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by Joseph Tramontana
Crown House, 2011
Review by Roy Sugarman PhD on Nov 29th 2011

Sports Hypnosis in Practice

Tramontana asserts right from the get go that sports hypnosis is part of Sports Psychology, in which he holds a clinical psychology qualification.  He also acknowledges that many of the interventions used by sports psychologists include elements which he would include in his armoury as hypnotic elements, eg visualizations, relaxation, breathing, and so on.

He regards this all as a form of mental coaching, distinguished from his prior clinical work and lacking the pathological focus of clinical psychology. In essence, in some form or shape, he practices similar strategies across all sports, utilizing the language of the coaches of each at times to reinforce these words within his hypnotic sessions.

He never really addresses the 'state or trait' controversy that has existed in hypnosis across the years, and gratifying however is his assertion that his clinical work and sports work are differentiated by the different loci of control of the two, and he regards it as more valuable if the athlete maintains control of the nature of the relationship, unlike therapeutic sessions in his view.

His sessions always begin with asking the athlete what percentage of their success has been mental, and what percentage of their time do they allocate to the mental aspects, setting the scene for his assertion that what he does is mental coaching.

Then, as with most hypnotherapy, he begins with an induction exercise to assess their 'coachability' in terms of his approach, or how accessible they are to his skills. He enjoys athletes overall because of their commitment to their sport, and hence to try anything that might enhance their competitive edge.

He then divides his chapters into sport specific heading, starting with golf, then other sports including track and field athletes, sprinters, distance runners, high jumpers, gymnasts and cheerleaders, equestrians, football, baseball and basketball, softball and tennis, volleyball, soccer, shooting, cycling and rugby, whilst at pains to note that his approach would apply across all sports.  In some, there is time to contemplate failure and success, whilst in others the athlete has little or no time to think and relies on instinctual flow. He often quotes the magnificent example of Tiger Woods as a paragon of the powerful mental mindset, a bit prematurely I think, given Woods' struggle since the book went to press, with clearly his mechanics failing him in response to the emotional issues he has been forced to confront.

As with Steve Hecht and others, (see The Hecht Effect online), Tramontana has long ago realized that the mechanical aspects of a sport are easily disrupted by emotional components and other distracters.  Athletes learn to trust their body's ability to manage the mechanical, whilst making sure feeling and thinking do not pollute the field for them.

His last two chapters deal with injury and addiction, and recovery from both.

True to his title he constantly refers to case studies and to the scripts he typically uses, from induction through interventions, across various sessions, numbered from 1 onwards.  There are a few glaring errors in the book, such as a heading on page 38, suggesting some reframing from an editor might be required.  There is also a little self-aggrandizing, which could have been left out, such as a hospital ward reporting "You are the only one who connected with this kid" but I suppose he was trying to make the point about setting up relationships and finding something to work with in everyone. He also describes very basic techniques such as reframing, as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and these lack detail.

Most of his interventions involve locking in good plays, flicking off bad, moving backward in time to past events, then moving forward to visualize better outcomes, as well as brief lists of what induction and scripts were favoured. Some cases, eg the Olympic Shooter, don't seem to go anywhere. In soccer, only one paragraph, using a miracle intervention (you wake up and a miracle has occurred) appear to not address anything specific, sad, because soccer has many distinct roles in it. The same lack of detail occurs in his discussion of the big three in the USA, basketball, football and baseball.

Likewise, his discussion of healing after injury and dealing with addiction is uninspiring, if one thinks of the work that Yvonne Gomez, working with University of San Francisco athletes is doing, which involves the use of healing light and other metaphors, drawing on her time as an Olympic skater. Seen on video, the richness of her scripts, and the use of all of the senses in her metaphors, suggests that Tramontana could enrich his prose remarkably and also share more of the actual scripts he uses in personalized intervention, rather than the conversations he has. Many will expect this is a guide to specific sport applications, but in reality it is more a general guide to hypnosis with standard inductions and scripts, but with some reference to sport psychology. Instead, he uses anecdotes, often personal, to show WHY they should regard mental aspects as important.

In many ways a good guide to basic hypnosis for beginners who have not looked at hypnosis in any structured way, or for the seasoned sports psychologist, who uses many of the elements anyway, this would be a good introduction.

However, Tramontana might want to review his book further before a second edition, and instead of trying to deal with different sports, in which I think he fails, stick to writing a generic book with a focus on what elements of hypnosis really made a difference to key elements of sports psychology, reflected in chapters, such as one on anxiety, one on confidence, one on mechanical failures, one on injury that specifically targets stages of recovery, one on social skills  that help athletes deal with both failure and success, and so on, rather than attempt it by sport category, where he does not manage an impact on the reader. For instance, when one eagerly turns to the show jumper, nothing is given that is specific or personalized towards her particularly, and she could be anyone.  The promise on page 8 that reference will be made in Chapter Five to the slow motion effect in equestrians, he makes no reference to the concept of 'flow' noting only that he believes this happens in other sports. His four page interview with a coach here does nothing for the book.

As with many other authors, Tramontana may need to step back a little and see what others might see in reading his book, such as when one reads a basic text on visualization and hypnosis in cycling, a sport that has drawn on these fields most successfully: see http://cyclingfitness.hubpages.com/hub/Mental-Training-Techniques-For-Cyclists

The focus of his approach is thus little developed in his book, and I am sure doesn't adequately reflect on the successes he says he has achieved. Readers of this book will be looking for more of his experience and more specifics, but for the beginner who wants to start somewhere, with a broad overview, this book will suffice. The opening chapters on the basic how to do it will go down well, but as any athlete knows, practice is everything.

 

© 2011 Roy Sugarman

 

Roy Sugarman PhD, Director Neuroscience: Athletes Performance USA