Sports Psychology & Performance: Hypnosis For Peak Performance

Jun 1, 2020 | Sports Improvement | 0 comments

Sports Psychology & Performance: Hypnosis For Peak Performance

Today I’m talking some more about the evidence for incorporating sports hypnosis into your sports psychology techniques if you want to maximise and optimise your performance.

There’s no doubt that the mental side of sport is vital, yet often overlooked. Your emotions during training and competition, the self talk (voice in your head) can keep you strong or make you doubt yourself, and your self-belief can dictate whether you achieve your potential or plateau. Getting and spending more time in the zone can certainly influence not only your enjoyment and motivation levels, but also your results.

I know from my own experience of running marathons that physical training, practice and preparation are key, yet without the mental side and your mindset being right, it can all unravel. Your sports psychology mindset can determine the results you get. Over a marathon distance, your self talk, especially as you get tired, can tell you that you can’t do it or can stay strong and encourage you to push on.

Research has highlighted that hypnosis can be used to enhance the performance of footballers, cricketers, martial artists, badminton players, cyclists, golfers and basketball players. In fact, from a sports psychology perspective, hypnosis can help with successful athletic performance in many sports and disciplines because of the ability to harness thoughts, feelings, expectation, beliefs and perceptions.


Sport Psychology & Sports Performance 

There is certainly evidence for the effectiveness of hypnosis in sports psychology and in helping you to boost your performance. I have my personal experience of using cognitive techniques and hypnosis in my own marathon running and high intensity training, as well as the many people I’ve helped during hypnotherapy sessions (some of whom have kindly left reviews on this website).

Milling and Randazzo (Enhancing Sports Performance With Hypnosis: An Ode For Tiger Woods, 2016) carried out a review of sports hypnosis. They presented a comprehensive and methodological review of controlled and single case design studies of the effectiveness of hypnosis for enhancing sports performance.

In their paper they describe some of the common psychological interventions used to enhance sports performance. These include visualization (or mental rehearsal), learning to modify and direct self-talk during training and competition, arousal regulation (e.g. to decrease anxiety) and goal setting around improved performance.

In their review they found that ‘Hypnosis was shown to be effective for improving performance in a variety of sports, with the strongest support for enhancement of basketball, golf, soccer and badminton skills.‘  They also concluded that there was preliminary evidence that hypnosis may be useful for enhancing performance in cricket and weight-lifting, as well as precision sports like archery and throwing accuracy.

And, in addition, Hamid, Abdoli &Shahroie in their 2018 paper (Efficacy of Cognitive Behavior Therapy with Positive Imagination of Success During Hypnotism on Athletic Performance) found that “Cognitive-behavioural therapy accompanied by the positive imagination of success during hypnosis significantly increased the athletic performance in the experimental group in three items of shoot to the target, fixed pass and moving pass” (more on this in a previous article: Sports Psychology: The Impact of Hypnosis on Athletic Performance).

I wrote about this research on hypnosis for sports performance in this article: Hypnosis For Sports Performance – Research and Evidence

And, of course, hypnosis can help with things like anxiety around training or competing, motivation and persistence, tackling doubt and uncertainty, taking control over your own thinking and self-talk and increasing your self belief and ability to get in the zone and perform to your potential.


Sports Peak Performance

If you are a keen sportsperson then you may well have experienced being ‘in the zone’, a state where your thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions seem to be optimised. It’s something often associated with peak performance states and can include elements of intense focus, changes in thinking and perception,  faster information processing and a sense of things happening naturally. It’s a mental state that helps you perform to the best of your ability.

Drawing upon previous experiences of best performance (in training, practice or competing) is something that was researched by Pates, Maynard & Westbury with basketball players (An investigation into the effects of hypnosis on basketball performance, 2001).

They had three basketball players remember a multi-sensory experience of peak performance within hypnosis and to link that best performance to a trigger that would allow them to access their ideal performance state whenever they wanted. Triggers are words, sounds, images or a natural part of a routine that you can do or think about to create a specific response, here being the thoughts, feelings and sensations associated with peak performance.

The results indicated that all three participants increased their jump and set shooting performance, and each reported increased sensations they associated with peak performance and demonstrates that hypnosis can effect a player’s psychological state. The participants experienced higher levels of confidence, relaxation and focus and had more positive thoughts.

Pates, Cummings and Maynard (The effects of hypnosis on flow states and three-point shooting performance in basketball players, 2002)  examined the effects of hypnosis on flow states that three point shooting performance in basketball players, using a similar recall and trigger approach to the previous study (relaxation, imagery, hypnotic induction, hypnotic regression and trigger control techniques). All five participants increased their three point shooting performance and each also indicated that they felt more confident, relaxed and calm (increased feelings and cognitions associated with flow states).

Sports Psychology hypnosis sports Performance


From a sports psychology perspective, it demonstrates that flow associated with successful athletic performance, can be utilised effectively through hypnosis. Hypnosis affects thoughts, emotions and perceptions, the very things that influence your sports performance success.

And sports hypnosis can help with performance in other sports too. For example, a similar research study showed hypnosis helped golfers improve their chipping performance and keep confident, relaxed and in control (Pates and Maynard, Effects of hypnosis on flow states and golf performance, 2000).

Hypnosis interventions also had beneficial effects on the performance and flow experiences of an elite golfer during Tour events, who reported feeling more relaxed and confident, as well as experiencing less overthinking or negative emotions, like anger and frustration (Pates and Cowen, The effect of a hypnosis intervention on performance and flow state of an elite golfer: A single subject design, 2013). The authors note how these results were clearly relevant to sports psychology because they suggest hypnosis can increase personal control over emotions associated with flow states and performance of elite athletes.

Pates (Hypnosis in The Clutch, 2019) has also investigated sports hypnosis for golf performance and a mental state called the ‘Clutch.’ The Clutch state occurs during moments of extreme pressure when the athlete must ‘make something happen’ and involves deliberate concentration, intense effort, and a heightened awareness. Athletes who have the ability to initiate Clutch states consistently deliver exceptional performances (clutch performances) in critical moments during important competitions. The study demonstrated that a hypnosis-based intervention strategy may have a positive effect on the performance of elite golfers. Clutch State experiences also appeared to be enhanced by the intervention. The hypnosis intervention augmented positive emotions such as excitement, confidence and fun, and altered the golfer’s perceptions, making them believe they can produce an exceptional performance outcome such as holding improbable shots.


Hypnosis in Sports Psychology

Whilst we’ve been primarily looking at research covering basketball and golf here, the underlying principles for using hypnosis in sports psychology will apply to all sports. All athletes use their thoughts, emotions, beliefs and perceptions within training and practice, in competition and competing and in their mindset towards each part of their sport.

The above examples cover being able to improve performance by accessing an optimal performance state when desired. By being better able to get in the zone, performance improves along with confident, calmness, focus, concentration, enjoyment and control. In contrast, negative emotions such as anxiety and frustration are reduced and there is less overthinking about techniques and consequences.

And there are other aspects of sports performance where hypnosis can help you improve too. For example, hypnosis can help strengthen your belief on your own capabilities, which then impacts on motivation, tackling challenges, the standard of goals you set and the effort you put into your training and competing. Hypnosis can help you to reduce your perception of effort during exercise, even if the actual workload remains the same. You can learn to take control over your inner self talk so that you support your self-belief and confidence and reduce doubt and talking yourself out of success. And there is even some evidence for hypnosis increasing your muscular strength.

If you want to perform to your best in your sport and get the best results from your passion and training, then hypnosis and the interventions and techniques that go with it, should certainly form part of your sports psychology approach.

To your sporting success,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket


Seeking help to improve your sports performance? Book your Complimentary Hypnotherapy Strategy Session with Dan now: Appointments

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Hamid N , Abdoli R, Shahroie A. Efficacy of Cognitive Behavior Therapy with Positive Imagination of Success During Hypnotism on Athletic Performance, Hormozgan Med J. 2018 ; 22(4):e8648

Milling, L.S. and Randazzo, E.S., 2016. Enhancing sports performance with hypnosis: An ode for Tiger Woods. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 3(1), p.45.

Pates, J., 2019. Hypnosis in the Clutch. Biomedical Journal of Scientific & Technical Research23(2), pp.17205-17211.

Pates, J. and Cowen, A., 2013. The effect of a hypnosis intervention on performance and flow state of an elite golfer: A single subject design. International Journal of Golf Science2(1), pp.43-53.

Pates, J., Cummings, A. and Maynard, I., 2002. The effects of hypnosis on flow states and three-point shooting performance in bastketball players. The Sport Psychologist, 16(1), pp.34-47.

Pates, J. and Maynard, I., 2000. Effects of hypnosis on flow states and golf performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills91(3_suppl), pp.1057-1075.

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



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