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NLP Sports Techniques - Getting in the Zone

by Frances Coombes(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 233 - October 2016


NLP Sports practitioners use some of the most powerful belief change techniques in the world.  It is necessary because if a championship pistol shooter makes a bad shot he needs to rework his thinking in the seconds he is reloading the gun in order to get back in the zone and win the game.

Things are less intensive in my NLP coaching or RE + CBT therapy sessions. If a client is suffering from say, anxiety over job interviews, social anxiety or performance management, there is time for more gradual belief change work. It doesn’t all have to be done in a day. Not everyone wants to be a world class athlete, but setting some goals that are connected to our bigger goals and working towards achieving them can help us become less anxious, more in control, and make life more fulfilling.

For athletes it’s different, If Andy Murray or Serena Williams lose a set in a championship they must have the ability to instantly turn their thinking around. They must be able to quickly overcome the very human experiences of dejection, overthinking, and beating themselves up for their imperfections -  in order to go out and win on the tennis court.  Athletes need to have mastered the tools and techniques to manage their state and improve their game for the better. 

Aristotle wrote:  “Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” The actions that we take each day are what define us. Our habits shape our achievements; this means that our success is more of a journey than a destination.

Sports coach, Jeremy Lazarus, who has trained Olympic athletes, tells me that directly after performance profiling clients he teaches them state management and dealing with obstacles.  He says: “I get them to focus on the process and if they get that right, then the outcome will be right.” Next comes anchoring - a really strong positive state-  and after that comes mental rehearsal. 

Coombes 233 NLP Sports Techniques


Anchoring an ‘In the Zone’ State

An anchor is any stimulus that changes your state and creates a response.  It can involve any kind of sensory input - visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory or gustatory.  It might be the smell of coffee brewing, or bacon frying, hearing a snatch of music, or seeing the outline of someone who looks familiar - and it changes the way you feel. Your state is created by your sensory experience, your memories and thought processes. 

Nobel prize winner Ivan Pavlov trained dogs to expect food when a bell was rung, the result was that their minds and bodies were conditioned and aroused to the point that they salivated whenever they heard a bell, even though there was no food. 

NLP practitioners train people to access really intense feelings by remembering when they performed at their very best and experienced winning states. Clients can use anchors to manage their state when they need confidence and to choose how they will feel, rather than allowing other people’s moods or ‘the world’ to decide how they feel. They learn how to enhance a small stimulus and at the peak of that experience to harness that state.

Anchoring a Good State

Think of a time when you did something really well, something you are really proud of and which gives you a good feeling when you relive it.

  1. Imagine vividly a past experience of success that really gives you pleasure when you think about it;
  2. Associate into that good experience. Imagine going back into that time and stepping into your body.  Recall intensely all the things you saw, what you were feeling, what were you saying to yourself?  If there were others around - what were they saying?  Feel that excitement as you relive the experience again;
  3. At the peak of the experience, anchor that state with a small movement or gesture you can replicate with ease.  (We use anchoring to establish a neurological link between the emotional state and the stimulus in order to be able to be in a good state on demand.);
  4. Mental Rehearsal.  Recall that good feeling often, so that you carry it with you wherever you go.  Repeat the mental rehearsal until you can call it up at will and use it as a personal resource;
  5. Recall.  Think of compelling futures when you want to motivate yourself to strive for something you really want.  At the height of the experience, when you sometimes feel your stomach jump, anchor that feeling with a small movement.

Any manager or a team leader who needs to motivate their team needs to be able to construct a strong compelling future that others can buy into. The way to do this is by leading them towards a vividly imagined future successful achievement and anchoring that state.

Success is not a destination, it is a practice of daily habits that ground us and make us more confident in who we are and what we believe we are capable of doing.  Take 10 minutes to learn the technique, and 5 minutes daily practice so you can recall a resourceful state and carry it with you wherever you go.


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About Frances Coombes

Frances Coombes Advanced Dip CBT/REBT Dip CBT offers one-to-one therapeutic coaching in North West London and on Zoom.  She is a is a CBT/REBT psychotherapist in North West London, a NLP Master Practitioner and Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapist and runs life coaching groups in London and on Zoom.  She teaches NLP at The City Lit in Central London and tutors at the City Lit and Mary Ward Centre in central London on Using REBT for Managing Stress and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). She runs goal setting and REBT coaching groups for vulnerable people for inner London authorities and charities.  

Her most recent book is Motivate Yourself and Reach Your Goals, pub, November 2013, Hodder Headline. Available on and  For extract visit To inquire or book personal development courses contact Frances on Tel: 07818 896 795; 


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