Hypnosis Session

Sports Performance

The Flip Side
Your Focus Level

Spacing Out
Live Environment

Additional Reading

If only you could capture the magic that makes the difference between playing well and doing poorly. Especially on those days when you're healthy and ready to go, but you just can't pull it together.

Making matters worse, losers get no sympathy. With the slightest ripple in your game, others are ready with the cheap shot.

Overheard hundreds of times:

"Everyone else played their guts out, and he only had to kick the ball."

"He can't win the big one."

You play hard. You put it on the line every game. The criticism hurts.

The Flip Side

On the flip side, there are days when you hit your groove and everything falls into place. You see the ball in slow motion; your opponent's moves are obvious; and your shot feels smooth.

When you're in your groove, playing is pure pleasure.

Any Control?

Are there ways to ensure you play well under pressure? We've seen the great ones perform: they always seem to hit the shot at the buzzer, and they stay centered in the biggest games. Somehow they pull it off, so there is hope.

Will hypnosis help? Maybe.

"Maybe" is a pretty weak answer, especially in an article on Hypnosis and Performance. Hypnosis will help, but it is only one of several key performance factors.

Performance factors include:

  • Training.
  • Your focus level.
  • Distractions.
  • Internal messages.

  • Let's examine each element.

    1. Training.
    If your skill level is low, your performance won't be that hot. You need a solid training program.

    2. Your focus level.
    With the right focus, you will slip into your groove. This is where hypnosis techniques shine. Hypnosis offers a way to control your concentration.

    3. Distractions.
    Unfortunately, distractions can knock you out of your focus zone.

    4. Internal messages.
    This one is tough. When you have a conversation with yourself, it's difficult to ignore the messages. If these messages throw off your game, you are in for a hard time until you develop countermeasures.

    The on-line book, Finding Your Groove, talks about training methods, handling distractions, and internal messages. That leaves your focus level.

    Your Focus Level

    How does hypnosis come into play?

    Hypnosis deals with shifting concentration levels. When you find your groove, your consciousness has changed. You've slipped into a state where you're experiencing things differently. You feel smooth; you're hearing the right messages in your head. The game looks different. Your groove is a different consciousness, and that is what hypnosis is about.

    Warming Up

    In sports, most "groove" benefits can be achieved by slipping down a couple of concentration levels (called trance levels by the hypnosis community).

    Groove like experiences don't require very deep trance states. For example, if trance levels range from 1 to 20, your groove would be about Level 2 or 3. That's good news, for it's pretty easy to slip down one or two notches.

    You've already experienced this concentration shift. If you've ever spaced out while watching TV, or glazed over during a boring lecture, you know what it's like to slip down a couple of levels.

    Spacing Out

    Since you already know how to space out, that's an ideal starting point. The goal is to get good at it. This involves two elements, recognizing what it feels like to be "spaced out," and being able to do it at will.

    If your trance levels run from 1 to 20, with 20 being the deepest, "spaced out" is about Level 2.


    Anne said, "All this talk of 'spaced out' is driving me nuts. It sounds like a bad '60s movie. Isn't there a more professional way to describe this state?"

    Tony said, "I agree. I just don't think of myself as spaced out."

    Fair enough. We could use other terms. "Relaxed" is the most conservative; "zoned out" might be more current. As long as it means a very light trance level. Use whatever words feel right to you.

    Let's step through a simple exercise. It only takes 30 seconds, so give it a try.

    An exercise — Shifting Levels:

    Level 1

    1. Very conscious. Start by noticing what it feels like to be very aware. Look around. Be sharp. Notice all the details.

    2. Attention. Let something catch your attention. It may be different each time, but something will catch your attention.

    Level 2

    3. Spaced out. Focus on the item catching your attention. Space out on it. Zone out on it. Notice what that's like. If your breathing slows, notice that; if your shoulders relax, notice that.

    Level 1

    4. Come back. Shift your attention back to other things. Become more aware, sharp. Feel good, centered.

    As simple as this exercise may seem, it is a very important sequence. In it, you focused your attention, shifted down a trance level, and returned. Each of these is critical hypnotic step.

    If you stepped through these instructions, you just conducted your own hypnosis session. Congratulations!

    Your next task is to get good at it. Practice shifting in and out of Level 2, spacing out, several times a day.


    Anne said, "This'll be good. I can hear it now, 'But coach, I was just practicing my concentration skills.' He thinks I'm crazy as it is."

    Your Groove

    Your groove is a refinement of being spaced out.

    Here's how it goes:

    When you're playing, let something catch your attention. Let it help you "space out" and slide down a level. No too far, just deep enough to slip into your groove.

    By starting with something that catches your attention, you avoid forcing it. Something will always catch your attention.


    Bill said, "The feeling of my shoes on the court caught my attention. That feeling of gripping. As I focused on that, my game got smoother. Actually, it got a lot better, but I don't want to get too excited about this yet."

    Anne said, "It was raining. I let that pull me in."


    Props can help you shift concentration levels, and sports are full of props. There's always a ball, a stick, or a glove around.

    Let's try a concentration shift using a prop.

    A prop exercise:

    Find a prop in the area you're in right now. It might be your favorite racket, or a pencil, or the floor under your feet. If you don't have a prop, let something catch your attention, something like the picture on the wall, the clock, or the arm of the chair.

    Focus on your prop. If it's in your hand, notice the sensation; if it's a color, notice its shape; if it's a sound, notice its strength.

    As you focus on your prop, let yourself space out and shift down from full awareness. Notice yourself and your concentration level.

    If you're focused, remain there a moment. Examine the sensation.

    When the time is right, bring your awareness back to the room — notice the sounds, colors, and sensations around you. Be fully alert, refreshed, and aware.

    Feel good about the exercise. Say something like, "That was good."


    If you're bouncing in and out of your focus level, try to stay down a little longer each time. It doesn't have to be an extended time.

    Even if your shifts were small, you were taking control of your consciousness. Nice work!

    Practice Opportunities

    It's important to exercise your new skill. Throughout the day look for practice opportunities. Let something catch your attention. Let it pull you down a notch.

    Reinforce the work. Each time you do this type of exercise, remember to return to full awareness refreshed and alert. Appreciate your good work and the value of the exercise.

    Minimum training is four concentration shifts a day. You'll be surprised at how many opportunities surface.

    Live Environment

    When you feel comfortable slipping up and down in your concentration levels, it's time to experiment in more complex environments. Where you might find it easy to focus in the quiet of the library, moving to a situation with additional distracters will stretch your skill.

    Examples of more distracting situations:

    • Low distractions: your office, your bedroom, the bathroom, the library.
    • Medium distractions: a quiet street, an empty store, your living room.
    • High distractions: a full restaurant, a jazz club, the dinner table.
    • Super distractions: putting disinfectant on a cut, having your teeth worked on, a bad headache.

    Look for distracting situations. In the midst of the turmoil, let yourself slip down a level. Notice the difference in your awareness and ability to focus. Use a prop whenever you can.

    Props are great for road trips. They will help you settle just by being familiar. However, if your prop gets accidentally connected to a distraction, it could work against you. (More on contaminated props in Finding Your Groove).

    As you develop these concentration skills, you'll start looking forward to focusing in "big game" situations. Your game will be a lot more fun.

    Sport Hypnosis

    By getting good at "spacing out" and using props to focus, you have acquired a core skill in sport hypnosis — the ability to shift your concentration level.

    Good job!

    What's Next?

    Again, being able to shift your focus level is a huge step. This can be applied to almost any sporting event and improve your game.

    To continue your development, you should read through Finding Your Groove. It deals with distractions and offers a more in-depth treatment of focus control. Yes, it goes beyond the "space out" approach presented here.

    Practice, practice, practice. You'll be surprised how quickly these techniques become part of your game.

    Additional Reading

    Finding Your Groove: A Guide to Playing Your Best by James Davis. AWSS Publications, 2003.
    * Mentioned in the text, this on-line book flushes out the details of groove control, training, handling distractions, and countering internal messages. (Currently offered free-of-charge.)

    Run Like a Chicken: The Use of Hypnosis in Sports by James Davis. AWSS Publications, 2004.
    * Examines the underlying hypnotic principles involved with finding and controlling your groove. In progress. (The first draft will be available on-line.)

    Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D (Vol 2) by Milton H. Erickson, John Grinder, Judith Delozier, Richard Bandler. Metamorphosis Press, 1997.
    * It is a crime that Milton Erickson's works are going out of print. If you see one of his books, grab it. He was the master of suggestion. It's possible to study his writings for years and still learn something new each time.

    The Structure of Magic: A Book About Language and Therapy (Vol I) by Richard Bandler, John Grinder. Science & Behavior Books, 1990.
    * These guys were the first to untangle Milton Erickson's techniques. They made it possible to move beyond imitation and into customization. Once you get a taste of Bandler and Grinder, you'll want to get all their books. Be sure to include Reframing and Frogs into Princes.

    Experiencing Erickson: An Introduction to the Man and His Work by Jeffrey Zeig. Brunner/Mazel, 1985.

    Hypnotic Realities: The Induction of Clinical Hypnosis and Forms of Indirect Suggestion by Milton H. Erickson. Irvington Pub, 1976.

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