You will not be lost in an unconscious trance.
You will not relinquish control with a click of the fingers.
You will not reveal your deepest, darkest secrets to a stranger.
And you will not act like a chicken (unless you really want to act like a chicken).
In the small but growing world of sports hypnosis, such stereotypes are hard to shake – but Dr Fraser Carson can sense the relief when his new clients see how different the reality is from the caricature.
“I do come up against traditional beliefs about hypnosis, but this is not a stage show,” says Dr Carson, who runs Melbourne Endurance Sport Hypnosis in Richmond. “It’s a growing area. At the elite level in sport, physiologically the players are the same – the major differences are often mental.”
Born in Britain and raised in Ireland, Dr Carson was a professional rugby player in England – a hooker for the Sheffield Eagles – and is now a triathlete. He holds a bachelor’s degree focused on sports psychology, a master’s in coaching education and a PhD in sports science.
For three years he was also the “mental skills coach” of the Melbourne Football Club, when the Demons began their rebuild under Dean Bailey. (The fact that his work was with the league’s perennial cellar dwellers is not ideal for “marketing purposes”, but Dr Carson said feedback from the club was overwhelmingly positive.)
“We focused on guided imagery and relaxation exercises,” he says. “Goal setting, visualisation, coping strategies, controlling anxiety levels – all that sort of stuff can be useful for elite-level competitors.”
Hypnosis, he points out, does not involve focusing on a pendulous swinging watch – athletes simply close their eyes while being walked through relaxation exercises. Dr Carson might ask them to picture falling leaves, or the lights in a skyscraper slowly being switched off. Each activity calms and focuses the athlete, one level at a time, allowing the subconscious to come forward.
“We get into that state where the mind wanders, like that moment when you’re driving down the road and don’t really remember the last 20 minutes,” he says. “We all daydream. What I do is help you structure that moment and make it work for you.”
The technique has a long history in sport. Tiger Woods is a prominent advocate of hypnosis. Michael Jordan was a devotee. More locally and recently, St Kilda midfielder Maverick Weller attributed a last-minute victory to “mind training” programs at the Saints.
Winning is a common goal, but Dr Carson works with people for various reasons. There are those who need help overcoming “the wall” in a long-distance event, and others who want to focus on achieving specific elite times. Some just want the will to get off the couch and hit the gym.
“We know that the mind often gives up before the body,” he says. “I often work around energy, pride and accomplishment, and use those motivators to push people forward.”
He says hypnosis can help people overcome high-pressure moments in sport, like the cricket player he is helping to face fast bowlers more successfully. “We work on building a sense of control, and being on the front foot. And we try to remove any limiting or negative self-belief.”
One client had a specific phobia around open-water swimming, which she needed to overcome to complete an Ironman triathlon.
“I had this insane fear of sharks,” said Brenda Hutchinson, of Ashwood. “I’m an accountant – a very logical, technical, analytical person – so I was cynical about the whole process. But I couldn’t recommend it more highly.”
Having now completed two Ironman events, hypnosis is just one more thing in her “training toolkit”.
“I think hypnosis gives you a huge advantage,” she says. “Athletes pay so much attention to all their gear, their physio, their schedule, their nutrition, but they neglect the mind.”
Konrad Marshall, August 9, 2015. Published at The Age online, to read from original link please click here.