In recent times, the sporting press have reported on an increasing number of positive applications of hypnosis in sports settings, with the usual sceptism now being replaced with interest and a new respect for this valuable mental tool. These examples are also not limited to relatively unknown athletes – the Beijing Olympics, for example, saw at least two gold medallists attributing some of their success to hypnotherapy (The Age, 2008; SFGate, 2008), and more recently in the UK, Ipswich Town (The Daily Telegraph, 2009) and Swindon Town (Wales Online, 2008) football clubs have employed hypnotherapists to improve their performance. These instances are only a sample of the actual reports from the last 12 months, with karate, MotoGP, rugby, American football, basketball and cycling also making the news (CSH, 2009).
What is perhaps most startling about these examples is that they are public knowledge at all. Sports psychology, while rapidly gaining credibility, is still too often either dismissed as unnecessary, or used as a last resort, and if this established psychological discipline suffers from image problems, then hypnosis has an even tougher battle ahead. Many sportspeople will not admit to having used sports psychology or hypnotherapy for fear of being ridiculed or viewed unfavourably by team mates or coaches, but there is no doubt that the demand for these services is now increasing, as it becomes more acceptable to talk about the mental aspects of sport, and the efficacy of psychological interventions becomes more widely known.
As with clinical hypnotherapy, hypnosis in sport is not an intervention on its own, but rather an additional tool, which can be used to enhance existing sports psychology interventions. A good example would be imagery – in sports psychology, clients are regularly asked to visualise certain situations, whether it be to identify cognitions or to develop mental skills, but using the same techniques under hypnosis is likely to increase the intensity and effectiveness of the visualisation (Liggett, 2000). In addition, Barker and Jones (2005) suggest that hypnosis can be used to improve self-efficacy in performance, and Pates and Maynard’s (2000) research into flow (the zone) in golf found that hypnotic interventions could improve golf performance and enhance the positive feelings associated with golf. There is now an increasing amount of research in this area, enabling practitioners to work from an evidence-based foundation.
So, why isn’t hypnosis used more in sport? Well, it probably is, but it’s not reported because of the stigma that still exists in some areas. In addition, some sports psychologists and coaches are suspicious of hypnosis, perhaps due to a lack of understanding of the process and how it can benefit them and their clients. This does appear to be changing however, and more sports psychologists are adding hypnosis to their toolkit as information becomes more widely available. For hypnotherapists, this tool is obviously already at their disposal, however an understanding of sports psychology is likely to be an added advantage. For those wishing to work in this fascinating and satisfying area, an immersion in the subject is almost certainly a necessity, due to the wide range of problems and sports that will be encountered, and the need to understand and build rapport with the client (Andersen et al, 2004).
This does not mean however, that those wishing to enter this field need to be elite athletes. In fact, Andersen et al (2004) report that experience of participating in high-level sport is not considered a requirement for effectiveness in sports psychology, and most sports psychologists are unlikely to have that level of experience anyway. For hypnotherapists however, an understanding of sports psychology and the demands of specific sports are considered to contribute to effectiveness (Andersen et al, 2004), and it is these areas that would need to be added to their existing clinical knowledge. In addition, due to the misconceptions surrounding hypnosis, the pressure to provide fast and effective interventions is regularly evident, and practitioners are often required to dispel popular myths before being able to commence their consultation.
These challenges however should not put potential sports hypnotists off; if anything it is those very challenges that make sports psychology and hypnotherapy hugely rewarding professions. Combining hypnosis and sports psychology provides the opportunity to build a highly effective skillset into your intervention toolkit, and take you beyond the boundaries of typical sports psychology interventions. One day you will be in a consulting room using hypnosis to help a young gymnast overcome their fear of tumbling, the next day you might find yourself on a golf course, helping a potential champion relax before a putt using self-hypnosis. Whatever presents itself, it’s likely your skills will be stretched to their limit, your creativity in developing interventions challenged, and your ability to work under pressure tested. What can be guaranteed though, is that you will go home with a smile on your face, looking forward to doing something completely different but equally exciting the next day.
Andersen, A., Miles, A., Robinson, P. and Mahoney, C. (2004). Evaluating the athlete’s perception of the sport psychologist’s effectiveness: What should we be assessing? Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 5, pp. 255-277.
Barker, J.B. and Jones, M.V. (2005). Using hypnosis to increase self-efficacy: A case study in elite judo. Sport & Exercise Psychology Review, 1, pp. 36-42.
CSH (2009), Sports Hypnosis in the News, The Centre for Sports Hypnosis,
Liggett, D. R. (2000). Enhancing imagery through hypnosis: a performance aid for athletes. The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 43(2), pp. 149-57.
Pates, J. and Maynard, I. (2000). Effects of hypnosis on flow states and golf performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 91(3 Pt 2), pp. 1057-75.
SFGate (2008), Coach targets mental game in high-pressure sport, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/17/SP0912CI1E.DTL
The Age (2008), Hooker flies to gold medal, http://www.theage.com.au/news/athletics/hooker-raises-the-gold-bar/2008/08/23/1219262545000.html
The Daily Telegraph (2009), Oz hypnotist puts club on winning streak, http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,24940788-5001023,00.html
Wales Online (2008), Malpas has winning influence, http://www.walesonline.co.uk/footballnation/football-columnists/2008/10/24/malpas-has-winning-influence-91466-22108845/
Use of these articles
This article may be reproduced for use on websites and print media, as long as it is used in its entirety, no links to websites are removed, and the following acknowledgement is prominently included:
Produced by The Centre for Sports Hypnosis
Articles used on websites should have a clickable link to www.sportshypnosis.org.uk. Articles used in print and other media should include the website address as above.