Practise makes perfect, that’s what my old Nan always used to say. However, what she failed to mention, is the importance of practising things going the way you want them to go, instead of considering what to do if it does go wrong. How many times do you ask yourself “What’s the worst that could happen?!”

For athletes though, it is imperative that they focus on achieving, on being the winner, first time, every time. Quite often, they only have one shot at their success. Being a bit off form at a crucial moment is simply not an option.

So the first thing I tell athletes who come to see me for help in improving their performance is to practice success. To actually visualise everything going well; scoring the perfect goal, making the longest jump or moving the fastest. From an attraction point of view, we know that you will attract more of what you are focusing on, so it’s important to focus on success. This helps to manifest the desired outcome, but more than that, when you focus on something in your mind, you are also accessing all of the same neural networks as if you were actually performing the act. Scientists initially believed that neural networks existed only in the brain, but we now know that they are a network throughout your entire body. This means that if for example, you think about running, as you are laying in your bed, you will be activating and accessing the muscles in your legs. It is quite likely that they will twitch unconsciously as you consider moving them. This was famously noted by Milton Erickson, the man largely responsible for bringing hypnosis to the clinical arena. When Milton was a child he was struck with polio and left paralysed. As he sat in a chair, longing to be outside playing with his siblings, imagining running in the long grass and kicking the football, he noticed that his legs had begun to swing in the chair!

NLP utilises a technique called anchoring. In this, the mind creates a link between an intense feeling and an external trigger. This can have positive and negative implications for our athletes. For example, there may be negative anchors (triggers that create a bad feeling) associated with past failures which are set off whenever the athlete is performing or due to perform. If the trigger for the bad feeling can be established, then the negative anchor can easily be collapsed. If an athlete need to tap into resourceful emotions, such as calm, focus or power, an anchor can be created with a trigger of squeezing their fingers for example.

A simple way to become the best at what you do is to find someone else who is the best at it, and find out how they do it. If you think that Harry Kane is the best striker that the world has ever seen, it is possible to model the way that he thinks, feels and behaves to create the results he achieves. This is done using strategy elicitation which allows us to extract all of the conscious and unconscious components that create the behaviour, which leads to the excellent result. When the strategy has been extracted, it can be installed in someone else using rehearsal, metaphors or hypnosis. Hypnosis provides a deep state of relaxation which can be prolonged to maintain calm and alleviate anxiety, as well as installing positive empowering suggestions, such as being able to focus and concentrate with ease.

At a deeper level of understanding, NLP can be used to discover a person’s values and uncover and resolve any conflicts here. For example, if a person has a value of success and a value of not being defeated, then there could be some problems here. For a start, not being defeated is what we would call an “away from” value, in that the person is trying to move away from something, in this case, to move away from defeat. This means that their focus is on defeat, making it likely that this is the thing that is achieved. This is then also in conflict with success, which could mean that success is sometimes achieved, but is not sustainable.

After all, if sports or athletics is your life, it’s not the taking part which counts, but the winning.


By Gemma Bailey