City Lit Blog

How to get the mental edge in competitive sport

Story added 11th Sep 2017

Tips for gaining the competitive edge

Congratulations! You won the evolutionary lottery!You are the lucky owner of the most evolved biological system on planet earth: your amazing body - human brain and nervous system. 

When do you EVER feel like that? 

And how do athletes use their amazing neurology to gain the competitive edge in elite sport?

It’s a bit like owning a Ferrari and never knowing it can shift up from first gear. In Western culture, at least, priority has been given to the conscious mind over the unconscious, which is like driving a car and never considering all the moving parts that exist inside, below the surface coverings.

We are in a golden age of wellbeing, the science and evidence for mindfulness is compelling.

In sport today the edge is to be found in 360 Wellbeing – clinical hypnotherapy and mindfulness for mental wealth. Increasingly, performance directors are looking at modern clinical hypnotherapy and mindful wellbeing for mental wealth, performance and also for injury wellbeing support.

Elite sport is now looking for further performance gains around mental health and wellbeing, but more than that acknowledging the responsibility toward the wellbeing of the whole person.

We are living in a new dawn of cultural change for humankind, increased technology, social media and a whole raft of mental health challenges particularly challenging for the next generation and for elite youth athletes.

We know that mental health & sleep are two of the biggest drivers to wellbeing. Within elite sport, I coach athletes and workplace talent to understand how to optimize their entire neurology, multiple brains, and help them appreciate that the mind and body are not separate at all. 

Performing under pressure

Nearly 400 years after French philosopher Descartes’ separation of the mind and body, new neuroscience evidence shows something very different – that our minds and bodies have evolved in exquisite harmony so perfectly integrated that it is impossible to consider one without the other. 

When it comes to optimum health and performance, it is impossible to overstate the importance of training our awareness towards, and responding to, the sensations we experience throughout our whole system, be that with food and drink, rest and relaxation.  Once we have tuned in and really understood our subconscious signals, we can use mindcoaching patterns of excellence and hypnotherapy to change and transform negative, reactive feelings and behaviours.

An example of patterns of excellence involves elite taekwondo.The Australian team prior to competing at the Rio Olympics in 2016, deliberately modelled the movement patterns of their opponents. This involved copying everything - all of the observable, behavioural qualities and attributes of a target subject or opponent, and is approached from a state of not knowing, to provide a potential competitive advantage in performance.

There is also a well-established phenomena in elite sport called quiet eye. This describes the finding that the very best sportsmen keep a perfectly still gaze for a fraction of a second longer – fixing on a part of the pitch, player, F1 bend or the ball, thus extracting more information before they execute, allowing them to perform under pressure.

We know that just thinking too much alone can be a curse for performance... the super skill is to be able to free the far more powerful subconscious mind. Modern hypnotherapy is the most powerful way to access and influence our flow state for wellbeing.  Take the worst walk in football, the penalty kick. Technically taking the kick isn’t the always the problem at elite level, it’s the thinking time…

Mental wealth and athletic performance

I work with a vast array of wonderful humans in sport, with elite and amateur athletes. Despite their differences in level and/or sport, they all face similar challenges to their mental wealth and performance.   Feelings of self-doubt at times anxiety, depression, stress, inability to maintain focus, sleep difficulties, life balance, confidence, the list goes on..

So when my athletes need to step up but are having trouble finding the right mindset, one of the first tools and techniques I rely on for transformation is a specialist sleep programme. Sleep is one of the biggest drivers to mood, mindset and performance.  I then coach my athletes on further with mindfulness and hypnotherapy techniques – all of which combined can really aid performance.

Reframing emotions is also another highly powerful and useful tool an athlete can view nerves and discomfort not as a sign to be more prepared, but as a sign that she/he needs to loosen up, become more flexible. That’s where using neurology comes into play:

  • Mindcoaching can help switch our neurology into an operative state, instead of a fight/flight/freeze reactive state.  

  • Over time, there will become the default setting for our nervous system, so that we do not have to consciously thinking of changing our breathing or body scanning.

  • Athletes can learn how to train their neurology to develop and access optimal ‘states'. Be that states of resilience, excellence, relaxation, focus or whatever you choose, as and when you require it. 


So the question is: now we know of these compelling wellbeing frontiers - how and when can use these findings for our own lives and true wellbeing?


Words by Natalie Pennicotte-Collier

Natalie Pennicotte-Collier runs London clinic  

The Mindcoach, 360 Wellbeing + Sleep Expert, Clinical Hypnotherapist MBCT & MSC | TeamGB Youth

Natalie is a keynote speaker at this year’s Mental Wealth Festival, at City Lit on September 13th

Tickets at 

Follow her on Instagram @CalmerRama or Twitter @WeareCalmer