Athletic Potency: Psychology, Skill or Practice?

The road to success is paved with mental agility, skill and practice.

Even though many of us are not in Brazil, we can certainly imagine that we are there, avidly watching the athletes’ skills culminate in gold, silver or bronze. Some of us can even imagine the weight of the round shiny medal as it hangs on the colourful striped ribbon around our necks. The Olympics is an animated display of the human mind’s capabilities, showing us all the manifestation of skill and dedication.

How does a girl who weighs 90 pounds jump on a high beam, do a triple somersault, and land upright on the beam with her hands in the air perfectly poised? How can a man with a skilfully toned physique stand on the edge of a diving board on his toes with his heels hanging of the end, not fall, and then do a backwards flip whilst somersaulting 3 times, only to dive head first into the deep green pool?

It has been a topic of lively discussion, but the evidence shows that the ability to focus the mind using visualisation is the key to success and ultimately, athletic potency.

There have been references made in regards to the use of Hypnotherapy to enhance sports performance going back to 1932. In his book ‘Golf My Way ‘(Nicklaus & Bowden, 1974), Jack Nicklaus describes the power of visualisation as the single most important element in looking to achieve high performance levels.

The body responds to what the mind perceives. Think right now of the smell of an orange being peeled. You smell it, but you will most likely visualise it first. Hypnotherapy uses this very powerful resource in helping people to achieve goals in many ways.

The ‘The Effects of Hypnosis on Flow States and Golf-Putting Performance’ states that “Studies from the sport psychology literature have also indicated imagery has a positive influence on golf performance. [1]

Hypnotherapy can help with unconscious thoughts, sabotage and anxiety about performance and results.

We know that today, Hypnosis is widely recognised and highly recommended and used with Olympic athletes and a variety of professional athletes. Here’s why it helps:

· Enhances sensory awareness and muscle control

· Increases concentration, control internal dialogue, and decrease awareness of unimportant external stimuli.

· Controls anxiety, anger and emotionality

· Enhances motivation and enthusiasm

· Enhances performance skill.

· Resolution of unconscious blocks and conflicts.

· Management of discomfort

· Increases self-esteem, confidence and self-efficacy

· Control perception of time and focus on the present experience time contraction and expansion)[2]

This will include everything from study skills and academic performance, memory retain, and examination panic. [3]

Conventional Therapy may help with underlying beliefs about performance.

Conventional Therapy
Counselling, Psychotherapy and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) have been known to be useful and effective in helping to improve athletic performance, although the process takes much longer. Within a Counselling framework, past experiences and beliefs about your previous performances will be examined. Family history and where you are placed within the family framework is important to determine some aspects of the way you perceive yourself within the sport, a team, or among others. Psychotherapy will be similar, however it can be more anxiety provoking and performance may not be examined in isolation from your entire life.
 
CBT will focus on your thoughts and beliefs about your performance, your behaviour, and what that produces. Any previous experiences may be explored, and your beliefs may be challenged.
 
All ‘inner work’ is useful and it will present the outer work that may need to be changed, such as weight loss or gain, muscle build-up or cardio.
 
A holistic therapist may include the spiritual component, which may include previous past lives and your soul’s journey and life purpose.

Focusing your mind on your goal has been proven to produce positive results.

Dr Laura Miele, an expert in fitness with specific expertise in sports psychology states in Psychology Today that in terms of addressing an athlete’s performance “To combat these powerful effects, coaches and athletes can focus their efforts on tactics such as goal setting, routines, visualization and confidence.” She also states that “Athletes who can visualize themselves having success will be successful. Individuals must battle the inside voice that is telling them they cannot complete their goals. To silence this negative voice, athletes can visualize success and practice self-talk. Positive self-talk goes hand in hand with visualization with the athlete both hearing and seeing success.”[4]
 
Visualisation is a form of hypnosis, where you quieten your thoughts and focus on creatively imagining your goals.

Any therapist, be they physiotherapist, hypnotherapist or other conventional or alternative therapist may suggest visualisation. At your high school it may be getting the highest grade in your class. For an actor it may be winning a golden statue.

The habit of practicing your skills contributes to efficacy of achievement.

Winning will be fueled by a combination of the following:

1. Skill and talent

2. Psychology: mind set and beliefs

3. Hard work and practice

The first 2 may not necessarily be in that order. Many may argue that you do not have to be the best actor to win, but it just may be ‘your lucky day’. An athlete may argue that a fighter ‘lucked out’ when his opponent lost his concentration for a millimeter of a second, resulting in a knockout. Are any of these scenarios due to skill, luck, psychology or a combination of them all?
 
More research can be done on how mind set and psychology affect our ability to perform, and how much an athlete’s psychology determines how well he does in his sport. But enough research has been done to determine that visualising your goals sets you up for an advantage, and persisting in this instance can produce results.

[1] Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, 13: 341–354. ©2001 by the Association for Advancement of Applied Sports Psychology, Pates, Oliver, and Maynard.

[2] Hypnotic Suggestions and Metaphors, D. Croydon Hammond, PhD. 1990

[3] https://ninepeachestherapies.wordpress.com

[4] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-whole-athlete/201501/the-effects-psychology-athletic-performance