Mr Bizlike’s brief foray into applied NLP sports psychology31 August 2009

John's shop NLP

“Homes and Gardens” is a cornucopia of DIY and horticulture in our little village on the edge of the city, last stop before the manicured lawns give way to rough moorland grasses. The shop’s proximity to Bizlike Mansions means that five-mile, 55-minute round trips to B&Q, for a picture hook or a pot of weed-killer, are rarely necessary. Recently, John the owner and I were discussing his recent form on the bowling green, it being high season. He bemoaned a run of losses that had led him to question how he could play the game for 40 years and still produce such poor results. I had just read something on Twitter about NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) coaching so I asked if he had a pack of playing cards. They sell everything so he produced one.

I asked him to pick out some cards and write a word or phrase connected with his game on each one. He produced a magic-marker and this was the result:
* Joker – “X” (he emphasised that this did not mean he didn’t take the game seriously!)
* Jack of Clubs – “No 1”
* King of Hearts – “Best”
* Ace of Spades – “Choice”
* 2 of Diamonds – “Line”

With hindsight, I could have asked him to elaborate about the “X” factor to see exactly what it meant to his bowling.

I explained the exercise and how he should look through his five cards before that evening’s match and use them to “call up” the qualities that they represented. The NLP term for this is “anchoring” which I understand to mean a way of imbuing inanimate objects with abstract concepts. In this case the cards would anchor the 5 key aspects of his “bowling mojo”. John seemed unfazed by this mumbo-jumbo and explained that he had studied Sports Psychology at the local university and he knew very well that at the top of any game “it was 80% mental and 20% technical.” I could have asked him how studying sports psychology had led him to own a DIY/Garden store but that wasn’t the object of my immediate curiosity. He explained his belief that bowls was about “rolling” and that “the moment you try to push, you’ve got trouble” before expressing his concern that that evening’s weather conditions would not “suit his game.”

Some days passed before I was able to ask him how he had got on. He was unimpressed by his performance which I was half expecting given his get-out clause of “weather conditions.” The cards didn’t work, was his conclusion. We left it there and I quickly shelved my latest blog on NLP in sports psychology.

Some weeks later I saw him again in his lair (pictured). He was a changed bowler and proudly announced his break-though. He had been failing to account for how quickly the greens were drying out, despite the wet summer, and so had been pushing, not rolling, the bowls in the expectation of more resistance. It seemed a no-brainer to me, and I don’t even play bowls, but maybe the cards and John’s explanations had given me some insight. In any case, he was genuinely excited about his discovery so perhaps I was in on the genesis of some understanding that had previously eluded him.

You could say that the cards were merely incidental in his technical revelation and that John would have reached this conclusion anyway, sooner or later, in dealing with his run of bad form. But why not try it for yourself? Think about one of your primary skill-sets – can you select five or six images and symbols and use the qualities you associate to access them, develop them further or correct some fault?

It’s on the cards.

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