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Hypnosis for Athletic Performance

The concept of using hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis for sports performance enhancement is neither a new concept, nor is it with without significant studies backing up the validity of its use.  It’s certainly no secret to professional athletes.  In fact how many times have you heard a game ending interview that sounded something like this? 

“What were you thinking when you realized that with two seconds left on the clock, you were now in possession of the ball at center court?”

“I wasn’t thinking about anything, I was in the zone.”

“In the zone;” that place athletes talk about when everything else around them disappears.  They become so laser focused on the task at hand that there is no thought; it’s instinctive.  In something that could be likened to a primitive fight or flight mechanism, the conscious mind is disengaged, the subconscious takes control and just does what it knows to do.  You might be asking, does the conscious mind really get in the way?  Ask a golfer.  It’s a common site to see even a professional golfer walk up, address the ball, and start over thinking at which point you’ll see them break their state by taking a breath, perhaps take a few steps back, and then walk back up to the ball.  In reality, if the conscious mind would get out of the way, the subconscious, the muscles, and the body know what to do.  By tapping into that, the golfer would normally look at the ball, look where he wants it to go, and just let the subconscious send it there.

Some may be thinking this sounds preposterous, but the subject is not without significant scholarly research and documentation.  In basketball alone for example Brian Vasquez published a 159 page doctoral dissertation on the subject.  In his research Dr. Vasquez cites that those in the hypnosis group outperformed their counterparts in dribbling scores, defensive scores, and three-point scores as well as speed shooting (Vasquez, 2005).   In a similar study, participants were reported to have increased their mean jump, and set shooting performance (Pates, Maynar, & Wesbury, 2001).  A year later the researchers reconfirmed their work when they published a paper which was centered around the three-point shot.  In it they cited, “These results support the hypothesis that a hypnosis intervention can improve three point shooting performance in basketball players and increase feelings and cognitions that are associated with flow” (Pates, Cummings, & Maynard, 2002).  The list goes on and on, and the research doesn’t simply focus on a single aspect such as three-point shots, or dribbling scores.  According to Schreiber (1991), research with both male and female players showed an overall increase in cumulative points per game, and the studies continue on from there.

Don’t however think for a moment that the benefits of hypnosis are limited to professional athletes or even basketball.  Hypnotherapists very commonly work with Jr. High, High School, and even little league teams.  Figure skaters can receive enormous benefits as can many other athletes.  As an example, studies have even been conducted that documented the benefits for using hypnosis with competitive fencing (Wojcikiewicz & Orlick, 1987).  Another cited improved performance in archery (Robazza & Bortoli, 1995) and others used imagery in hypnosis to show impressive results in Cricket, Golf, and Lawn Bowling (Stanton, 1994).

So one may be wondering at this point what it is about hypnosis that makes it such a powerful tool for enhancing sports performance?  The answer may well lie in the fact that hypnosis is so proficient in working with so many different things that are all beneficial to performance enhancement, be it sports or otherwise.  One such tool is Age Regression (Vasquez, 2005).  Age regression and hypnotherapy have been synonymous for perhaps centuries, and you may have seen demonstrations where a person may be regressed back to the age of five or six years old to recall an event from their childhood, or perhaps someone was regressed back to the scene of a crime where they were able to see the license plate number on a fleeing vehicle.  This is a very powerful tool of hypnosis and can even be used to remember where a lost item was placed, but it has a very special use for the athlete. 

Were you even told, “OK that was perfect; remember that and do it that way every time?”  Lets go back to our basketball player who found himself in possession of the ball at center court with two seconds left, or our golfer who walks up to the ball to make a crucial shot.  Whether it’s a seasoned professional, or a little leaguer who is stepping up to the plate, many can remember that perfect play from a game in their life.  They were in the zone; it was as if everything happened in slow motion, and the basketball player put the perfect trajectory on the ball for nothing but net; the golfer pulled back and with what seemed like no muscle requirement at all made the perfect drive.  Even the little leaguer had the moment when it all came together for that one perfect hit. 

Using age regression, the hypnotherapist will take the athlete back to that perfect play, anchor it, (a hypnotherapy term) and make it available for recall when it’s needed the most on a moment’s notice.  Think of the value of this to a bowler, who has the same first shot in front of him each time.  If he can lock that perfect shot into muscle memory, and make it the same way, each time, consider the value.

Age regression, while powerful is simply one of many tools available however.  Many times as we have already addressed, the mind gets in the way.  Perhaps it’s self induced stress over fear of letting the team down, or maybe like stage fright it’s simple anxiety that comes from being the center of attention so to speak, but these are both areas in which hypnotherapy excels.  Another major tool used in sports enhancement is imagery.  Every athlete has been told to visualize it happening.  See the puck going over the goaltender’s shoulder when you shoot; see the putt going into the hole, or the bat striking the ball.  Unfortunately many of the people who tell the athlete to visualize these things, don’t understand that not everyone can visualize.  Due to the nature of the profession however, hypnotherapists are uniquely qualified to deal with suggestibility, the imagination and visualizations.  In fact to back up this statement, the results of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis cites:

The participants reported that the imagery under hypnosis was more intense for each dimension and more intense for each situation. Whether the imagery was done under hypnosis first or after was not significant. The findings suggest that hypnosis substantially enhances imagery intensity and effectiveness (Liggette, 2000).

So don’t give up hope if you can’t see that 40 yard kick sailing perfectly through the uprights. .yet.

While there are many other avenues and tools available to the hypnotherapist, the aforementioned alone are enough to make a dramatic change.  In fact using only the tools listed above, a study on flow states and performance cited improvement for golfers in chipping, overall performance and confidence (Liggett, 2000).  If however your needs exceed those discussed in this article, rest assured that not only are there other tools, but the studies become more sophisticated, and continue to show more validity each year.  Studies such as those referenced by Nash, (2002) have even began tracking what is going on the brain when a grip is simulated in hypnosis vs. an actual practice grip.

One last area that should be addressed in an article about sports and hypnosis is the part no one likes to have to consider, but are nonetheless an all too present part of the game; specifically the injuries.  While going into an in depth discussion of the studies and benefits of hypnotherapy in rehab situations is beyond the scope of this piece of writing, one such article worth mentioning as suggested reading for further information is entitled, “The Hypnotic Belay in Alpine Mountaineering: The Use of Self-Hypnosis for the Resolution of Sports Injuries and for Performance Enhancement.  It was published in The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, and the following is from the article’s Abstract:

The author, an experienced alpine mountaineer, sustained several traumatic climbing injuries over a two-year period. This article describes her multiple uses of self-hypnosis to deal with several challenges related to her returning to successful mountain climbing. She used self-hypnosis for physical healing and to enhance her motivation to resume climbing. While training for her next expedition, she successfully utilized self-hypnotic techniques to deal with acute stress and later post-traumatic symptoms that had emerged related to her climbing injuries. She describes her use of hypnotic ego-strengthening, mental rehearsal, age progression, and "Inner Strength" as well as active-alert trance states. Her successful summitting ofEcuador'sCotopaxiat 19,380 feet was facilitated by "The Hypnotic Belay" which permitted her to secure herself by self-hypnosis in addition to the rope used to secure climbers. In 1994, the author returned to the Cascade Mountains where she had been injured three years earlier and reached the summit ofMountShuksan. This time she was secured by "The Hypnotic Belay" (Morton, 2003).

Hypnotherapy has much to offer in the area of sports performance enhancement, and as a professional hypnotherapist myself, I can attest that one reason it works so well is due to the type of clients that request the sessions.  Athletes come in with an awareness of what they want to change, they have an understanding of what their issues are, they are willing to take direction, and have a strong desire to be a participant in the process.  Hypnotherapy is a team effort, and in short these are team players that come in ready to play.  For this reason they are a joy to work with, and I personally welcome the opportunity. 

If you are ready to take your game to the next level, and would like to discuss hypnotherapy as an option, contact us online or call the office at 469-225-9040. 

William Carpenter holds a certification in Hypnosis and Sports Performance from the American Hypnosis Association.



Liggett, D. R. (2000). Enhancing imagery through hypnosis: a performance aid for athletes. American Journal of clinical hypnosis, 43(2), 149-157.

Morton, P. A. (2003). The hypnotic belay in alpine mountaineering: The use of self-hypnosis for the resolution of sports injuries and for performance enhancement. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 46(1), 45-51.

Nash, M. R. (2002). Hypnosis, the brain, and sports: Salient findings july 2002. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 50(3), 282-285.

Pates, J., Cummings, A., & Maynard,I.(2002). The effects of hypnosis on flow states and three-point shooting performance in basketball players.

Pates, J., & Maynard, I.(2000). Effects of hypnosis on flow states and golf performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 91(3f), 1057-1075.

Pates, J., Maynard, I., & Westbury, T. (2001). An investigation into the effects of hypnosis on basketball performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 13(1), 84-102.

Robazza, C., & Bortoli, L. (1995). A case study of improved performance in archery using hypnosis. Perceptual and motor skills, 81(3f), 1364-1366.

Schreiber, E. H. (1991). Using hypnosis to improve performance of college basketball players. Perceptual and motor skills, 72(2), 536-538.

Stanton, H. E. (1994). Sports imagery and hypnosis: A potent mix. Australian Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis.

Vasquez, B. L. (2005). The effects of hypnosis on flow and in the performance enhancement of basketball skills (Doctoral dissertation,WashingtonStateUniversity).

Wojcikiewicz, A., & Orlick, T. (1987). The effects of post-hypnotic suggestion and relaxation with suggestion on competitive fencing anxiety and performance. International Journal of Sport Psychology.