Content uploaded by John Pates
All content in this area was uploaded by John Pates on Dec 21, 2019
Content may be subject to copyright.
International Journal of Golf Science, 2013, 2, 43-53
© 2013 Human Kinetics, Inc. Official Journal of WSCG
The Effect of a Hypnosis Intervention on
Performance and Flow State of an Elite
Golfer: A Single Subject Design
John Pates and Andrew Cowen
University of Derby
This study examined the effects of a hypnosis intervention on the performance and
ow state experiences of an elite European Tour male golfer. The experimental
effect was assessed during 11 competitive golf events. Performance and ow data
were analyzed using a single-subject design combined with a procedure to monitor
the golfer’s internal experience (Wollman, 1986). The results indicated there were
two overlapping data points between baseline and intervention for his performance
score and one overlapping data point for his ow score. The qualitative data revealed
hypnosis may help golfers self-regulate on the golf course during competition.
Keywords: golfers, hypnosis, ow, performance
In the eld of applied sports psychology, hypnosis based interventions are rarely
used as a performance enhancing technique. This is surprising because there are
a number of controlled studies that indicate hypnosis interventions have a notable
performance enhancing effect on different athletic populations. For example,
research conducted by Barker and Jones (2005, 2006, 2008) has highlighted that
hypnosis can be used to enhance the performance of footballers, cricketers and
martial artists. In addition, other researchers have discovered hypnosis improved
the performance of badminton players (Pates & Palmi, 2002), cyclists (Lindsay,
Maynard & Thomas, 2005), golfers (Pates & Maynard, 2000; Pates, Oliver &
Maynard, 2001) and basketball players (Pates, Cummings, & Maynard, 2002;
Pates, Maynard, & Westbury, 2001).
Pates and his colleagues obtained positive results using a hypnosis interven-
tion consisting of a hypnotic induction phase designed to create a state of deep
relaxation, a hypnotic regression phase designed to help athletes relive an earlier
life experience of their optimal performance, and a trigger control phase designed
to bring athletes’ ideal performance state under the control of a stimulus (Pates
et al., 2002; Pates & Maynard, 2000; Pates et al., 2001; Pates & Palmi, 2002).
Interestingly, all of the researchers employing this intervention strategy observed
that many of their participants experienced elevations in both performance and a
psychological state described by Csikszentmihalyi (1975) as ow.
Pates and Cowen are with the School of Culture and Lifestyle, University of Derby (Buxton), UK.
44 Pates and Cowen
The positive effects of hypnosis on ow have far reaching implications for elite
athletes because ow states are strongly associated with their best performances
(Catley & Duda, 1997; see Cohn, 1991). Indeed, a countless number of elite ath-
letes report ow is the crucial factor that separates winners from losers (Unestahl,
1983). These ndings imply elite athletic populations may have the most to gain
from adopting hypnotic interventions into their mental training regimes.
With the notable exception of Lindsay et al. (2005) who investigated the effects
of hypnosis on ow states and the performance of elite cyclists, studies supporting
this proposition are not published. The current study aimed to investigate the effects
of hypnotic intervention upon ow states and the performance of elite golfers in
the ecological valid environment of actual Tour events. Using Pates and colleagues
intervention strategy, it was expected that during hypnosis the golfers experience
of ow and peak performance could be conditioned to a natural trigger (the grip
on the golf club). It was then expected that after conditioning, the player would be
more likely to experience a state of ow and lower golf scores.
An AB single-subject design was deemed the most appropriate method to
study the effects of the intervention because it allowed the analysis of an interven-
tion that cannot be withdrawn or “turned off” (Hrycaiko & Martin, 1996). Based
on the recommendations of Wollman (1986) and other researchers who have used
single-subject designs (e.g., Lerner, Ostrow, Yura, & Etzel, 1996; Smith, 1988;
Swain & Jones, 1995), the current study also applied a procedure that monitored
the internal experience of the player.
The participant in this study was a male golfer aged 22 years. He was in his rst
year of playing on the European Professional Golf Tour. The participant had a
swing coach and over the past ve years he had received only technical training.
Although this golfer reported the training had been successful and it had helped
him become a professional athlete, he had never won a professional tour event. This
was his main goal; however, he felt during competitions he could not achieve this
objective because he could not get into ow. It was therefore deemed appropriate
to give this golfer an intervention that may help him control ow and improve his
performance. This golfer had no experience of hypnosis training administered by
a qualied practitioner. The golfer gave his consent to take part in the study and
received no other training during this experiment.
A single-subject AB design was implemented to examine the effects of a hypnosis-
based intervention on ow states and golf performance. This type of design allows
the participant to serve as his own source of control for the experiment (Barlow &
Hersen, 1984; Hrycaiko & Martin, 1996). This format was also most appropriate
because it facilitates the analysis of the effects of an intervention that could not be
withdrawn from the participant due to the ethical reason of withholding a poten-
tially positive intervention from an elite participant (see Robson, 1994). The design
Hypnosis, Flow, Elite Golfers 45
required the observation of baseline performance and an intervention phase for the
player. The intervention was introduced when a stable baseline or a trend in the
opposite direction of the change anticipated became apparent for the participant.
Based on the recommendations of Barlow and Hersen (1973, 1984) and Kazdin
(1992), data were collected on 11 occasions over 12 weeks of tournament golf.
Performance Analysis. Stroke average was selected as the performance indicator
because it represents a global measure of the participant’s overall performance.
Stroke average is the average score taken from two, three or four rounds of stroke-
play golf. A round of stroke-play golf consists of 18 holes wherein the participant
records the number of strokes taken to complete each hole. At the end of the
round, the scores from each hole are summed to give a total stroke-play score.
The reliability of the stroke play scores was assessed by comparing the judg-
ments of the participant against an independent observer, who was the participant’s
playing partner. The reliability assessment took place after each round and resulted
in a correlation of 1.00 for the scores of the participant and the independent observer.
It is worth noting that a failure to score stroke play correctly would result in a dis-
qualication of the participant from the tournament. Scores were obtained from
the ofcial championship scorekeeper.
Flow Analysis. In addition to the performance data, information on the intensity
of ow experienced by the participant during tournaments was assessed using
the Flow State Scale (FSS-2; Jackson & Eklund, 2002). This 36-item instru-
ment provides a quantitative measure of the nine dimensions of ow outlined by
Csikszentmihalyi (1990). Reliability estimates ranged from .80 to .90. A global
measure of ow was preferred in this investigation owing to Jackson’s (1999)
contention that single-factor approaches tend to reveal incomplete information
about the total ow experience. The scale was administered to the player at the
end of each tournament.
Treatment: The Hypnosis Intervention
The training of the participant in hypnosis took place immediately after the comple-
tion of the rst baseline and was divided into three stages. In the rst stage of the
intervention the participant was encouraged to sit in a comfortable position and
then was asked to focus on his breathing. Specically, he was instructed to breathe
deeply and to release air slowly while counting backward from the number 10.
He was then given a 15-minute session involving progressive muscular relaxation
(PMR). The technique originally pioneered by Jacobson (1938), involved the golfer
tensing and relaxing parts of his body, while deeply inhaling. Suggestions asking
the participant to contrast the differences between the tense and the relaxed muscles
were given along with instructions to direct his attention to images of situations
that were associated with relaxation. For example, the external image of a warm
comfortable beach, or the internal sensation of oating in water.
In the second stage, an Ericksonian hypnosis technique known as a staircase
induction (Hammond, 1990) was then applied. The staircase induction consisted
of a journey, one step at a time, down a ight of 20 stairs. As the participant took
46 Pates and Cowen
the journey he was told to see each stair in front of him and feel the stair under his
feet. At the bottom of the stairs he was told he would see a door, and beyond the
door he would see a room with a comfortable chair. The participant was then asked
to sit down in the chair and focus on a small cinema screen on which appeared a
relaxing scene. Throughout this stage suggestions were given to reinforce both the
experience of the PMR, the deep breathing, and imagery techniques.
In the third stage suggestions were given to help the participant regress, and
remember a multisensory experience of his best competitive performance. Spe-
cically he was asked to include visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and
memory of his best performance from an internal perspective. His best performance
was then conditioned to be released by a natural trigger. The trigger used was the
grip of the golf clubs. The participant was then told to see themself rising from
the chair and proceed out of the door and up the staircase. He was also told as he
ascended the staircase he would feel refreshed and alert. Once the participant reac-
climatized to the environment he was asked to access their ideal performance state
by utilizing his trigger. Training was considered complete when the participant felt
that an experience of his best performance was under trigger control.
The hypnosis intervention was administered to each of the participants in a small,
quiet and comfortable room on the college campus and lasted approximately 40
minutes. The training was composed of three stages: Stage 1—hypnotic induction,
Stage 2—hypnotic regression, and Stage 3—trigger control.
After the training, the participant was asked to commit himself to practice the
techniques, by playing a 40-minute audiotape recording of the live session, every
day, over a seven-day interval between the rst baseline and intervention phase
of the study. In total, the player was given one live session, and seven audiotape
sessions before the intervention phase. To ensure the participant had listened to the
audio tape recording, the player was contacted daily. Examining their thoughts,
feelings, and cognitions immediately after each session assessed the quality of the
player’s experience. Finally, it should be noted that during the intervention stage
the player was not under hypnosis, instead he was merely using the trigger that
was conditioned to the emotions, feelings, and cognitions they experience during
their ideal performance.
Practical Assessment Questionnaire
During the 11 tournaments the internal experience of the participant was monitored
using an assessment questionnaire that included the following questions: How
did you feel during the performance? ; What were you thinking during the perfor-
mance? ; Were there any outside thoughts distracting you? ; What was the effect
of the intervention? ; Did you experience any problems? ; What were your general
beliefs about your performance? ; and How much effort did you put into today’s
performance? The participant was asked to respond to these questions using an
open-ended question format.
The list of questions was adapted from Kazdin (1992), Kendall, Hrycaiko,
Martin and Kendall (1990) and Pates et al. (2001). This information permitted
Hypnosis, Flow, Elite Golfers 47
on-going assessment of the quality of the participants’ feelings, thoughts, and
cognitions across the baseline and treatment phases. The data were analyzed by
comparing the comments obtained in the baseline sessions to the comments obtained
during the intervention phase of the experiment.
Social Validation Questionnaire
Following the completion of the intervention phase, the participant was asked a
series of questions to assess the social validity of the Hypnosis intervention. The
questions were designed to provide information concerning the importance and
the effectiveness of the intervention. This was based on the work of Pates et al.
(2001), and Thomas, Maynard, and Hanton (2007). The participants were asked
the following questions: Did you perceive the intervention to be important? ; Are
you satised with the results? ; Do you consider the changes in performance to be
signicant? ; and How satised were you with the intervention? T he pa rt ici pa nt wa s
asked to respond to these questions using an open-ended question format.
The performance scores and global FFS-2 scores were plotted onto two graphs.
Based on the guidelines put forward by Hrycaiko and Martin (1996) an experimental
effect was analyzed through a visual inspection of the plotted data. According to
these researchers the intervention had an effect when: (a) baseline performance is
stable or in a direction opposite to that predicted for the effects of treatment; (b)
the greater the number of times that an effect is replicated within the subjects data
(c) the fewer the number of overlapping data points between baseline and treatment
phase; (d) the sooner the effect occurs following the introduction of treatment; and,
(e) the larger the size of the effect in comparison with baseline.
Upon receiving the intervention the participants experienced an immediate perfor-
mance and ow effect with two overlapping data points on his performance scores
and one overlapping data point on his ow scores. Specically, the participant
improved his performance from a mean of 75.5 (SD = 1.7) during the baseline to
a mean of 71.1 (SD = 3.0) during the intervention phase (See Figure 1).
His Flow data also improved from a mean ow score of 115.5 (SD = 4.7)
during the baseline to a mean of 133.7.6 (SD = 12.1) during the intervention phase
(See Figure 2).
The results suggest that the hypnosis intervention consistently improved golf
performance and the intensity of the participant’s experience of ow during real
Practical Assessment Data
After nishing each tournament, the participant responded to the practical assess-
ment questionnaire. This helped the researcher examine the internal experience of
the player during tournament golf.
Figure 1 — Performance scores (stroke average) for the participant on each trial.
Figure 2 — Flow scores for the participant on each trial.
50 Pates and Cowen
The participant indicated that the intervention made him feel more relaxed on
the golf course and he reported having experienced images that relaxed him: “I feel
much calmer out there”. The images he experienced were those of the lakes around
his home: “my mind keeps wondering back to images of the lakes around my home
in Zurich. I really like this picture in my head”. He felt the images slowed his swing
down and stopped him thinking about the consequences of his shots: “ the image
of the lake slows my swing down and stops me thinking about what will happen if
I miss the fairway or green… I have been using this image in my pre-shot routine”.
The participant also felt that after the intervention golf had become more enjoyable
on the tour: “the most enjoyable golf I play is with my sister….I feel like I can get
into that mind-set more often”. Another important change for the participant was after
the intervention he felt he had more control over his temper. Anger and frustration
had plagued this golfer on numerous occasions during tournament play and he now
felt more in control of these negative emotions: “I’m always losing control during
tournaments…. I get angry so often when I hit poor shots…the hypnosis thing really
works for me, it calms me down and makes me think about other things…good
pictures just come into my mind automatically, the pictures stop me from getting
upset”. In addition, this golfer reported he had felt more optimistic on the course and
was capable of winning: “I just feel I can make something good happen from most
positions I nd myself …I think I could win out here, I have not felt like that before”.
Finally, it should be noted the social validation questionnaire revealed that
the participant was satised with the results of the intervention and recognized
that the intervention had improved his performance and prize money. Indeed, just
three weeks after the introduction of the intervention the participant had a third
The present study demonstrated that hypnosis interventions might have a positive
effect on the performance and ow experiences of elite golfers. The results are
consistent with previous research that showed Pates and Maynard (2000) interven-
tion strategy improved the performance and intensity of ow states in elite athletic
populations (see Lindsay et al., 2005). Although the intervention procedure is the
same as Pates and Maynard (2000) this is the rst time Hypnosis data has been
captured on a golfer during actual Tour events. The ndings are clearly relevant to
sport psychology practitioners because they suggest hypnotic training may increase
personal control over emotions associated with ow states and the performances
of elite athletes. This discovery supports the work of Unestahl (1983, 1986) who
explicitly indicated that in elite athlete’s high levels of performance and positive
emotions could be initiated through hypnosis techniques. In addition, the results
support the work of Cohn (1991) and Pates and his colleagues who indicated that
improved performances can be achieved with techniques designed to facilitate the
ow experience (Pates et al., 2002; Pates & Maynard, 2000; Pates et al., 2001).
The qualitative data also revealed some other interesting ndings. First, the
data show that hypnosis may help athletes regulate their emotions. More specically
this golfer was able to supress negative emotions such as anger, and elevate positive
emotions such as condence, optimism, enjoyment and fun. Second, it appeared
hypnosis might elevate emotions associated with mental relaxation resulting in
Hypnosis, Flow, Elite Golfers 51
feelings of calm and third, the intervention appeared to augment positive thinking
about winning and change the player’s belief.
Taken together, these ndings are consistent with the outcomes of a number
of clinical experiments (e.g., Crawford, Clarke & Kitner-Triolo, 1996; Damaser,
Shor, & Orne, 1963; Wadden & Anderton, 1982; Kirsch, 1994) wherein hypnosis
helped patients positively control emotions, thoughts, feelings and perceptions.
The results also appear to support a hypothesis that hypnosis is a dynamic
cerebral process that activates a number of cognitive mechanisms important for
athletic performance. Unfortunately, the mechanism by which hypnotic interven-
tions increase performance and the experience of ow is not known. However, it
is possible that hypnosis facilitates a shift from an analytical to a holistic style of
thinking, which gives access to processes that are important for athletic performance
(Crawford & Gruzelier, 1992).
A clear strength to this study is its ecologically validity; rarely have elite golf-
ers using a hypnosis intervention strategies been studied during professional golf
tournaments. Another important aspect of the current study was that the single-
subject design enabled the experimenter to be more condent that the change in
ow and performance scores were produced by the intervention and not some other
uncontrollable variable. Indeed, the demonstration of a performance and ow effect
when the intervention was introduced, gave a very clear demonstration that the
intervention had some degree of external validity (Kazdin, 1992).
The possibility remains, of course, that the positive results are an artifact of
both participant and experimenter bias. Indeed, neither were blind to the outcome
and so experimenter expectations or the demand characteristics of the experiment
may have inuenced the results (Kazdin, 1992). There may also have been either a
Hawthorne or Rosenthal effect (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 2008). Scrutiny of performer
in a single-subject experimental design might heighten these effects. However,
Drew (1976) observed, these effects tend to decline as the participant become
acclimatized to being studied, so the extended length of the single-subject study
could aid in controlling this effect.
The results of the study indicate that a hypnosis intervention may be an effec-
tive way of preparing professional golfers for signicant competitions. Based on
these ndings the researcher has a number of suggestions for the sport psychology
community. First, attitudes and opinions about hypnosis need to be changed within
the applied sports psychology community. Second, graduate programs in sports
psychology may consider providing core foundational coursework in hypnosis.
Third, scientic and professional societies may consider training for individuals
in the use of hypnosis in sport.
Barker, J.B., & Jones, M.V. (2005). Using hypnosis to increase self-efcacy: A case study
in elite judo. Sport and Exercise Psychology Review, 1, 36–42.
Barker, J.B., & Jones, M.V. (2006). Using hypnosis, technique renement and self- modeling
to enhance self-efcacy: A case study in cricket. The Sport Psychologist, 20, 94–110.
Barker, J.B., & Jones, M.V. (2008). The effects of hypnosis on self-efcacy, affect, and
sport performance: A case study from professional English soccer. Journal of Clinical
Sports Psychology, 2, 127–147.
52 Pates and Cowen
Barlow, D.H., & Hersen, M. (1973). Single case experimental designs: Uses in applied
clinical research. Archives of General Psychiatry, 29, 319–325 10.1001/arch-
psyc.1973.04200030017003. PubMed doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1973.04200030017003
Barlow, D.H., & Hersen, M. (1984). Single case experimental designs: Strategies for study-
ing behavior change (2nd ed.). New York: Pergamon Press.
Catley, D., & Duda, J. (1997). Psychological antecedents of the frequency and intensity of
ow in golfers. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 28, 309–322.
Cohn, P. (1991). An exploratory study of peak performance in golf. The Sport Psycholo-
gist, 5, 1–14.
Crawford, H.J., Clarke, S.W., & Kitner-Triolo, M. (1996). Self-generated happy and
sad emotions in low and highly hypnotisable persons during waking and hypnosis:
Laterality and regional EEG activity differences. International Journal of Psycho-
physiology, 24, 239–266 10.1016/S0167-8760(96)00067-0. PubMed doi:10.1016/
Csikszentmihlyi, M. (1975). Beyond boredom and anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York:
Harper & Row.
Crawford, H.J., & Gruzelier, J.H. (1992). A midstream view of the neuropsychophysiology
of hypnosis: Recent research and future directions. In E. Fromm & M.R. Nash (Eds.),
Contemporary Hypnosis Research (pp. 227–266). London: Guilford.
Damaser, E.C., Shor, R.E., & Orne, M.T. (1963). Physiological effects during hypnotically
requested emotions. Psychosomatic Medicine, 25, 334–343. PubMed
Drew, C.J. (1976). Introduction to designing and conducting research. St. Louis: C.V. Mosby.
Hammond, D.C. (1990). Handbook of hypnotic suggestions and metaphors. New York: Norton.
Hrycaiko, D.W., & Martin, G.L. (1996). Applied research studies with single-sub-
ject designs: Why so few? Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 8, 183–199
Jacobson, E. (1938). Progressive relaxation (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago
Jackson, S.A. (1999). Joy, fun, and ow state in sport. In Y. Hanin (Ed.), Emotions in sport.
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Jackson, S.A., & Eklund, R.C. (2002). Assessing ow in physical activity: The Flow State
Scale-2 and the Dispositional Flow Scale-2. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology,
Kazdin, A.E. (1992). Research design in clinical psychology. New York: Macmillan.
Kendall, G., Hrycaiko, D., Martin, G.L., & Kendall, T. (1990). The effects of an imagery
rehearsal, relaxation, and self-talk package on basketball game performance. Journal
of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 12, 157–166.
Kirsch, I. (1994). Dening hypnosis for the public. Contemporary Hypnosis, 11, 142–143.
Lerner, B.S., Ostrow, A.C., Yura, M.T., & Etzel, E.F. (1996). The effects of goal-setting
and imagery training programs on the free-throw performance of female collegiate
basketball players. The Sport Psychologist, 10, 382–397.
Lindsay, P., Maynard, I.W., & Thomas, O. (2005). Effects of hypnosis on ow states and
cycling performance. The Sport Psychologist, 19, 164–178.
Pates, J.K., Cummings, A., & Maynard, I. (2002). The effects of hypnosis on ow states
and three-point shooting performance in basketball players. The Sport Psychologist,
Pates, J.K., & Maynard, I. (2000). Effects of hypnosis on ow states and golf performance.
Perceptual and Motor Skills, 91, 1057–1075 10.2466/pms.2000.91.3f.1057. PubMed
Pates, J.K., Maynard, I., & Westbury, A. (2001). The effects of hypnosis on basketball perfor-
mance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 13, 84– 102 10. 1080/ 104132 001093 39005.
Hypnosis, Flow, Elite Golfers 53
Pates, J.K., Oliver, R., & Maynard, I. (2001). The effects of hypnosis on ow states
and golf putting performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 13, 341–354
Pates, J., & Palmi, J. (2002). The effect of Hypnosis upon Flow States and Short Serve
Badminton Performance. Journal of Excellence, 6, 48–62.
Robson, C. (1994). Real world research: A resource for social scientists and practitioner-
researchers. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.
Rosenthal, R., & Rosnow, R.L. (2008). Essentials of behavioral research: Methods and data
analysis (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
Smith, R.E. (1988). The logic and design of case study research. The Sport Psychologist,
Swain, A.B.J., & Jones, G. (1995). Goal attainment scaling: Effects of goal setting inter-
ventions on selected sub-components of basketball performance. Research Quarterly
for Exercise and Sport, 66, 51–63. PubMed doi:10.1080/02701367.1995.10607655
Thomas, O., Maynard, I.W., & Hanton, S. (2007). Intervening with athletes during the time
leading up to competition: Theory to Practice II. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology,
4, 398–418 10.1080/10413200701599140. doi:10.1080/10413200701599140
Unestahl, L.E. (1983). Inner-mental training. Orebro, Sweden: Veje Publications.
Unestahl, L. E. (1986). Integrated mental training. Stockholm/Orebro: Sisu/Neje Int.
Wadd en , T. A. , & A nd er to n, C. H. (1 98 2) . T he cli ni ca l u se of hypn os is . Psychological Bulletin,
91, 215–243 10.1037/0033-2909.91.2.215. PubMed doi:10.1037/0033-2909.91.2.215
Wollman, N. (1986). Research on imagery and motor performance: Three methodological
suggestions. Journal of Sport Psychology, 8, 135–138.