Brain Training for Sports

I know a marathon runner who still smokes. When I asked why he said, “I’m waiting until I can no longer improve my running level, then I’ll stop smoking!”.

Here are some better strategies commonly used to improve sporting performance:

• Train more/harder

• Train better (e.g. using a coach)

• Buy better equipment.

While they will make a difference, there’s a whole field that is often under-explored.

Results follow performances. Performances follow behaviour (e.g. training better/harder). But what influences your behaviour?

Your mindset!

“Performance in sport is 10% physical and 90% psychological” — Yogi Berra

I find working with sportspeople fascinating. They have this incredible motivation and desire. If we applied that to every area of our lives, we would be flying!

Common traits found in sportspeople are:

• The absolute inner desire to succeed

• A laser-like focus

• A sense of resilience (learned from many physical and mental setbacks; they know how to handle stress – it’s part of the job)

• Keeping anxiety out of the way to be able to get into the flow.

Take golf. Most golfers are obsessive about the game; they love it. Interestingly, the most important thing for them is to shoot their best score consistently.

The problem? Golf is a sport where the mental and emotional state has such an enormous impact. So what can they do to control their brain?

“The worst club in my bag is my brain” — Chris Perry

Self-hypnosis is something we all do at some level, without realising it, from simple visualisation to advanced techniques. The silly thing is that when we are not aware of it, it’s easy to use negative hypnosis, ie. visualise failure.

Wouldn’t it be better to use it positively to feel, be and do your sport precisely the way you want?

Learning self-hypnosis can help you to:

• Control feelings and the inner saboteur

• Transform nerves and anxiety into excitement and success

• Develop exactly the right mindset, focus and control

• Change negative self-talk into positive self-affirmation

• Learn power triggers, strategies to refocus, and pre-competition routines

• Learn how to manipulate negative and positive hallucinations.

Tiger Woods used hypnosis from the age of 13 to calm his mind, free it from worry, pressure, distraction and to focus on the pleasure of the game.

I also use biofeedback (BFB) software. The finger sensor monitors the heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) in real-time. Through games and audio/visual stimuli, the software then trains you to breathe and visualise, increasing your heart coherence until you are ‘in the zone’. 

After a while, you become aware enough to make the adjustments necessary to access the flow state, improving focus, self-control and performance. The impact is similar to that of meditation and can also reduce anxiety.

In a famous study of mental imagery in sport, 120 subjects were randomly split into four groups:

1. Mental practice only

2. Physical practice only

3. Both mental and physical practice

4. No practice.

The conclusion was that mental imagery alone did improve the score but, more interestingly, a combination of physical and psychological practice yielded the best result, significantly.

People often say, ‘I lost my confidence’, usually after a couple of ‘dodgy’ games!

You don’t ‘lose’ confidence; you run an inner video with some seriously critical inner talk and images that over-ride your confidence.

Confidence is a skill that you can learn. You practice it beforehand to have it in bucketloads before the event. Then apply that confidence to any situation. Self-image is also a massive part of success, often underestimated, but that’s another story.

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