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Increasing fencing performance with hypnosis

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The Knoxville Center for Clinical Hypnosis is having a one day seminar on using hypnosis to improve sports performance on Friday, April 29, 2011 from 9am-4pm at Healthy Visions Wellness Center in Clinton, TN. It is recommended and anyone interested in improving their fencing performance (or sports performance, in general) is encouraged to contact KCCH for more information. The registration deadline is April 15, 2011.

If you are wondering how hypnosis can improve your fencing, here’s a Q&A with the Director of KCCH on the subject.

Q: Can hypnosis make me a better fencer?
A: Very possibly. Hypnosis can help increase sports performance in a number of ways. What it can’t do is magically give you skills and abilities that you have never practiced.

Q: Can you give some examples of how hypnosis can improve sports performance, specifically fencing performance?
A: Sure. The biggest benefit of using hypnosis to improve sports performance is that it decreases stress. You can learn how to self-hypnotize before a training session and allow the instruction more readily to sink into the subconscious. We know that as interference (such as stress) increases, retention of information decreases. When the mind is preoccupied and distracted by various things that may be happening in the salle, it is more difficult for the brain to retain information in a way that it can be retrieved later. The information is there, but it is hard to retrieve because the interference didn’t lay down a clear path on how to get back to the information, thereby making it harder to retrieve the info. This path may be analogous to a trail of bread crumbs through the forest.

Hypnosis, which is a focused state of concentration, can help decrease distractions and interference (such as stress) and allow the brain to lay down a very clear path to be able to get to the information you are learning when engaging in the fencing lesson. Compared to the trail of breadcrumbs (above) this is a freeway.

If you didn’t use hypnosis before training, you can still benefit by using hypnosis after the lesson to bring the information you received below the level of awareness up to the level of awareness. This will allow you to review data that you missed the first time because of interference. We also know that a quite time after training allows the mind to better assimilate information. This is the reason that various Eastern sports (such as kendo) include a short meditation period after training.

For highly performing fencers who have achieved a state of flow, hypnosis can regress the fencer to their peak state of performance and elicit the same response in the present moment. Once again, this includes learning self-hypnosis and setting a trigger to help bring about the flow state, whenever it is desired.

Q: Does this only work for highly performing fencers, and, does it work for elite fencers?
A: That’s a good question. Most people don’t realize that mental training that may work for an average sportsman may not work the same way for an elite athlete, but I’ll address that in a minute.

In order for regression to a flow state to work, the fencer has to have experienced that state of peak performance. Hypnosis isn’t magic. I can’t regress you to Tim Morehouse’s state of peak performance (and just to be clear, flow and peak performance may not be exactly the same thing, but I’m using them somewhat interchangeably, here). I can only regress you to your state of peak performance and then give you a trigger to allow you to recreate that state of performance at will. Hypnosis can’t magically transfer physical abilities to you that you don’t possess.

As for the question about hypnosis working for elite athletes, we just don’t know. There have been no studies on this of which I am aware. There have been several good studies on using hypnosis to improve sports performance in diverse sports such as shooting, basketball, archery, etc., but none on an elite level. Well, there was a study on an elite judo player but it was more of a case study, as I recall. While we have anecdotal evidence of the power of suggestion being used to elicit increased sport performance (a famous one being about the Russian weightlifter, Vasiliy Alekseyev, who broke several world records back in the 70’s), there just isn’t any data upon which to make an informed opinion.

Q: Why is that?
A: I would guess that elite athletes (and their coaches) don’t want to try anything that may have negative effects. Not that hypnosis would have negative effects, but why fix something that isn’t broke? If you’re an elite athlete then you probably have confidence in the training methods you’re already using. However, I think this paradigm paralysis prevents athletes from reaching greater heights through the use of hypnosis. We know that Tiger Woods incorporated hypnosis into his training with spectacular results. Capt. Ron Eslinger (USN-R, who will be hosting our event at his new office in Clinton, TN) has worked with snipers and special operations units using hypnosis to improve their performance. This is part of the reason I believe elite athletes can definitely benefit from hypnosis. Those guys are elite performers, the best of the best at what they do. While sports are competitive and stressful, they really don’t compare with the stress of life and death situations faced by law enforcement officers and the men and women in military combat. If it works in those extreme situations, I think it can definitely work on less intense levels, such as in elite sports.

I’d love to do the study on elite athletes and hypnosis, so, anybody out there who has connections to elite athletes and trainers who want to experiment with hypnosis, please let me know. I am currently designing a study to look at hypnosis and improved performance in martial arts, so, if anybody would like to volunteer for that, please let me know.

Actually, designing single subject designs for combat sports is difficult because you have to isolate and operationalize your variables, and there are always lots of variables in quasi-experimental and single subject research. You’re also dealing with an opponent who may be using training enhancement methods, like hypnosis, so you can only base your performance (not the outcome) on your past performance and look for improvement. Human subjects research in natural settings is always fraught with these problems. I’m sure it keeps many a tenure-seeking professor awake at nights.

Q: Are there other ways hypnosis can benefit fencers?
A: Again, the biggest benefit is through stress reduction and improving the ability to concentrate at will. These two aspects can’t be stressed enough for the amateur or experienced fencer. Stress management is crucial to any sport but especially to a combat sport like fencing. Hypnosis is the ultimate stress management tool. (And just to go back to elite athletes for a moment, we know that the key to performance at this level is to manage stress in an optimal way. They need to be in a state of relaxed arousal, that peak state of performance that can be said to be flow. I believe that maintaining that state is a trick that can be done using hypnosis.) By helping athletes manage stress, or, performance arousal, in different ways, hypnosis is the ultimate tool. Nothing else can compare to it.

Q: What about some of the other tools used by mental training professionals in sports? How do they compare with hypnosis?
A: If you mean things like using imagery/visualization, developing mental toughness, or other cognitive skills sets, these are all just pieces of hypnosis or facilitated through hypnosis. Hypnosis is all about imagery/visualization because imagery is the language of the subconscious and that is the purview of hypnosis. Mental toughness is facilitated through both hypnosis and the various breathing exercises used in hypnosis. Col. Dave Grossman (USA-R) and his Killology Group have done some studies in this area and he teaches law enforcement and the military use of tactical breathing as a way to achieve the “bulletproof mindset.” This type of breathing is the same we use in hypnosis, called square breathing. It’s just a technique to help improve focus and concentration and induction of a hypnotic state.

Q: What can people expect to learn at the upcoming seminar?
A: We will look at what hypnosis is, which is a subject of continuing controversy in the field; a theory behind how hypnosis works; we’ll look at some of the studies in hypnosis and sports performance improvement; and we’ll talk to some people who have experienced hypnosis for sports performance improvement. We are also looking for a couple of volunteers who are willing to undergo the hypnosis process for sports performance improvement (to show what the process looks like in real life); and we’ll have the seminar participants experience the stress management aspects of hypnosis. That, by itself, is worth the price.

We’’ probably talk quite a bit in the morning about the theory behind how hypnosis works, because I obviously think it’s very important and, also, because it is based in internal control psychology. Most people are only familiar with external control psychology, so that takes some explaining.

I’m hoping we’ll get a diverse group of participants at the seminar so the interaction can be fuller. I think fencers may talk about aspects that shooters may not have considered and sports psychologists may bring out some points that law enforcement officers didn’t think of but may benefit from. Diversity is important in coming to a fuller understanding of anything.

Q: Would you like to comment on anything else?
A: Yes. We’d love to see you at the seminar. Remember that registration is going until April 15th, 2011, so make sure to get signed up soon. You can contact us at Knoxville Center for Clinical Hypnosis at 865-851-8687 or email us.

Q: Thank you.
A: Thank you.

Sign up quick and let KCCH help improve your fencing performance!

See you on the piste. En garde!

Ron

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