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NLP & Sports

by Joseph O'Connor : reviewed by Jeffrey Hodges

NLP & Sports is a book which may - finally - revolutionise the conservative field of sport psychology, which has for too long ignored the advances made by NLP, relying instead on dubious 'personality' inventories, tedious questionnaires, and impractical theoretical concepts.

Mr. O'Connor begins by noting that "bodies do not compete, people complete - with their body, mind and emotions", and explaining how sportspeople can use NLP to make physical practice more effective; get into the 'zone'; deal with nerves; develop better concentration; and accelerate learning and healing.

The book is divided into seven chapters covering what Mr. O'Connor suggests are the "five keys to peak sports performance" : goals; mental rehearsal; concentration; distractions & anxiety; and learning from performance (including dealing with injuries). While I would add attitude and self concept as equally important (and which are not covered in the book), the content of each chapter is pertinent, practical, and easy to read.

Chapter 2 on goal setting includes precise sports examples which clearly explain his concepts, and I particularly liked how he brings beliefs into the goal setting process - a topic often left till later in most books on psychological skills training (which invariably begin with goal setting). Chapter 3 on mental imagery has a particularly well described explanation of submodalities and their relevance to sports performance, again supported with clear examples - this should be new and useful material for most sports coaches and athletes unfamiliar with NLP. Chapters 4 & 5 deal with concentration and I was impressed with the simplicity of his three principles of concentration : "
1. Concentration is natural and easy. Everyone does it .....
2. We pay attention to significant change, so we can control distractions by what we define as significant.
3. When we focus on what is important to us, distractions disappear automatically ..." (p. 90)

I also found his discussions of personal congruence added a new dimension to the topic of concentration, and one that is especially relevant :
"You cannot force your way into the zone. It is like a shy friend that you have to invite into your house. All you can do is make your home a comfortable place and make your friend welcome." (p. 111)

Chapter 6 deals with emotions and performance anxiety and has some useful ideas for building performance anchors - exercise # 31 on 'Worry into Planning' is well thought out and immediately useful for all athletes. Chapter 7 provides ideas for reprogramming errors and dealing with injuries - including a variation on Steve and Connirea Andreas' healing exercise from Heart of the Mind.

NLP & Sports is carefully referenced, with 36 practical exercises (indexed at the back with an 'exercise finder' for specific problems), a comprehensive glossary of NLP and sport psychology terminology, and an appendix with the obligatory 'eye accessing cues' diagrams and sensory based vocabulary.

While I found nothing 'new' for those trained to practitioner level in NLP, I believe NLP & Sports is worth reading, particularly for those interested in working with sportspeople, and should be essential reading for all coaches and aspiring athletes. NLP purists may raise their eyebrows at his statement that: "The four principles of NLP ... [are] ... good relationships, goal setting, sensitivity and flexibility". Really? According to whom? Frankly, I personally prefer Bandler and Grinder's more universally recognised principles: the map is not the territory; if what you're doing isn't working do something else; the meaning of a communication is the response you get; surface structure and deep structure of communication; etc, etc - however it's good to hear different ways of describing what constitutes NLP, and it may generate some useful debate.

I didn't like the inclusion in the book of a number of 'rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 5' questionnaires of dubious usefulness and questionable veracity - typical of the more traditional sport psych literature which is littered with such tiresome drivel, and from which Mr O'Connor obviously borrowed them. I also found Appendix 1 on Fitness & Exercise totally irrelevant to the rest of the book. What does it have to do with NLP? However, when he sticks to NLP, his writing is fresh and immediately connects with the reader.

All in all, an excellent book well worth reading. It's strength lies in its large repertoire of practical exercises and real life sports examples that are clearly explained and transferable to any sports context.

About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed "Sportsmind - An Athlete's Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training" and "Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings"; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph's College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
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