Weaving spells with localised ‘trance’

Weaving spells: hands and arms, legs and feet

For some time now I have been using ‘localised’ trance to coach the technical side of batting in cricket. Now this isn’t trance in the sense that those that I’m coaching are hypnotised or ‘put under’ – perish the thought! Clearly this wouldn’t work – no, this is using trance from the premise that for every conscious experience we are in a particular state (frame of mind, balance of consciousness), and as that state shifts throughout our waking experience then each change of state involves moving into an ‘altered state’.

Previously I have used this methodology in the course of coaching a number of sports, and it was only once I became a practitioner of hypnosis, did I fully understand the nature of states and the opportunities available when those states are in a process of flux or change. More recently I have been (and increasingly am) fascinated by the work of James Tripp and his advancing work in an area he calls ‘Hypnosis Without Trance’. This paradigm shift opens doors to endless opportunities – because now that coaches have a ‘label’ for what is taking place in terms of both micro-techniques and macro-techniques, then exploration into taking this process forward can start to gather pace.

Educating the body

The ‘mechanics of batting’ in cricket is all about educating the body in understanding and executing both major and minor motor movements with the head, hands and feet. These mechanics are then used, in conjunction with critical judgement of the characteristics of the ball in flight, to bring about the execution of any particular shot.

This is actually the structure used in any sport involving striking and catching a ball (or any object for that matter). In football for instance, these mechanics are executed by kicking, chesting or heading the ball; in bat or racket sports the ‘striking implement’ becomes an extension of the hand or hands, and the education here involves the hands manipulating the implement to best effect.

A particular session

I had a session with a 10 year old player primarily in order to help loosen her wrists, elbows and shoulders thereby freeing-up her ability to strike the ball with better control.
I started by asking her to swing the bat and play some imaginary shots. Her ‘top’ hand (the hand at the top of the handle) started off in a good position but at the moment of striking and the follow through afterwards this hand in particular looked extremely out of position and uncomfortable. I got her to play the imaginary shots one handed with a lightweight plastic stump. I asked her to “notice in your starting position you can see the back of your hand. Watch the back of that hand as you are playing in slow motion, and as you do, pay attention to what is happening to the back of that hand at every point along the way.” I then got her to watch me doing the same thing in slow motion. “Pay attention to what you are doing compared to what I am doing. Now gradually speed up what you are doing, still noticing the back of that hand and just allow your other hand to gently hold the stump and start to work in partnership with the other hand. Notice how different this now begins to feel compared to before.” Very soon she was swinging smoothly and freely from the hands and wrists, and the elbows and shoulders just appeared to have opened up automatically and now also had much more freedom of movement. I exchanged the lightweight stump for her bat and the action continued to work well.
I then laid a row of static balls on the ground and asked her to step forward and hit each one in turn. Her foot movement was bizarre, as she lifted it in the style of a prancing horse! I then asked her to show me how she walked down the street – noticing as she did how high her feet came off the ground. “Now, when you step towards each ball I want you to step only as smoothly and comfortably as you do when you are walking down the street.” This nailed it – and the end of the exercise was to go about 15m away and throw some balls down for her to hit and see now how she was doing it both in the step of the foot and on the movement of the hands.

Setting up and using a chain of small state-changes

Now this is a fairly standard approach I make for players who have issues with either their hands or feet. The thing is that this method sets up a chain of changing states, very localised, in the hands and feet. Added to this is the instruction to “notice” and “pay attention” to what parts of particular limbs are doing in the course of some slow motion action. Part of the noticing instruction involves the visual, part involves kinaesthetic, and the RAS* is focussed to gather this sensual information. The player is now building an experience of competence at an unconscious level by my guiding them to utilise these altered states by getting them to focus on what is happening on both the inside (kinaesthetic) as well as the outside (visual).
Using the ‘walking down the street’ analogy as a means of correcting this player’s ‘pranced step’ is again far more effective than most other methods. Firstly it gets away from any “don’t do that – do this” instruction, which I always avoid because of the “DONT”; secondly I’m getting her to engage with a relaxed and natural process – just walking down the street. In order to show me how she does it, she has to go on an inner search for a long-embedded and now autonomic process, and then ‘get into a state’ of walking down the street. So immediately she experiences an alteration in state. While she is passing into this altered state, she is noticing by focussed attention, how her feet are moving relative to the ground and the rest of the body. Here too there is visual and kinaesthetic sensory input. It is literally one small step from this experience, to replicating it when stepping towards and striking the ball. I have found that in most instances this method of correcting the biomechanics of stepping towards the ball works once and forever. Why? I think it is because, once again, the correct action has been installed unconsciously while the player was in (or entering into) an altered state.

Farewell to conventionality

I could of course coach this conventionally by getting the player to perform endless repetitions of the motor actions. And in doing so, yes the actions would pass into muscle memory and eventual unconscious competence. However, using localised trance and the nature of altered states, means that players can advance quickly through laborious processes and start to get down to the REALLY important part of striking the ball – timing; through the development and improvement of judgement using hand-eye co-ordination.
I have even used this methodology on players with dyspraxia and achieved excellent results. It seems that because the programming that runs the motor movements has been installed unconsciously, the brain is able to run the programme in a much better way.

Another benefit I have experienced by using this way of installing technique in the unconscious is that part of this seems to become ‘hot wired’ into autonomic functionality. I have seen dramatic changes in players from one week to the next, knowing that they haven’t spent time practising the technique in the intervening days. Their unconscious mind seems to have done all the background processing necessary to raise the level of competence quite dramatically. What might be deemed as unconscious learning without practice.

There is clearly more to unconscious learning than meets the eye – (and hands and feet!).


* – RAS – the Reticular Activating System. The brain’s perceptive filter.