By Chaplin Paul G. Durbin, Ph.D.

Roger Moore at the Vancouver Marathon

Roger Moore at the Vancouver Marathon

The use of hypnosis to enhance sports performance is widely recognized. Baseball, football, basketball, hockey, tennis players, bowlers, golfers, and other athletes practice hypnosis and self hypnosis to improve their performance.

The job of the hypnotherapist is to help the person remove negative mind sets which interfere with his skills and replace those negative thoughts with positive helpful thoughts. Sometimes a player is “trying” too hard and not doing what comes naturally: aiming his pitches, taking his eyes off the ball, and being too tense. A player can have great potential but if his mind is not in agreement, problems arise. The body will not do anything that the mind doesn’t allow it to. By proper use of the mind, a player can live up to his abilities.

As you work with an athlete, understand that you cannot be completely familiar with all sports and every aspect of every sport. In order to help a player, you collect information from coaches or experts in the sport. With some knowledge in mind, determine areas where problems are experienced and make a plan to help the individual overcome the problem.

In addition to reaching relaxation, concentration, and self-hypnosis; positive suggestions and imagery are used. Imagery is very helpful and important in improving sports performance. The images should incorporate both seeing the necessary moves and experience the feeling of the muscles smoothly and easily following through with the visualization. Help the client translate his imagery into muscle movement as if he were doing it in reality. Emphasis is placed on doing it right, doing it just the way the client desires. A good suggestion is “You find that you easily keep your eye on the ball as it comes toward the plate, automatically estimating where the bat must be in order to accurately hit the ball. Feel your muscles following through automatically, enabling you to hit the ball.” That statement works much better than “You won’t strike out.” You desire the client to focus on hitting the ball. Focus on the positive.

Self-Hypnosis is very important and can be used while actually playing the sport. The client can reinforce suggestions by use of post-hypnotic suggestion with a trigger mechanism. A batter may tap the plate and experience relaxed concentration. A pitcher may touch the bill of his cap and be focused for his next pitch. A golfer can take a deep breath and exhale slowly as he imagines where his next ball goes.

Have the client visualize himself doing the mechanics of his sport correctly. You may suggest, “Imagine you are succeeding at your sport. You are confident and in control, you see your actions and reactions as natural responses to the competition. You enjoy your sport and you succeed. You feel good about yourself and your confidence is increasing. Go through your mental rehearsal time and time again doing it just the way it should be done and have a positive attitude. You mentally are doing it just right.

Drew’s Case History: Drew, a 21 year old college baseball pitcher, came to me to help on his concentration while pitching. When pitching, he was at times brilliant and other times ineffective due to wildness. He would be pitching very good, lose his concentration and began to walk batters. When he lost concentration, the batters would begin to hit the pitches he threw across the plate. It was a vicious cycle which was blocking a promising future in professional baseball. I had seen him pitch many times and believed that he had great potential. I used a self-confidence script with emphasis on concentration and confidence while pitching. I told him that it was important for him to use his ability for imagery. He is to picture himself just as he wanted to be. I told him of the power of imagery to bring about his desires.

Star Wars: One of the most popular movie series to come out in recent years has been the “Star War” movies. I would like to focus on the second one, “The Empire Strikes Back.” Perhaps you saw that movie. If you did, nod your head “yes”. He nodded “yes”. (If “no”, I say, “Well, let me tell you about it.”)…You may remember in that movie, we continue with the heroes and villains of the first movie. Once again, we find ourselves engaged with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and the robots R2-D2 and C-3PO, as they do battle with Darth Vader and the Legions of the Dark Empire.

One of the most fascinating new characters of “The Empire Strikes Back” is a strange little fellow named, “Yoda”. The short, odd-looking little individual is the master teacher of the Jedi Knights. The Jedi Knights are commissioned as universal agents of goodness and righteousness.

Luke Skywalker is sent to Yoda for training to become a Jedi Knight, but the training does not always run smoothly. When Yoda attempts to teach Luke to raise Luke’s space ship up and out of a swamp through the force of thought and imagery, Luke fails. After Luke’s failure to move the ship, Yoda levitated the space ship up and out of the swamp by thought alone. Luke watches in amazement, saying, “I don’t believe it!” Yoda responds, “That is why you failed.”

The “Star War” movies are fictitious, but the story of Luke Skywalker and Yoda can be looked upon as a parable. Imagery is a powerful source of healing, overcoming unwanted habits, increasing self-confidence, and making positive changes in your life. Imagery consist of vividly picturing in your conscious mind desired goals, objectives, and holding that image until it sinks into your subconscious mind, where it releases great untapped energies. Imagery is based upon the principle that there is a deep tendency in human nature to ultimately become precisely that which one images himself to be. The wise old man of Proverbs states that whatsoever a person thinks in his heart, so is he. Jesus said, “Whatsoever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.”

Pitching Concentration And Skills: You have told me that you have a desire to excel in your ability as a pitcher…You have chosen baseball as a sport in which you want to continue improving your talents, skills, and abilities. You love the game of baseball and have great enthusiasm for the game. You have the potential to be an exceptional and outstanding pitcher. And you have the talent and abilities to be an outstanding pitcher.

To be an excellent pitcher, the top players in the game say, there are several basic qualities and attitudes you must develop to help you be the outstanding player you are capable of becoming. You develop these qualities and attitudes and allow them to be planted into the soil of your subconscious mind which causes you to continually improve your abilities. You are becoming the outstanding pitcher you are capable of being…As I tell you those important qualities and attitudes, you can continue relaxing more completely and comfortable. You may find your mind wondering from time to time, but that is ok because your subconscious mind hears and receives everything I tell you and your subconscious mind allows these good suggestions to become your reality…

You have made a personal commitment to improve your skills and concentration. The desire to keep improving results in training and keeping your body in top physical condition at all times…You exercise your body regularly, practice to keep your body strong, fine tuned so that your reflexes and coordination always function properly. You eat the proper foods and avoid foods and drinks which diminish your abilities…Your desire to be an excellent pitcher continues increasing and that causes you to do the proper training needed to be an excellent pitcher…

A second quality in being an outstanding pitcher is to practice the skills of pitching correctly…Every sport requires that you have good speed, good timing, coordination, and the proper reflexes to enable you to make the right moves in the right way to handle your position properly…

It helps you improve your talents, skills, and abilities as a pitcher. You take some time each day to relax in a comfortable position and imagine yourself performing all the actions and techniques required for pitching. Imagine yourself doing everything properly…You do it correctly in your mind and that enables you to do it correctly when you are pitching in a game…Imagine yourself going over each pitch time and time again, always doing it properly. In an easy, natural way your mind directs your body to perform the moves and actions needed as you pitch.

Imagine concentrating on the catcher’s glove and see the catcher’s signal. In your mind, you see that ball going over the plate just where you want it to go and into the catcher’s glove for a strike…You are relaxed and comfortable but with just enough Adrenalin flowing in your body to respond appropriate to any situation. If at any time you become anxious or fear losing concentration step off the rubber, take a deep breath, touch the bill of your cap and as you exhale, you feel calm, relaxed and focused…You throw strikes or when attempting to fool a batter, you throw the ball where you want it to go…

A third quality to be an excellent pitcher is to be calm and at ease regardless of conditions or situations. You are increasing your ability and poise to adapt to any situation you are required to face…You pitch accurately whether the crowd is quiet or noisy, whether there are runners on base or not. Your concentration is focused under any condition when you are pitching. You are an outstanding pitcher and you have confidence in your abilities. You remain calm even if an error allows a man to reach base or when you walk an opposing batter…

When you are pitching, you are at your very best mentally, physically, and emotionally. You know by continuing to practice on the field and in your mind, you continue to improve. At any time you make a mistake; you accept it, learn from it, and maintain your concentration by stepping on the rubber, taking a deep breath, touching the bill of your cap and as you exhale, you are focused, relaxed and calm…

Drew was drafted by a professional baseball team and did very well in the minor leagues. His control was excellent and he was moving up the ladder of his sport until an injury cut short his career.


Chaplain Paul Durbin

Chaplain Paul G. Durbin is a United Methodist Minister. Chaplin (Brigadier General) United States Army: Retired 1989 Director of Pastoral Care & Clinical Hypnotherapy: Methodist Hospital, New Orleans, LA: Retired 2001 Director of Pastoral Care & Clinical Hypnotherapy: MHSF, Affiliated with Methodist Hospital: Retired June 30, 2005

Chaplin Durbin has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Centenary College of Louisiana; a Master of Divinity from Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia; PhD from the American Institute of Hypnotherapy, Irvine, California, now American Pacific University in Hawaii, and has completed four quarters of Clinical Pastoral Education at Walter Reed A.M.C., Washington, D.C.

He has had over 100 articles published in religious and hypnotherapy journals and conducted seminars on such subjects as “Pastoral Care,” “Death, Dying and Grief,” “Stress Management,” “False Memory Syndrome,” “Ethical Consideration in Health Care,” “Hypnosis,” and “Hypnotherapy.”

He has written three books: Human Trinity Hypnotherapy in 1993 which is out of print. Kissing Frogs; Practical Uses of Hypnotherapy published by Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company in 1996, Kissing Frogs received the “Pen and Quill Award” from NBHA and “Outstanding Performance Award” from IMDHA. Hypnotherapy for Body, Mind and Spirit is available from Access Services