A Mind / Body Partnership
By Susan K. Stevenson, DCH

Everyone who participates in sports wants the satisfaction of doing their best - and whatever your sport, self-hypnosis can help improve your performance. So we are going to explore how you can put on your "sports thinking cap" to create winning strategies for improving at your favorite sport. Whether your goal is increasing your fitness level, improving your weekend game, or honing your competitive edge, you can boost your "winning" strengths, using self-hypnosis and powerful creative imagery.

You're probably aware that mental training has been a standard feature for amateur, Olympic, and professional athletes and teams around the world for many years. And you can learn to use these same techniques for your own sports improvement. These tools can help you improve your skills, strengths and endurance from wherever you are now to increasingly higher levels of achievement in the future. And, while mental techniques do not replace physical conditioning and good training, they complement and augment whatever training regime you are currently using - they can even provide you with new options and information to power up for maximum efficiency.

Jack Nicklaus, in "Golf My Way" (1974) stated that he believes golf is 90% mental preparation and 10% skill. His preparation for matches has consisted of visualizing drives and problem putts and mentally rehearsing the successful execution of each one. "I never hit a shot, even in practice, without having a very sharp picture of it in my head. First I see the ball where I want it to finish . . . then see the ball going there. I watch its path, shape and even its behavior on landing, then a sort of fade out, and the next scene is of the swing that will turn the previous image into reality." This visualization technique is a form of waking hypnosis.

Self-hypnosis has also proven to be effective in improving basketball free-throw accuracy. In the classic study by Australian psychologist, Alan Richardson, three random groups of basketball players were selected. Each group made a series of free-throws on the first and twentieth day of the study. In the meantime, group one practiced making free-throws for 20 minutes each of the 20 days; group two spent 20 minutes each day imagining making successful free-throws, and group three did no free-throws at all. After 20 days, as would be expected, group one (physically practicing) improved scoring ability by 24%, and group three (no practice) showed no improvement. What was amazing was that group two (mental practice only) improved 23%; physical practice and mental practice proved to be of virtually equal value in improving free-throw scores!

In a similar study, Dr. Vandell, a psychologist, compared two groups of dart throwers in the same way - one group physically practicing and one group mentally practicing - and the results were that both groups improved at essentially the same rate.

While there is no doubt whatsoever that physical training and practice is essential to any sport, the mental component cannot be ignored. Teaming up the powerful mind-body partnership seems obvious, doesn't it? Yet, this partnership is far more than self-confidence or an "I-can-do-it" attitude.

When you think of some of the mechanics or techniques of the psy-che that have been used by coaches to achieve maximum possible performance from their teams, words like autosuggestion, auto-control, ideomotor harmony, and autogenic training may come to mind. All of these mental workouts are rehearsals in the relaxed, focused state known as hypnosis - a key training ingredient for any athlete to maximize his or her personal potential. Since all hypnosis is truly self-hypnosis, the points here are valid whether you are working with a trained hypnotherapist or practicing self-hypnosis on your own. The unconscious (or subconscious if you prefer) mind creates responses in the body according to the images held in the mind - whether or not those images are actual events.

When you hold fearful thoughts, your body responds in very much the same way as if there were a fear-inducing event actually occurring. This phenomenon has been studied and described in great detail in the evaluation of stress - the "fight or flight" response you've heard so much about. Likewise, positive images held in the mind's eye produce beneficial reactions in the body. And this positive response is what we're aiming for in sports enhancement hypnosis.

Here are a few key factors to consider and utilize according to your own goals and preferences. They can help you achieve increasingly higher levels of performance and stamina, to keep your "cool" when circumstances get difficult, and to increase your winning edge in every competition. They are powerful tools in programming and achieving top performance in any sport - an unleashing of the powers locked within.

1. Know your sport and your realistic potential. There is no substitute for basic physical ability, training and practice in any sport. Self-hypnosis will not turn a mediocre athlete into an Olympic champion; nor is it a "magic bullet" that will solve every problem overnight. However, assuming you have the basic abilities, desire, and appropriate coaching and practice schedule, you can use your mental "power tools" to improve perhaps even more than you previously thought possible.

2. Compose positive affirm-ations (self-talk) - use them regularly. These can relate to: Attitude - Every day in every way I'm getting better and better; I have a winning attitude about everything I do.
Skill - I easily and automatically move and respond correctly; Every nerve, muscle and fiber of my being is fine-tuned to win.
Endurance - Every breath I take strengthens my stamina; I am strong, flexible and energized. Stay Focused - Outside distractions only serve to increase my focus on my game; My mind automatically learns from errors and lets go of stress.

3. Practice feeling in control. In your visualizations, see, hear and feel yourself experiencing control by breaking your performance down into tiny, incremental steps and evaluate each step carefully in as much detail about the correct form and activity as possible.

4. Be realistic and insert errors into your visualization - and correct them. This kind of mental rehearsal has been shown to be highly effective. See yourself having trouble and making mistakes at first, then successfully overcoming them.

5. Recall a peak performance. Remember every aspect of your best game and use it to re-activate those same confident feelings. If you are new to the game, imagine an expert, all the details, how would they act, feel, dress?

6. Pick a creative image and word to help you in your workouts and competition. Swimmers might imagine being a swift fish or dolphin, runners might picture a strong wind at their back pushing them faster, riders can imagine being as one with their horse. Mentally repeat the word or phrase that represents this image.

7. Rehearse the winning outcome you desire. Project yourself into the successful completion of the event. Feel the satisfaction of doing your personal best, hear the congratulations from others, see yourself accepting the trophy.

8. Let competition be automatic. You've trained physically, you've practiced mentally - your mind knows the details, so let it handle them for you. Now you can "flow" in the experience being in complete unity with this activity. All your energies are working together for success!

The outstanding benefits of using these techniques are cumulative and build on one another. You can begin to notice improvement very quickly, and, just as your muscles can become accustomed to performing a task and build their strength, your unconscious mind builds up ability with practice. This mental training can provide you with a competitive edge and help you to achieve nearer to your personal best. Along with all the foundations of good nutrition, plenty of sleep and appropriate training - UNLEASH THE POWER OF YOUR MIND to help you achieve more in your favorite sport. Go for it - you can do it!

Susan Stevenson, DCH, is a Doctor of Clinical Hypnotherapy (ABH #7569) in private practice in Huntington Beach and offers private sessions for adults and children, as well as workshops and audio tapes on a variety of life enhancing topics. Call if you wish information on any programs. She can be reached at (714) 841-3494, (800) 797-2960, or by e-mail at StevensonS@aol.com

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