Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘The Placebo Effect

In sports, there is such a thing as a self-limiting belief. But beliefs can also work in a positive way, like placebos in medicine, authorizing athletes to achieve what they are already capable of achieving. The classic example is Roger Bannister, the first human to break the four-minute mile. As soon as he broke that mental barrier to human capability, other runners began doing it. The fact that no one had run a mile faster than four minutes had become a self-limiting belief that no one could do so. After Bannister proved such a feat was possible, many other runners accomplished it. Their beliefs, not their bodies, had held them back.

In his book The Silent Pulse, George Leonard refers to the process as “positive physical transformation” — dealing with the power of, what he calls “intentionality.” This is often identified as the “placebo effect” — an effect that is derived not from the potion but from the process, which is one of authorization. Roger Bannister was capable of breaking the 4-minute mile, as were many others, and when Bannister finally broke it, that was an “authorization” for others to do the same. This is the “power of intentionality.” The following is a quote from George Leonard’s book: “Now that the mile is run in less than 3 minutes and 50 seconds and weight lifters can clear and jerk more than 560 pounds, these feats are not called supernatural. But if you had told a sports expert of the year 1878 that such performances were humanly possible, he would have thought you quite mad. In recent years, as a matter of fact, a fifty-year-old man has bested the time of the 1908 Olympic marathon champion. Now it’s true that some of this fantastic improvement can be attributed to technology, better selection, training methods, nutrition, and vitamins. But the same kind of technology has been applied to racehorses — with no such improvement in performance.”

A baseball player planning to join the Mets AAA team told me that he expected to hit .300 in the farm club. I asked him: If he could hit three out of ten pitches, why couldn’t he hit four out of ten? Who was stopping him from hitting .400? He looked at me thoughtfully and replied, “Nobody.” He realized how his expectations had been limited to conventional beliefs.

Much has been written about the placebo effect as related to the field of health, but it can also apply to the field of sports performance. For example, let’s assume you are a member of a men’s college basketball team and since your days in Junior College you’ve had difficulty making free throws, even though you have the skill level to make them. And one day you and your coach decide to produce a 3 ½ minute highlight video of you accompanied by a music sound track with lyrics that have a special meaning, and in the video you see yourself constantly shooting and making every free throw. You watch the video over and over and over again and just before competing, you listen to only the music track and the images on your video are recreated in your mind. (This is called “image transference.”) Based on my experience, if you have the skill level to make free throws and are unencumbered with personal and team-related issues in your life, by watching your video and BELIEVING that watching your video will improve your free throw shooting percentage, it will. Same applies to making 3-point shots.
According to George Leonard in his book “The Silent Pulse” the placebo effect “works best when both the patient (athlete) and healer (coach) are convinced of the power of the treatment (the video). The healer (coach) simply authorizes the patient (athlete) to do what he or she is already easily capable of: that is to control even the most esoteric bodily functions, to grow or destroy tissues, to produce sickness or health” (making free throws or 3-point shots.)

N. V. I.
National Visualization Institute

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