one notch on your concentration scale. There...you've experienced hypnosis. Shifting and changing concentration levels is what hypnosis is about. Try recalling your foot position again. Notice the little blip in your concentration.

Next Steps

Now that you have the ability to shift your concentration level (even though it's only a little bit) let's look at using that ability with the your prop. You can continue to refer back to these steps as you focus on the prop -- the mind is fully capable of handling many things at the same time.

Focus on your prop. You may wish to hold it, or simply look at it. If some sound is pulling your attention more than the prop, let the sound be your prop. For example, you might have picked a pencil as your prop. Once your started trying to concentrate on it, however, the red shirt in the corner kept pulling your attention. Feel free to make the shirt the prop. The idea is not to battle your mind, but to work with it to shift your attention.

Again, take a moment and focus on your prop. Let yourself space out and drift down from full awareness. Notice yourself and your concentration level. You may have settled in a nice, focused state. You might also be bouncing back up to full consciousness.

If you're focused, remain there a moment. Examine the sensation. Appreciate your effort and the state. If you're bouncing, each time you slip down a notch, try to stay a hair longer. It doesn't have to be an extended time. Appreciate the results.

Stay in that state for a few more moments.

When the time is right, begin to bring your awareness back to the room -- fully aware of the sounds, colors, and sensations of being there. Be fully alert, refreshed, and aware. Appreciate your effort.

Even if your shifts were small, you were taking control of your consciousness. Nice work!


It's important to exercise your new skill at controlling your consciousness. Throughout the day look for practice opportunities. Let something catch your attention. Let it pull you down a notch.

Savor your newfound concentration levels. Each time you do this type of exercises, remember to return to full awareness refreshed, alert, and appreciating your good work and the value of this exercise.

Minimum training is to get in at least 4 concentration shifts a day.

Live Environment

When you begin to feel comfortable slipping up and down in you concentration levels, it is time to try focusing in more complex environments. Where you might find it easy to focus in the quiet of the library, moving to a situation with additional distracters will begin to stretch your skill.

Examples of more distracting situations:

  • Low distractions: your office, your bedroom, the bathroom, the library.
  • Medium distractions: a quiet street, an empty store, your living room.
  • High distractions: a full restaurant, a jazz club, the diner table.
  • Super distractions: putting disinfectant on a cut, having your teeth worked on, a bad headache.

Look for these more distracting situations. In the midst of the turmoil, let yourself slip down a level. Notice the difference in your awareness and ability to focus. Use a prop whenever you can, for it's yet another tool in your bag when you become good at letting it help focus you. If you have a favorite prop, you may want to bring it with you.

Favorite props can be useful, especially in new, high-pressure situations. However, if you lose the ability to use other props and adapt to the places where you find yourself, your favorite prop could begin to work against you. (More on this in the up-coming months.)

As you develop your concentration skills, you'll soon look forward to the challenge of focusing in the midst of new and unusual situations.

Congratulations! If you followed these steps, you have learned the basic skill of hypnosis: the ability to shift your concentration level.

Additional Reading

Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D (Volume 2) by Milton H. Erickson, John Grinder, Judith Delozier, Richard Bandler. Metamorphosis Press, 1997. * It is a crime that Milton Erickson's works are going out of print. If you see one of his books, grab it. He is the master of suggestion. It's possible to study his writings for years and still learn something new each time.

The Structure of Magic : A Book About Language and Therapy (Vol I) by Richard Bandler, John Grinder. Science & Behavior Books, 1990. * These guys were the first to untangle what Milton Erickson was really doing. They made it possible for users to move beyond imitation and into customization and adjustments. Even Erickson was impressed with their model of linguistic analysis.

The Structure of Magic : A Book About Communication and Change (Vol II) by Richard Bandler, John Grinder. Science & Behavior Books, 1980. * Once you get a taste of Bandler and Grinder, you'll want to get all their books.

Reframing : Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Transformation of Meaning by Richard Bandler, John Grinder, Connirae Andreas. Real People Press, 1989.

Frogs into Princes : Neuro Linguistic Programming by Richard Bandler, John O. Stevens (Designer), John Grinder. Real People Press, 1981.

Experiencing Erickson : An Introduction to the Man and His Work by Jeffrey Zeig. Brunner/Mazel, 1985.

Hypnotic Realities : The Induction of Clinical Hypnosis and Forms of Indirect Suggestion by Milton H. Erickson. Irvington Pub, 1976.