Improving Sporting Performance Easily With Effective Psychological Coaching

NLP achieving elite performance

Every outstanding performer has a performance coach whether their sport is extremely physical, tactical, a team sport, or individual. No elite performer is successful in the current world without tapping utilising the immense advantages that coaching techniques give. Psychological Coaching is the primary manner in which sports men and women achieve their successes.

The concept of the ‘inner game’ has grown in acceptance over the past few decades but is still something which if frequently downplayed in many sporting arenas, and is certainly something skirted around by the media and specialist publications alike. Why this is a quandary. Specialist magazines contain pages of advice on physical preparation, diet and nutrition, equipment, techniques, but there is a complete lack of any real understanding of the psychological aspects of improving performance.

What is more of concern, perhaps is that the NLP and Coaching Community is so apologetic about what it can offer individuals wanting to improve their performance. NLP is based on the study of excellence in human performance and how to replicate this in others. IT was based on the study of outstanding therapists but rapidly went on to focus not on mending broken people but to look at excellence in outstanding individuals. Martin Seligmann (Chair of the American Psychological Association no less!) has stated that we should be now move from focussing on broken people and how they are broken to focus on developing a psychology of excellence and learn how to apply what successful fully function individuals in the same circumstances to do achieve totally opposite outcomes.

It is true that many of the leading actors on the NLP stage have worked with elite performers in all types of sport and achieved outstanding results but the orthodoxy of limiting beliefs and controllability have undermined performance gains which have been found or modelled.

Sporting performance the world over has improved in every respect in every sport. Even with the drive against the use of performance enhancing drugs we have seen a year on year increase in human performance levels. Some of this is down to physiology and selection as more young performers are focussed into areas where they can naturally excel. More and more of performance at an elite level is achieved through technical and psychological coaching approaches. With the drive to lift national levels of performance, with immense amounts of money paying off with countries such as the UK achieving unprecedented levels of success compared to its population. There are distinct advantages to psychological coaching which are paying off. However, this success is only on the back of huge efforts with massive beurocracies. Where do individuals wanting to improve their own performance as they approach elite level turn to to access this type of support? Well the answer is a combination of physical coaching, technique coaching, but also in accessing the benefits which a Psychological Performance coach can offer using coaching techniques from the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming.

Internal representations of performance and learning

Each of us has a preferred manner of representing our experience to ourselves. Conventional thinking categorises this as visual, auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory representations. Add to this the vestibular system (Balance and three dimensional location and orientation) and you have basis of an understanding of how an athlete represents their performance to themselves. Each performance will consist of a combination of these known as a strategy. Understanding that each person has their own combination of representational systems and individual strategies for every aspect of their performance gives the coach and athlete a constructive framework in which to work. The Majority of performers will not have recognised their own processing and representational systems until it is pointed out to them. It is important to test for these representational systems as each person has their own way of representing their own performance. I worked wit an elite dancer, I assumed, wrongly, that she would represent her performance would be kinaesthetic and possibly visual. When I modelled her I learned that this was not the case. She had no kinaesthetic, visual, or auditory dialogue representations of her performance at all. Puzzled, I challenged this and she nervously confessed that each move had an internal abstract noise which she could play back to reproduce movement. I would now suspect that there was a vestibular representation as well although I was not able to elicit this at the time. Understand your own representational systems and you can take control of them and adjust them to suit your own performance.

All representations are subject to variation I terms of sub-modalities:- colour to black and white for example. Adjusting personal representations has a direct impact on performance, as well as beliefs about performance.

State management

State is crucial to learning and performance. State is the relationship between behaviour, performance, breathing, feelings, and thoughts. They are all linked, change one and the others change with them. Awareness of state gives you choice over your performance.

New behaviour Generator

This is something which I would assume athletes do naturally but I have learned not to assume. Tapping into a persons representational systems, gives access to learning new performances internally. You might call this creative visualisation but NLP teaches us that visualisation alone will be less effective tan utilising a persons own representational systems, association and dissociation in a variety of flexible patterns tailored to the athlete. In this way internal rehearsal can be much, much more effective than visualisation alone. Once installed this pattern, enables athletes to rehearse and create new performance in any context in preparation for competitive performance.

Swish Pattern

Many athletes have patterns of problematic performance that are linked to internal representations of performance. A golfer, for example may have a repeated experience of playing a particular shot badly at a particular hole. What the Swish Pattern enables the golfer to do is to replace the negative representation with a positive one. As they represent the poor performance to themselves they use this as a trigger to elicit a representation of a positive performance instead. Once installed this pattern becomes automatic very quickly – with the original trigger for poor performance now the trigger for a representation and now an expectation of excellent performance. In the same way which specific aspects of performance can be switched from positive to negative – other contexts locations or even competitors can be easily reprogrammed to be triggers for excellence.

Values elicitation

Every sports man or woman has a set of values and beliefs which operate at an unconscious level driving choices, actions and motivation. NLP Coaches are able to elicit a persons values hierarchy and enable them to reconsider both values and sporting performance in the light of sporting goals and aspirations. One value that can be surprisingly absent is that of practice! Bring this to the attention of the client and the coach is able to lead them to a new understanding of their relationship with their sport.

New Code Change Pattern

New Code Change Pattern using New code games, high performance states are the ideal way of working directly with the unconscious of the athlete to access new resources, unconscious learning and state choice during performance. This can be utilised in preparation and training or, prior to performance. This is particularly useful and effective as the athlete can utilise aspect of this work individually to access high performance state at will.

Circle of excellence

Anchoring positive resources, whether created or recalled into a spatial anchor can be immensely useful. Using the spaces or equipment used in the sport is a natural thing which all sports men and women do – teaching how to use this in a more structured and useful way has a direct positive impact on performance. Imagine using the golf grip as a powerful anchor or the doorway or smell of the squash court and the circle of excellence trigger. I use the brake lever hood of my cycle – it always has to be in just the right position on the bar but it always works.

Timeline emotional release

We all carry programming through emotional triggers in our early development which continue to impact on us throughout adulthood These are the underlying automatic reactions which we can assume are part of our personality. Things like not feeling good enough, being angry in certain situations, anxiety under pressure are all link back to the imprint period in our early development or to specific points in our history. Timeline emotional release allows the athlete to let go of unhelpful emotional issues which continue to impinge on their performance whether they are conscious of it or not. This is an interesting position for the coach to find themselves as they will calibrate that the intervention would have a big impact on training and performance but the athlete may perceive this as a natural part of their make up. As such this pattern would usually be most effective once a coaching relationship is established and coach and athlete have good rapport.

Failure into Feedback (Reframing)

Teaching this pattern may not be needed with some athletes who use negative feedback as a key motivator but if failure is an issue during performance or training and preparation the skill of reframing failure in to feedback or even feed-forward is extremely useful in giving the athlete freedom to learn quickly from their performance.

Motivation strategies Meta Programmes

Every one f us has what are called meta-programmes operating at an unconscious level. One of the key ones for most people not just athletes is their motivation strategy. Motivation is either towards a goal, away from a negative or somewhere in between. If the strategy in a context is away-from then as the athlete moves away from then the level of motivation decreases. This is something which coaches and athletes alike need tobe aware of.

Internal dialogue

John Grinder, co-creator of NLP has called Internal Dialogue one of the biggest obstacles to personal change and development. Using the Techniques of Frank Farrally is most useful in this area. If someone has a very supportive internal dialogue then the coach and athlete can utilise it to support performance further. If it is negative then it needs dealing with so that if not supportive it is at least quieter, less shrill – less demanding. Using sub-modalities one can change the direction of ID change its tone and volume, even change the persona of the ID. If it is particularly difficult then a re-negotiation of its role may be in order. Imagine in stead of having a nagging critic in you right ear you had a personal trainer and coach supporting you at all times? Sounds too good to be true? This is what a NLP trained coach can do for you.

Sub-modality Belief Change

Every belief about sporting performance is represented internally. As such every negative belief has a particular way of being represented to the athlete. Using Sub-modality Map Across or Sub-modality belief Change pattern allows the athlete to have choice about their own beliefs of their performance. Taking a less then helpful belief which is in the way of personal success and reducing the impact it has on him or her or even better taking a weak belief about success and making it compelling to the point of being undeniable. This can be applied to equally to preparation, learning and specific and general performances.

Unconscious tasking

Developing a healthy relationship with ones unconscious is one of the most important aspects to personal development and achieving success. This is something which some have a naturally good relationship with their unconscious minds for others this is something which they have to establish and develop. An NLP coach will do this with the client and work with them to develop a better relationship with the unconscious mind. Once this is established then using the awareness developed in strategy elicitation the unconscious mind can be tasked with preparation, developing and producing desired states and performances over time. This process can be used to re-direct automatic responses for example from anger to energy – from vulnerability to curiosity. This approach has huge potential to harness the potential of the unconscious mind in the service of specific tasks and objectives. For anyone doubting the role of the unconscious mind in sporting performance should consider that tennis players start reacting to a bal before they are consciously aware of its trajectory, moving, assessing speed and direction and preparing a return in real time before the conscious mind can react.

Peripheral Vision

The development of peripheral vision goes hand in hand with developing a better relationship with the unconscious mind. Elite athletes have exceptional peripheral vision which allows them to take in huge amounts of information direct to the unconscious mind. This gives athletes a huge advantage in performance, taking in much more relevant information at any one time. This is easy to develop and becomes a natural state very quickly. It also has the benefit of immediately changing state to a calmer more resourceful one at any time one chooses. For another demonstration of the importance and power of peripheral vision watch the video of Mark Cavendish winning sprints – he is able to sense riders behind him reacting and respond to them and win races. He has not eyes in the back of his head – this is a demonstration of how important peripheral vision is.

Future pace & Compelling future

Goal setting is one thing but NLP teaches us that the mind is much more likely to achieve goals if they are created in a highly compelling way. The Compelling Future pattern is an excellent way of focussing the attention of the unconscious mind on achieving important goals. Including achievable goals on the way to more ambitious goals demonstrates to the unconscious mind that the achievable goal, part of the ambitious goal is easy so the ambitious one will be achievable.


NLP is borne of modelling and all this means is the development of models of excellent human behaviour. All of us learn in this way as young children and will have experience of adopting the state, physiology, values and beliefs of people whose performance we wish to emulate. Learning how to do this through micro muscle mirroring, breathing, posture and physiology enables new performance to be modelled from others. This is a higher order skill which athletes already have to a large extent but is frequently at the unconscious competence level. The coach’s job is to bring this back to the conscious incompetence level for the sake of developing and applying the skills of modelling the excellence of others. Combine this with strategy elicitation and a whole new powerful set of tools emerges which can create unprecedented levels of performance.

Sports performance in an area where people can excel in so many ways. Not only can NLP approaches bring about dramatic changes in sporting performance, but the processes used immediately give individuals much more choice and flexibility in every part of their lives with a set of skills insights and understanding which are highly relevant to every other aspect of their lives. Anyone wishing to really improve their sporting performance whether this is for leisure, competition or career should be working with an NLP certified coach who has at least Mater Practitioner Certification. Any Coach operating at this level should seriously consider the benefits of helping others develop greater choice and flexibility in their lives through the medium of sports coaching. NLP is not just about helping to achieve therapeutic outcomes, demonstrating the path to excellence and personal growth should always be a central aim.

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