Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Visualization


A number of years ago I made a startling discovery: When athletes have a high sense of inner-self and their lives are in harmony, they are able to use visualization techniques effectively. They will not only perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis, but will also create positive events in their lives, on and off the field of competition. But when their lives are in disharmony, visualization and other mental techniques become ineffective. If they are experiencing personal problems and have unresolved issues hovering above them like a dark cloud, those problems and issues definitely affect their ability to perform in their sport.

I also found that the worst thing athletes can do to negatively affect their performance is to withhold their feelings and emotions. Withholding is a form of lying that demeans them and lowers their sense of inner-self, creating psychological baggage that affects their ability to focus and process information. Withholding, if not dealt with, can also affect an athlete’s physical health.

In the late 80’s I was invited to work with the UMKC Men’s Division I basketball team halfway through their season. At that time they had a dismal 3-15 record and the coach allowed me to take the team into a room, without his being present, and create a support group atmosphere. Each team member was encouraged to air his grievances without fear of being punished, whether they be about coaches, other players, or even issues in their personal lives. I was astounded to learn how much anger they had toward each other. And much of it revolved around relationships with members of the opposite sex. We spent four hours clearing the air and then I introduced them to visualization, which none of them had ever done before. To make a long story short, they won 8 out of their next 10 games and the coach thought it was because he hadn’t changed his under shorts.

Based on the success I had with the UMKC team, I began teaching performance enhancing mental skills (such as visualization) to teams and athletes, assisting them in sorting through issues and problems they may be experiencing in their personal lives.


“Observations that contradict existing wisdom often lead toward, not away, from the truth.” – Anonymous

In 1960, Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote “Psycho Cybernetics” – a runaway best seller, and in it he introduced the concept of visualization, which subsequently was embraced by universities and colleges across this nation who were offering PhDs in sport psychology. In his book, Dr. Maltz wrote of the “Theatre of the Mind” and maintained that if individuals were to visualize something in their lives, it will take place, regardless of what is happening in their personal lives.

I must not be a very persuasive person because for the past 26 years I’ve tried unsuccessfully to convince others of something that I accidentally stumbled upon. That is, if an athlete is encumbered with unresolved issues and/or problems in his or her personal life, visualization techniques are totally ineffective. And in 1987, I read something in the media that absolutely convinced me I was on the right track. It involved one of golf’s greatest visualizers, Tom Watson. Here’s what happened: Rumors were floating around about Tom Watson’s personal life during the 1987 U.S. Open Golf Tournament. After an opening round of 72, he called a press conference and announced he was not an alcoholic, he was not divorcing his wife, and he was not firing his brother-in-law as his agent. Whatever impression his declaration made on sportswriters, he cleared the issues from his head and focused on golf. The next day he shot an outstanding 65 and finished runner-up in the tournament.

I think the main reason I’ve been unable to get this fact across to the general public is because our educational institutions are teaching otherwise. At the present time, if you have a degree in sport psychology and attempt to help an athlete with his or her personal issues you could lose your license. The reason for this is that you would be entering the domain of the clinical psychologist, which is taboo since the field of psychology is very territorial. My recommendation is that when our universities and colleges award a student with a PhD in sport psychology, they should, simultaneously, require that the student also have a masters degree in counseling. This will enable the student to help athletes with their personal problems and issues without losing his or her license. But for change to come about, our universities and colleges would be required to acknowledge they have erred over the past 52 years, and I really doubt that will happen.

A number of years ago, the late Dr. Carl Simonton (who first identified the mind-body connection) came up with the discovery of what he called the Surveillance Mechanism Theory as related to the detection and treatment of cancer. Simply stated, the SMT maintains that we all have cancer cells in our bodies but that our immune systems are constantly gobbling them up Pac-Man style. However, when we encounter stress in our lives our bodies give off hormones that impair our immune systems, allowing the cancer cells to multiply at a rate faster than they can be devoured. This appears to be the case involving former Penn State Coach Joe Paterno who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.

From my perspective, and most physicians will agree, there’s a correlation between high self-esteem and wellness and low self-esteem and illness.

When I lived in Kansas City, Missouri in the late 1980s, I volunteered my services at the RA Bloch Cancer Support Center. On various Sunday mornings, with the encouragement of co-founder Richard Bloch, I would meet with newly diagnosed cancer patients in a support group environment. At the outset I would explain to them that even though they had been diagnosed as having cancer, that was not their primary problem. Their primary problem was that each had a suppressed (or impaired) immune system and that we were going to focus on their immune systems and participate in exercises designed to enhance their immune systems. Since research has shown that the most conspicuous characteristic of cancer patients is bottled up emotions I would have everyone sit in a circle and each person would tell his or her own story about stress in their lives. Each would interact with others and bring their emotions to the surface. Once they began talking about their issues, many for the first time, they experienced an increase in self-esteem resulting in an enhanced immune system. At that point they were then introduced to the use of a visualization technique where they would “see” their own healthy t-cells attacking their cancer cells. This exercise was accompanied by Patti LaBelle’s recording of “New Attitude.”

So based on the above, my recommendation to Coach Paterno would be that he either involve himself in a support group or seek the services of a psychotherapist who could help him through this difficult period in his life.

One last point: What I have recommended should only be considered as a supplemental program. It should not replace any treatment prescribed by a physician or oncologist.

A few years ago Oprah Winfrey visited Springfield, Missouri, where I live. Now, I am a big fan of hers and admire how she picked herself up by her bootstraps and was able to change her life. But while in Springfield, she told a crowd of mostly women who attended her public seminar they were created with a calling. She said: “The universe has a dream for you. And it’s always working to move you in the right direction.”

Oprah was right when she made this observation, but not completely right. Though the universe may have a dream for us, and is always working to move us in the right direction, we human beings keep messing it up. Some of us often follow paths that are self-destructive, such as doing drugs, lying, or being dishonest with our feelings. You can see this very clearly when individuals get into trouble for having used drugs, or violently abusing a spouse, or driving while drunk and killing an innocent bystander.

The universe is not always working to move people in the right direction, but rather, only those who have a positive sense of inner self as a result of either being reared in a family where they were loved by someone unconditionally, or in instances where they were willing to roll up their sleeves and take a good hard look at themselves (as Oprah did) and then began making course corrections in their lives. This often involves many years of work and even therapy. There is no such thing as a quick fix.

Oprah should make it clear to her fans that the universe is always working to move us in the right direction providing we don’t follow self-destructive paths in our personal lives. If we are, then we need to address those issues and resolve them (or at least begin the process of resolving them) before we can get back on track with the universe and have it work with and for us. Anyone following self-destructive behavior should not expect the universe to work in their favor. Which is the foundation of how I came to develop the Psycho Self-Imagery process.

The Psycho Self-Imagery process involves resolving conflict in your life, not suppressing feelings, having a high sense of self worth (your inner self), bringing personal issues to completion (or at least begin the process of bringing them to completion), being highly spiritual, helping others less fortunate than yourself and having your life in harmony. Then visualizing yourself being successful and actually creating positive events in your life.
But when you have conflict in your life, when you are suppressing your feelings, when you have personal issues that you haven’t brought to completion, when you have a low sense of self-worth (inner self), when you are not helping others less fortunate than yourself and when your life is in disharmony, you will create negative events in your life.

Though “there is no rule without exception,” (Hermann Hesse in Steppenwolf) over the years I’ve found there really is no such thing as good luck or bad luck. We create what happens to us in our lives. Those of us who were loved unconditionally, either as children or by someone special in our lives, grow to love ourselves. And this unconditional love is the foundation for success and happiness.

Successful coaches care about their athletes as human beings first, and then as athletic performers. This includes helping them with their personal issues and problems and having an open-door policy.

Successful coaches know that when they get angry they give away their power. They do not yell and get in the faces of their athletes.

Successful coaches are aware that what takes place in their own personal lives affects how they interact with their teams.

Successful coaches encourage their athletes not to “withhold” their feelings and emotions since withholding is a form of lying that demeans them and lowers their self-esteem. As their self-esteem is lowered they take fewer risks in interpersonal relationships and create psychological baggage for themselves that affects their ability to focus and process information.

Successful coaches hold weekly team meetings and encourage, when necessary, that their players sometimes participate in “players only” meetings so they will feel free to discuss team related problems and issues in a support group environment, issues they may not feel comfortable discussing with their coach present.

Successful coaches know they cannot motivate their players but can create a support group environment allowing their players to discuss their personal issues and problems; and when they do, they will then feel better about themselves and will automatically become more motivated.

Successful coaches are constantly aware of their players’ eye contact since they realize that poor eye contact is an indication that players are withholding.

Successful coaches encourage their players to use visualization techniques, including the use of a meaningful music track to accompany their visualization process.

Successful coaches encourage their players to “excel for a higher order” by helping others less fortunate than themselves.

Successful coaches are those who tap into their athletes’ belief systems, realizing that the athlete’s beliefs affect performance, not the coaches.

N. V. I.
National Visualization Institute

Learn how to visualize, resulting in increased performance.

PHONE: 417-773-2695

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