Hypnosis and Sports Performance Anxiety

Imagine all that goes into a great golf shot; how you stand with your feet a certain distance apart, how you pivot your foot, turn your hips, the angle of the club, where you focus your eyes, the length of arm extension and the arc of the swing, and finally the moment the club makes contact with the ball.

It’s the same in any sport. Many variables have to line up for us to achieve excellence.Disappointed-soccer-girl-e1328167532495

We can’t consciously think about all these factors during every moment of play or competition. Our subconscious takes care of most of them for us.

The subconscious mind is where we harbor our automated responses. Hypnosis is the bridge between conditioned mental responses and physiological outcomes. As such, it can affect the success of these outcomes. In all of its automated responses the subconscious mind is the connection between the conditioned mental response and a muscular action and that is what a Sports Hypnotherapist can help with.

So when or how does the mental game deteriorate and an athlete’s past ability change? How does one recognize if there is a problem? Many athletes are able to bounce back and return to previous successful athletic performance after an issue, but some are plagued with problems long-term such as anticipatory anxiety, fears and phobias. The triggers for these can be elusive even to the athlete.

Some of my Sports Hypnosis clients know exactly why they have come to see me; some don’t know where the issues stem from. But they all know they aren’t happy with their performance. They also know that at one time they played their sport well and realize they aren’t playing at the same level or with the same intensity or confidence anymore. A skilled hypnotherapist needs to examine the possibility of past actions the athlete may be bringing forward into current and possible future events.

Athletes may realize themselves or be told that they aren’t making plays they once made. They feel they are “choking” under pressure, are failing to execute important plays, or missing the “goal”. They might be an amateur that has been taken off the first line, or a pro whose status has been downgraded. What is certain is they know they have it in them to be a better.

Often sports performance anticipatory anxiety issues can be evident and often inherently felt. The athlete may or may not know what their triggers are but know that they don’t want to feel what can ultimately manifest as a panic attack the closer they get to the event or time of performance. The athlete may begin the process as far out as the ride home from the last event or as close as seconds before the next event begins.

A hypnotherapist with experience in working with athletes can help with the anticipatory anxiety, first by rooting out how far out from the event the athlete is feeling the anxiety, how it is affecting their play, and work to systematically desensitize and reprogram the subconscious mind. The desired effect is to allow the player to be in control of their mental state throughout the duration of an event.

One of my Sports Hypnotherapy clients was a bowler who presented a perfect example of Anticipatory Anxiety. This athlete does well in practice, but just before tournaments their focus shifts from what has been working to the competitors, the fans and a negative fantasy of how they will look if they shoot poorly. As the player is warming up and the lights are low they feel as though they are peaking and their game is honed. Then they look up and check the time and as each second goes by something occurs to shift their focus and they are no longer in control. Now they can only think about whom they are up against and what their score is going to be; they know something isn’t the same. They are aware of their loss of confidence and their sense of commitment is gone. Predictably these distracting feelings result in a poor performance. Of course the negative feelings are further amplified by the knowledge that they are capable of a better performance “if only they didn’t feel so anxious and distracted”.

Common issues Sports Hypnosis Therapists will encounter that effects an athlete’s performance are fears and phobias; the difference between a fear and a phobia is that a fear is based on an actual event and a phobia is manifested in the mind. A phobia may not be based on something that has actually occurred. It is said that the number one thing people fear is public speaking; death is number five on the list.

Most people are afraid of “messing up”, “not doing well”, or simply “perceive themselves in a negative way”. They may have never been in front of an audience, yet they are so afraid that they won’t even try, and now “public speaking” has become a phobia. Then there are those who have a fear an association from a past negative experience and because of that one instance, that moment, it has instilled a response in the subconscious mind.

Often, athletes try to overcome these feelings of fear and avoid putting themselves into potentially dangerous situations. Sometimes the opposite is true and they force themselves, overcompensate and make themselves go through the motions and take a check on purpose for example, but their play is not the same. After a while, it becomes evident to the player, the coach, or their teammates that they’re not performing with the same level of confidence as before.

Sports anxiety, fears, and phobias, are just as common as issues that surround our everyday lives. Amateurs and pros come across a vast amount of pressure, and can be susceptible as anyone else. It is a Sports Hypnotherapist that can help distinguish between the issues and start a process that can reprogram the subconscious mind, for a desired outcome without the anxiety and fear. Using the above techniques with a seasoned Sports Hypnosis Specialist can help form a new reaction for a successful outcome.

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