Anchoring for sports performance

Anchoring for sports performance

Anchoring is one of the most powerful tools I use both in clinic and in the gym. Whether you want to be more focused, tap into your flow state or to just simply  unleash the strength that is hiding in your nervous system anchoring for sports performance works!

What is an anchor?

An anchor is simply a trigger that allows you to re-create a certain state. Have you ever passed someone wearing a perfume or after shave that has instantly transported you back in time? Smell is an incredibly powerful anchor due to it’s intimate connection with the limbic system in our brains. When you see power lifters inhaling on smelling salts it is not just about a sudden physiological jolt of ammonia. As the smell hits their limbic system they reconnect with all their max lifts and slip effortlessly into the zone.  When the difference between pulling a lift and missing it can be the strength of your mind and not your muscles then anchoring for sports performance might be the most important exercise you are not doing!

Other anchors

Anchors are not only smells, they can be sounds, physical rituals or words we say to ourselves in our mind. When you hear Jingle Bells on the radio it will create a certain feeling within you, however your favourite training track will make you feel entirely different. When I step up to the bar to deadlift I have a complex ritual that I perform religiously at the start of each set. I rub chalk on my hands, clap them, tap between my little finger and ring finger, step up to the bar so my shins just touch, pull up on the front of my shorts, pull myself under the bar, lock on then drive. If any part of this ritual is disturbed I loose my focus and my flow state has gone. 

Anchoring in sports performance can also explain some of the less resourceful states we can find ourselves in. When I was a judo fighter I could never win a final. As soon as it came to that final fight I would have already defeated myself. The voice in my head would change and the tournament was as good as lost. You see this all the time with sports men and women who struggle to perform on a certain pitch or course. That venue becomes a trigger that sets up a state change which then sabotages their performance. 

A judo fighter - anchoring for sports performance


How to set up anchoring for sports performance

I mainly work with hypnosis when anchoring for sports performance, however it is not always necessary as long as you have a place where you can focus and connect with your memories and your imagination.

The set up
  1. Begin by deciding the state you would like to anchor that would help your performance. It could be focus, self belief etc
  2. Decide on a word such as ‘strength’ or ‘focus’ that you will use to anchor that feeling to. You will repeat this word to yourself in your mind later. As well as words you can experiment with using pieces of music on your iPhone to create an auditory trigger too.
  3. Decide on a physical action to anchor that feeling to. If it is for playing tennis it could be the grip of your tennis racket or if you are lifting perhaps gripping the  bar tightly or the clap of your hands after you have chalked up. You want to make this an action that you do not use habitually outside of the setting you want to trigger your anchor in.
  4. When you are ready to begin close your eyes and simply focus on your breathing. Imagine breathing in calmness and breathing out any tension. If your mind is wondering all over the place (like it invariably will) then just imagine taking your thoughts out, placing them safely in a box and closing the lid until you are ready to open them again later. Take your time with this step as it sets up your focus which then enables you to effectively create your anchor.
Creating your anchor
  1. Allow your mind to take you back to a memory when you  experienced the state that you are going to anchor. It may be where you played a sport particularly well or felt that you had Hulk like power in the gym. Go back into that memory as if it was happening now.
  2. Imagine looking out through your eyes as if you were in the memory again. Make it bright, 3 dimensional and close up
  3. Imagine hearing everything you heard. Turn it up and intensify it as you listen.
  4. Remember how you felt and notice where abouts in your body you feel it.
  5. Notice how you are breathing, how you move and hold yourself and what you are saying to yourself in your mind.
  6. When you have turned everything up to the max as if you are experiencing it now, then set your physical anchor and say to yourself in your mind your trigger word. Keep your anchor going for around 10 seconds while in this peak state.
  7. Relax open your eyes and walk around to break state.
  8. Repeat three to four times.

When ever you get the chance add to your anchor. It is just like building a muscle the more you train it the stronger it will become and the more effective it will be when you come to use it.

Future pacing

There has been a lot of research that shows if you imagine something vividly enough your brain will struggle to distinguish between what is real and what is not. This is great news for us as it means we can rehearse sporting performance in our minds and practice triggering our anchors outside of the sporting environment we will be using them (see this research here.) 

Here’s how to do it:
  1. Set up as before by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing
  2. Imagine going forwards through time to when you are next going to be in your sporting environment (for this example lets imagine it is in the gym)
  3. Imagine looking out through your eyes, hearing the sounds, seeing the people and equipment around you. Make it as real as possible.
  4. Imagine setting up the bar and stepping up to it and when you are ready trigger your anchor (physical and auditory) and feel your state change as you successfully perform your lift with perfect technique.

That’s it super simple!

What’s next

Get out and play with it. Like anything worth learning anchoring for sports performance is a skill that the more you practice the better you become at it. If you need a hand I am always here to help so get in touch and we can set up a Skype call to walk you through the steps and teach you how to use self hypnosis to make it even more powerful. 



Daniel Baines
Daniel Baines

Daniel Baines is an Osteopath, Hypnotherapist and movement coach who is intrigued by all things mind and body.