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The thought behind sport

In an age where athletes meticulously control their diets and tailor their bodies in order to optimise performance, it may prove difficult to gain an edge over an opponent in sport.

However, the advantage that must be so stubbornly sought after may not be achievable by spending endless hours in the gym, or even limiting the intake of certain foods.

Could the answer perhaps lie in the mentality of the athlete, instead of their ability? The Rock spoke to local Sports Hypnotherapist Paul Clough to investigate.

Although sports hypnotherapy seems a modern trend that remains relatively unknown, it’s roots have been present in sport for over half a century.

Paul said: “Since the 1960’s there have been more mind coaches than athletes.”

In a recent interview with darts world champion Scott Mitchell, hypnotherapy was one of the main contributing factors behind Scott’s success story seeing him climb to the summit of the dart’s world rankings.

Mitchell said: “I went off and found a sports hypnotherapist from Belfast. I’ve been working with him this year and I think that’s changed my mental attitude towards the game.

“Instead of thinking I have to beat everybody leg after leg, he convinced me I’ve only got to be one dart better in the end.

Paul believes that the mental edge that therapy can have over a sportsman or sportswoman is an invaluable asset, and can often be the decisive element between winning and losing.

“In sport if you just visualise, that’s one thing. However, if you don’t believe that you can win, any visualisation under the sun is not going to change anything.

“It’s all about thinking ‘I can do’, it’s changing what we call a limiting belief. Sport is 90% performance and 10% mental. If that 10% isn’t there it doesn’t matter about that 90%, you’re still going to come second, third or fourth.”

“You can have as much ability as you want but if you don’t believe you can do something, it probably won’t happen. Most people know they can do things but don’t believe they can actually do it.”

This type of positive thinking and belief in your own individual performance that hypnotherapists encourage was key for Scott and his success so far this year.

Scott said: “You can have the same amount of sets, we can have the same amount of whatever but I’ve just got to be one dart better than my opponent so I’ve got one leg more at the end of the day.”

Scott’s mental stability and ruthlessness was put to the test and seemed to have prevailed after a tough encounter against Tony O’Shea in the first round of January’s BDO world championship.

“When you watch the Tony O’Shea game from the start of the week, I never lead my first round game until that winning double, and that’s the most important one. That gave me huge confidence for the week to be honest.”

Various athletes often approach Paul and his son, who runs a hypnotherapy clinic in Cambridge, for improving their confidence, inflicting a positive effect on their sporting performances.

“I’ve worked with a couple of MMA fighters down in Bournemouth and one of the things they said was ‘I know I can punch, but because I think about it, it doesn’t happen.’ When you go into the zone of not thinking, that’s when you have the true belief, that I know I can do anything I like, and just do it. That’s when all those skills come out, there’s no barrier.

“My son sees quite a few young teenagers who are on the brink of national level, but again, it’s that belief and fear, and it’s getting them to harness into their ‘I can do it’ mode.”

Paul went on to explain the seemingly simple mindset which he teaches people to adopt.

“Once you’ve done something, you’ve got rid of the barrier that’s there.

“If you’re in a little circle, as soon as you do something outside of that circle, you’re circle has got that much bigger.”

As well as helping to develop people’s sporting abilities and confidence, Paul feels that his therapy, and many other therapies similar to his, can be beneficial in all aspects of life.

“Also, what I tend to find, with any therapy I use, whether it is sports or normal therapy, once you change one thing, lots of other things change as well.

“So the confidence you get from doing that one thing, will give you confidence in your relationships, it will give you confidence at work, it will give you confidence of relating to people; it has a domino effect.”

Paul’s clinic can be reached at or

Dorset Hypnotherapist, Paul Clough