Hypnosis in Sport

Traditionally a variety of psychological skills are employed by sports psychologists to enhance performance. These include: imagery; attentional focusing activities; arousal regulation; and goal setting. In general imagery, visualization, mental practice and mental rehearsal are terms that have been interchangeable within published literature. These terms refer to cognitively creating or re-creating new or past experiences to enhance confidence, preparedness or skill acquisition. Attentional focus incorporates activities (such as self-talk, thought stopping, and routines) that are concerned with altering thoughts to stay focused on the present activity and to avoid disruption from distractions. Arousal regulation comprises of actions, involving relaxation or energizing, aimed at achieving optimal performance levels. It is recognised that each athlete has their own optimal arousal level at which they have the best opportunity to perform at their peak. Finally goal setting is associated with the establishment of specific and measurable targets, which enable a structured approach to the achievement of long term objectives.

Despite the increased use of hypnosis in many health and wellbeing settings, there is still a very limited use in relation to performance development and particularly in sport settings. At the competitive end athletes are at similar levels of technical ability and physiological training and as such success and failure are often separated by minute differences; with many suggesting that the difference between success and failure is psychological. To enhance the psychological skills of athletes’ practitioners will regularly encourage them to utilise guided imagery and relaxation techniques. These techniques are the core elements of hypnosis, which encourages the question “why would athletes not use hypnosis to achieve quicker and better results than traditional sports psychology techniques?”

Hypnosis is not banned or regulated by any sports committee or organising body, and has reportedly been successfully utilised by a wide range of athletes to enhance their performance. Research led by Jaime Baker in the UK has noted that hypnosis can benefit athletes by enhancing self-confidence through the use of positive imagery, self-talk and feedback. Using hypnosis allows performers to be guided through a process of creating mental models to enhance self-belief and ability and / or replicating past performances. Baker et al. (2013) suggest hypnosis to be a time-efficient and highly facilitative technique to increase self-efficacy leading to increases in performance potential.
Using hypnosis as a tool for enhancing sports performance is no longer just supported by anecdotal reports, rather there is now an expanding amount of scientifically critiqued research to strengthen this approach.

Authors Sport Findings
Barker & Jones (2006) Cricket Improved composure
Barker & Jones (2008) Soccer Self-reported improved confidence
Heyman (1987) Boxing Did not improve in-fight performance
Lindsay, Maynard & Thomas (2005) Cycling Improved race performance in 1 of 3
Pates (2013) Golf Improved stroke average
Pates, Cummings & Maynard (2002) Basketball Improved 3-point shooting accuracy
Pates & Maynard (2000) Golf Improved chipping accuracy
Pates, Maynard & Westbury (2001) Basketball Improved jump shot and set-shot accuracy
Pates, Oliver & Maynard (2001) Golf Improved putting accuracy
Pates & Palmi (2002) Badminton Improved short serve accuracy
Robazza & Bortoli (1995) Archery Improved shooting accuracy

There are clear benefits of using hypnosis. The key is individually designed hypnotic training for athletes, based on their particular needs. A training plan may be formulated by determining which, of ten, overall strategies are needed with the individual athlete:
  1. Enhance sensory awareness and muscle control
  2. Increase concentration, control internal dialogue, and decrease awareness of unimportant external stimuli
  3. Control anxiety, anger and emotions
  4. Enhance motivation and enthusiasm
  5. Increase energy, feelings of invigoration, and endurance
  6. Enhance performance skill
  7. Increase self-esteem, confidence, and self-efficacy
  8. Control perception of time and focus on the present experience
  9. Resolution of unconscious blocks or conflicts
  10. Management of discomfort
Under these ten strategies we may identify the specific hypnotic techniques that will allow us to accomplish our goals, such as imagining an ideal model, mental rehearsal, use of end result imagery, progressive relaxation, direct suggestions, symbolic imagery techniques, ego strengthening methods and positive internal dialogue.

Click on the links to read more of the research or to find out how hypnosis works in more detail.