Sports Hypnotherapy to Improve Performance

by | | General

The quality and consistency of a sporting performance will depend on a wide variety of variables. It’s not possible for a performer to ever have control over all of these aspects. This is especially true for team sports or even individual sports where you are facing an opponent. It’s not possible to control your opponent, your team mates or even the reaction of the crowd. Sports hypnotherapy works by helping you to focus on your performance so no matter the environment you give yourself the best opportunity to win.


If your sport takes places outside you have less control than if your sport takes places inside, as the weather can have a dramatic effect on the playing environment. The weather may mean that you have to adapt your technique in order to compensate for different conditions. The playing surface may become slippery effecting the bounce of the ball or the agility of the performer. Few sports will be played in very similar conditions near enough every time. Snooker and darts are two exceptions that spring to mind. I’m sure, however, professional snooker players might say that the balls behave differently in different temperatures. So already we have discovered just a few of the variables that we have no control over; our opponent, our team mates, the crowd, the playing surface and the weather.

Increased Sporting Confidence

Whilst we can’t control the variables we can control our response to them through the correct preparation. This is a major benefit of sports hypnosis. Sports hypnotherapy works by helping us to focus on the things that we do have control over. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, sports hypnosis can prepare us to react in a calm efficient manner. By combining it with methods from Neuro Linguistic Programming we have practical techniques at hand to instantly calm our mind. This enables  our thinking to be taken back to a time when we felt calm, and in control. Due to this our self-belief rises and we gain confidence in our sporting performance.

Preparation Is Key

Another thing that we can always have control over is our preparation. Thorough preparation for any event is key to success. As a youngster my dad, who came from an army background, taught me the 6 P’s; Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. It’s hard to argue with that alliteration and its relevance to achieving excellence in sport. A shorter example being the classic Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail.

We all know that we perform better when we’ve practised the correct technique. As we practise the technique over and over again neural pathways in the brain are developed. This is due the amazing neuroplasticity of our brain. Early neuroscientists thought that our brains were hardwired and that the brain had little ability to change. We now know the brain has an amazing ability to change and alter depending on what it is asked to do. In many sports the major difference between a professional and an amateur is mainly down to how many hours they practise, building up those neural pathways.

‘The harder I practise the luckier I get’

Gary Player a former professional South African golfer most famous saying is arguably ‘ The harder the practise the luckier I get’ in response to some wondering whether some of his success could be attributed to luck. He developed his ‘luck’ through thousand and thousands of hours of practise.

If physical practise didn’t improve performance then the whole coaching industry would become obsolete overnight. What would be the point of paying for coaching if there was no benefit? A good coach is worth their weight in gold when it comes to breaking down and refining technique. For practise to be of benefit it needs to be purposeful. The practises need to be challenging needs and where possible a  qualified coach should be on hand to adapt and refine the technique.

A well qualified and experience coach are excellent in physically preparing the player for competition. Personally I’ve benefited from hours and hours of squash coaching that has improved my performance no end.

Coaching Limitations

A sports coach talking to his client

Every keen amateur will be aware that coaching will improve their physical performance, but by concentrating only on this one area we are limiting our ability to improve further. If you are not also mentally prepared, then you are by default limiting your chances of success. I can’t think of a single sport where the mental state of the performer will not negatively or positively affect their performance. So ask yourself the following questions: How much of your sport do you consider to be mental? How long do you spend on the mental aspect of your game in comparison to the physical side?

I suspect your answer will be that you consider the mental aspect of your sport to be somewhere between 50 to 100%. I think that you’ll rate your mental approach somewhere between 0 and 10% in relation to your physical approach. If these figures are currently representative of your preparation then I would comfortably say that you can improve your performance significantly by using sports hypnosis. 

Mind set

If you don’t have the right mind set, then you’re reducing your chances of success. This is especially true if your opponent has been using sports hypnosis to mentally prepare themselves for competition. If two players have a similar skill level I believe there will be two aspects that are the difference between winning and losing. The first and most important is their mind set and the second factor is their fitness level.  If you start your game knowing that you have done everything that you can to prepare both mentally and physically you significantly improve your chances of  playing with improved sporting confidence and self belief.

The Benefits of Sports Hypnotherapy

The benefits of sports hypnosis have been known for decades and many top level performers use it to enhance their performance. As far back as 1956 Russian athletes were using hypnosis to improve their performance in the Melbourne Olympic Games.

Hypnotherapy can be used to effectively improve sporting performance in many ways. One of the ways sports hypnosis works is by helping to lower general stress and anxiety levels. Think of all your daily worries being stored in a stress bucket. Each thought you negatively introspect about as well as forecast will enter your stress bucket. Alongside them will be added all of your present worries. If you haven’t got an effective method of emptying this bucket, then your performance is going to be negatively affected. Having a full stress bucket means you will have increased levels of cortisol and other adrenalines which will make relaxation and clear thought difficult. For target sports especially this is a hugely unsatisfactory situation.

Stress Negatively Affects Performance

A female sports performer suffering from stress

What will happen if something goes wrong during competition? When another negative thought is added to your stress bucket it may well overflow. When this happens you are unable to think rationally and instead your thoughts are governed by your primitive brain which can only act within the parameters of anger, depression or anxiety. All of these will inhibit you performing at your best. Stress and anxiety will also stop you entering the ‘zone’ where there is a state of fluidity between your mind and body. In this state you don’t have to think about your movement, all mental chatter is silenced and you are immersed in the moment.

Which part of your brain controls movement?

When we are playing sport we want our movement and thoughts to be controlled by the parts of our brain called the cerebellum and basal ganglia. When in the zone these parts of the brain are in charge, essentially we don’t have to think too much about our performance. We instinctively know where we should be and what we should be doing. However, when levels of anxiety are high then movement is less likely to be controlled by these areas of the brain but by our cortex.

This is especially true when we make a mistake and then overthink it. This is often referred to as ‘Paralysis by analysis’. Overthinking caused us to change the areas of our brain involved in the thinking process. Do you remember when you first learnt a skill? You were using your cortex as it required great thought. Once you have done it over repeatedly then it gets committed to memory, becomes a habit, and you don’t need to think about it anymore it just happens.

Negatively Introspecting

If we have performed below par and we then continue to think negatively about our performance, then we begin to change our thoughts. Our self-esteem and self-confidence can be lowered and we begin to form self-limiting beliefs. The thoughts ‘I can’ and ‘I will’ are replaced by ‘I can’t’ and ‘I won’t’ and in very little time it’s possible to adopt a negative mind set. Our mind is effectively then working against us and benefiting our opponent. If we want to perform at our best consistently then it’s vital that we have an empty stress bucket and approach each game with a positive attitude.

Fixed or Growth Mindset

Through failing regularly many people adopt a fixed mind set. They believe that their talent is fixed and that they’ll never get better. They then that start to avoid challenges, give up easily and never reach their full potential. Sports Hypnosis allows you to adopt a growth mind set by allowing you to change your self-limiting beliefs which are within your subconscious mind. With this mind set challenge is embraced and there is a belief that intelligence and talent isn’t fixed. Winners have a growth mind set. They believe they can win and always improve.


Another way sports hypnosis works by helping you to practise and refine techniques through visualisation. Numerous research papers and scientific studies have proven that the mind can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. In essence this means that if you visualise yourself doing a particular skill then you will build up the same neural pathways as if you’re physically practising it.  With visualisation you can practise the techniques far more often than if doing it physically as there are greater opportunities for repetition. You can always visualise the correct form and outcome to help you to achieve the perfect technique. You don’t need to travel, opponents and equipment aren’t needed and the environment can be pictured just as you wish it to be.

Mental Blocks Can Be Removed

Competitors will often have a mental block; this becomes a barrier to success as it becomes a negative focus. It’s a self-limiting belief. When you face this opponent or situation again you will have already have negatively forecast the future. You may then look for an excuse; it was the weather, the playing surface was slippery, I didn’t sleep well, I didn’t eat well.  These mental blocks lie within the subconscious mind in parts of our brain that we can’t access just by telling ourselves ‘forget about it’, ‘move on’ or ‘put it out of your mind’.

Sports hypnosis works through using ‘trance’. This is of great benefit as during trance we can erase this negative template and reframe your thoughts. Essentially we delete your negative viewpoint and replace it with a positive one that details how you would want to think and act in this situation. This raises sporting confidence enormously. The fear of repeated failure has been totally removed from memory therefore it doesn’t negatively effect current performance.

The Subconscious Mind

The major advantage of sports hypnosis and why it can work so well is that it enables access to your subconscious mind. This then allows your thoughts to be reframed. Your subconscious mind is so powerful. When we can influence it we’ve tapped into a deeply transformative resource to help you improve your sporting performance. It’s also normally much faster, depending on the number and complexity of your desired change, 3 to 6 sessions are all that are normally required.

I use Solution Focused Hypnotherapy combined with Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques to bring about fast positive change. You will be provided with methods and techniques that you can use before and during your competition. This will help to ensure that you are mentally prepared for all eventualities and you approach each situation with a calmness of mind. Being calm and in control of your actions is essential if you are to achieve your best. If you wish to find out more about Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and begin the process of change then please visit

Author: Ian Murton HPD DSFH AfSFH Reg NCH Reg CNHC Reg is an award winning Solution Focused Hypnotherapist running online sessions via Zoom from his home on the Bedfordshire/ Hertfordshire border.

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Case Study: How Solution Focused Hypnotherapy Calms Anxiety

Anxiety UK Approved Therapist
REST registered tutor
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