Sports Hypnosis vs Sports Psychology: “What’s the difference?”

Sports Hypnosis vs Sports Psychology: “What’s the difference?”

Article by John Weir

The origin of sports psychology dates back many decades, and the field first started gaining popularity in the 1930’s with the classic basketball experiment conducted by Dr. Blaslotto at the University of Chicago. Since that time, there has been an increasing emphasis placed on the role of the mind in sports due to the growing number of institutes such as Stanford University and Harvard University conducting research studies into peak sports performance. In the 1970’s, Dr. Bob Rotella, a famous golf psychologist, hit the scene which helped popularize the use of psychology in golf, and helped to further validate the importance of the mind in sports. Besides sports psychology, the other field that was simultaneously gaining popularity and proving effective was the area of sports hypnosis. In this article, I will explain to you the differences between sports psychology and sports hypnosis as well as shed some light on the truth about hypnosis in sports.

In my opinion, I think sports psychology is a great thing. However, I feel that it is limited in an area that is so very important. I believe that sports psychology contributes two major elements to athletes. First, sports psychology has been excellent at gathering research, conducting experiments, and providing data about athletic performance. With more and more graduate level programs being offered in this field it is opening the doors to grant money to fund more research projects and ongoing experiments. This leads me to the second contribution of sports psychology which is the data they accumulate and produce. Sports psychologists have definitely provided very insightful information into the minds of athletes and what is needed to produce results.

The downside or the limitation of sports psychology that I see is not in the information, but in the vehicle of communication used to transfer that knowledge to athletes. I believe that sports psychology deals with the wrong part of our mind to affect change or improvements in a person’s behavior. Sport psychologist’s primarily deal with our conscious mind. If we were going to summarize the role of the conscious mind in a nutshell definition it would be: The primary job of the conscious mind is to judge, evaluate, and critique all the information we are exposed to. It then filters this information and only allows into the subconscious mind information congruent with the habits/beliefs established there. Since sports psychologists communicate to and work with an athlete’s conscious mind, the information has to go through our filters and processes of analysis. The end result is the information is intellectually understood but rarely applied in one’s performance. Athletes will know what to do with sports psychology, but following through with the insights and applying it is another story entirely.

The most powerful contribution to the sports world in regards to sports hypnosis is the vehicle of communication. Sports hypnosis provides a unique tool to athletes who want to speed up the learning process. The subconscious mind is a person’s bio-computer that operates things like the automatic processes of the body, provides the storehouse for memories, triggers your habits, and maintains your self-image to name a few. Information is processed by the subconscious mind non-critically the same as a computer. It doesn’t discern the difference between good or bad it simply moves towards a person’s most dominate thoughts. Additionally, it doesn’t know the difference between real events or vividly imagined ones, and will actually develop the neuro pathways during intense visualizations virtually the same way as if the action was actually being performed.

In my opinion, the natural communication process of hypnosis gives sports hypnotist’s a tremendous advantage over sports psychologists. First, as you can see from the description above the subconscious mind accepts information non-critically as opposed to dealing with the critical conscious mind. This gives athletes the ability to change negative belief systems and habitual behaviors much faster and easier than if dealing only with the conscious mind, which judges all the content. Next, when the subconscious mind accepts an idea, it acts upon it without having to consciously think about the task. Do you have to think about your habits or do they just naturally happen? Sports hypnosis is a way to eliminate negative habits quickly by going to the source of them and makes it easier to implement new positive behaviors as a natural part of your performance. Finally, hypnosis makes it easier for athletes to create life-like visualizations and virtual performance experiences. When an athlete does mental rehearsal like this, the subconscious mind begins developing stronger neuro pathways to physically execute the task. The Brain Imaging Center in San Antonio, Texas said that visualization actually creates 80% of the neuro structures in the brain to perform a task.

Sports hypnotists also have the advantage because they can utilize the information gained from sports psychologists and can condition it in the subconscious mind of an athlete. This is so powerful and important because hypnosis is able to help athletes take the information they intellectual understand and transform it into actual behaviors, which then become like second nature for the athlete. Hypnosis goes beyond understanding and intellectualization, and accelerates the process of application, integration, and the formation of positive habits.

The main disadvantage in regards to hypnosis is that it is a process that is misunderstood by athletes. Many still hold the common misconceptions about hypnosis due to false portrayals from Hollywood. There is a lot of information available that reveals the truth about hypnosis, but let me give you a quick summary.

Hypnosis is a naturally occurring process of our minds that is deeply rooted in science and validated by scientific testing using fMRI’s, EEG’s, and more. When a person gets hypnotized they don’t go unconscious or to some mystical place, it is merely an alteration in their brainwave frequency which naturally occurs 7-10 times everyday so subtly that you don’t even realize it. If you have ever driven your car on auto-pilot and arrived at your destination not remembering how you got there then you know what I am talking about. There are 4 major brainwaves; beta, alpha, theta, and delta. Beta is a fully alert, waking state, and Delta is unconsciousness or sleep. Alpha and Theta waves are the in-between states of mind which are utilized in hypnosis. Everyday when you wake up and every night when you go to sleep you go through each of the brainwaves. Hypnosis is a process that makes use of the alpha and theta states of mind because they are our super-learning states in which we can process positive information non-critically and to the subconscious. Also, the alpha state is what all athletes are in when they are in the zone.

Believe it or not, athletes have been using forms of hypnosis for decades. It has just been packaged under a variety of different names. Athletes are more familiar with terms such as visualization, positive thinking, guided imagery, and mental rehearsal which are all elements of the hypnotic process. However, for whatever reasons they shy away whenever they hear the word hypnosis. When an athlete incorporates these elements while in the super-learning state, or hypnosis, they are able to accelerate the learning curve in their sport, increase their ability to execute tasks related to performance, and establish positive habits that lead to success.

The mind plays a pivotal role in peak performance in any sport. Whether you support sports psychology, sports hypnosis, or both just make sure you are incorporating some type of mental training into your practice regimen. When the mind and body come together thats when excellence happens in sports.

John Weir is a Peak Performance Coach and the Creator of the Mental Caddie – Golf Enhancement System available at He is a published author, keynote speaker, and sought after trainer in the fields of performance, motivation, and the power of the mind. Connect with John on the Mental Caddie Fanpage and learn more about the mental side of golf

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