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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Athletes, Visualization, and Sports Hypnosis

I read the New York Times article, "Olympians Use Imagery as Mental Training," last weekend.  For some reason, this topic generated considerable interest, to which assertion similar postings on webmd.com, sportsmedicine.about.com, and huffingtonpost.com readily attest.  There is even an entry for "creative visualization" on wikipedia.

Actually, we find nothing at all new in any of the above.  Though rarely discussed openly, sports hypnosis is well known and has been practiced for years.  In football, place-kickers are often encouraged to “visualize” a number of kicks from various parts of the field, against different wind conditions, and at specific periods during the game.  Golfers are known to use hypnotic techniques; no less a figure than Jack Nicklaus has done so.  Former top-ranked tennis star Stefan Edberg clearly alluded to hypnotic imagery when he won his first Wimbledon crown; he mentioned that “the ball looked very large,” and “it seemed to be moving very slowly” -- two generic suggestions given by almost every hypnotist who works with tennis players!  In baseball, hypnosis helped Nolan Ryan leave behind a litany of records, including the most no-hitters and the most strikeouts in a career.  Melio Bettina worked closely with a hypnotist before defeating Tiger Fox for the light heavyweight boxing championship.  Mike Tyson also retained the services of a hypnotist early in his career.  (Ironically, he fired that individual a few months before his fight with Buster Douglas -- his first loss, after which he was never been the same!)  And, among chess champions, it is widely believed that world champions Mikhail Tahl and Anatoly Karpov both worked with Soviet hypnotists.

Some prefer to use terms like "guided imagery" and "visualization," while others are comfortable with the "h-word" (hypnosis).  Either way, I find it encouraging that these techniques are becoming more "main-stream" and widely accepted.  

The Times article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/sports/olympics/olympians-use-imagery-as-mental-training.html.


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