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Spring 2000

Uri Geller’s world of the strange Turn relaxation and laid-back attitude into a winning formula Ian Doyle is a man with a problem.

His prodigy, his uncut gem, his star-of-tomorrow, is possessed of so much natural talent that Wolfgang Mozart would weep in envy.

But the star is so laid-back, he’s horizontal. Doyle’s boy is a snooker player. Like most of the graduates of Britain’s pool halls, this lad likes to unwind in a bar-room atmosphere. He doesn’t smoke and rarely drinks, but he enjoys a joke, he likes to hear the gossip, he wants to know the footie scores.

Off the baize, he’s no more likely to talk about international snooker than Iranian poetry. Poor Mr Doyle. When an undisciplined, natural gift comes into contact with a focused, honed determination – the kind of determination wielded by snooker’s greatest-ever player, Stephen Hendry – then the natural gift will evaporate. Won’t it?

In fact, it is the ultra-motivated, fanatically-focused player who is more likely to turn to dust and be blown away at the table. When the intensity gets unbearable, the most practised shot-potter in the world can find that every stroke goes wrong. The harder he tries, the more he misses.

Sports psychologists call this ‘choking’. And choking is an alien concept to Mark Williams, 24-year-old protégé of manager Doyle.

Playing at his peak, or having a bad day, his heart rate is the same. There’s no cold sweat, no hypertension. Williams was 9-6 behind Hendry in the Benson and Hedges Masters, and came back to beat him 10-9 on a respotted black. In the Regal Welsh Open last year, the two went neck-and-neck together before Williams proved to have the cooler nerve – and won 9-8.

Last autumn, Williams proved beyond a doubt that his winning streak was no lucky fluke, by taking the Liverpool Victoria UK championship against Matthew Stevens 10-8. As I write, Mark Williams is provisionally snooker’s world No 1.

“He’s laid-back and it’s not put on,” says Ian Doyle. “Mark is so relaxed and full of fun, regardless of what situation he finds himself in. It’s phenomenal. At first I thought it was a problem. Now I’ve come to realise it’s a gift.”

The psychology of choking in sport is almost mystical. Almost psychokinetic. If there’s a way to miss a shot, fluff a ball, foul a stroke, the choker will find it. As the desperate determination to beat this bad patch spirals higher, the more outlandish becomes the choking.

The classic example is Gareth Southgate’s missed penalty against Germany in the semi-finals of Euro ’96. Fired up till he was white hot, with the energy of the nation focused on him, this powerful footballer just scuffed the ball feebly into the keeper’s hands. Mark Williams might not amount to much as a Premier League defender, but it’s easy to believe that, if the snooker star could have been called to the spot at Wembley that night, he would have slotted the ball nonchalantly into the net.

The psychology of choking in sport is almost mystical. Almost psychokinetic If choking is a problem for you, don’t fight it head-on.

The harder you try to focus your way out of the choker’s zone, the harder you make it for yourself. Choking is like a sports depression, where frenzied efforts to dig your way out just dig you deeper. Like the maze of depression, the choker’s zone has no door out on the ground floor – you just have to float out.

Relax, stop worrying, let it sort itself out. Instead of going into the game with 100 per cent dedicated focus – a technique which may always have worked in the past – just go in to enjoy yourself. Be yourself. Let’s face it, you can’t choke any worse by switching to this easy-going tactic. And you will probably find what thousands of sportspeople have discovered before you: “When I gave up worrying and played for fun, my game came back.”

And if you’re playing well but you feel that tension and anxiety are sometimes robbing you of an extra two or three per cent, draining energy that would be better applied to your game, here’s a simple exercise: Imagine all the knots of stress and anxiety in your muscles. They are not painful – you just sense them dotted through your body, boluses of energy.

Now visualise them as red and blue rubber balls. They are dangling in your back, your head, your neck, your stomach, your arms, and you are about to release them. With a tug of a rope that runs right through your chest, you undo the forces that bind the tensions in your body. The balls go bouncing to the floor, scattering and rolling away into invisibility. With that single tug on the ripcord, your body is cleared of tension. You step out of this daydream in a comfortable state of relaxation. Calling on the aggression you have stockpiled during a tough week in the office is a big energiser before a game. Many amateur players enjoy sport especially because it burns off the tension of the daily grind – but anxiety doesn’t always translate into anger.

If you are preoccupied or depressed your game will suffer. When you need to relax immediately before a game, don’t be afraid to try a Mindpower exercise with your teammates around you. When you’re on the bench in the changing-room, pick a point on a vacant wall. Stare into this point and feel all your consciousness flowing out to it. Breathe your consciousness out of your body, leaving only a state of relaxation and acceptance in your mind. In your mind, hear yourself say: “I breathe anxiety out. I breathe relaxation in. I breathe thought out. I breathe alertness in. I feel thoughts flowing to the point. I see where my thoughts go. I do not follow them. I am relaxed. Relaxation is filling my body like warm liquid. I am blissfully relaxed. I am awake.” This repetitive, mantra-like meditation only needs to last a few seconds to bring a beneficial state of relaxation into your mind and your game. Breathe out worry. Breathe in confidence.Now pot that black.

Uri Geller’s novels Dead Cold and Ella are published by Headline at £5.99. Mind Medicine is published by Element at £20 Visit him at and e-mail him at [email protected]

Uri Geller’s world of the strange

How to improve your body without lifting a weight and bust the y2k bug

Winter 2000
Winter 2000

PEOPLE OFTEN ASK ME HOW I DO telepathy. The simple answer is that I see a picture in my mind, as vivid as the image on a cinema screen, and I can project anything I desire onto it. The critical word is “desire” – the more I want it, the sharper the image will be. Seeing that mental picture makes the possibility more real.

Many sceptics say, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but the truth comes the other way round – sporting excellence only happens when you have total faith in your ability to win and a crystal clear image of what you’re striving to achieve. In other words, “I’ll see it when I believe it.” Believe in your desires and project them onto your inner screen. Study them, and then the images will be imprinted on your memory – ready for recall at the crucial moment.

Jack Nicklaus describes in his book Go!f My Way how he runs every shot on his mental screen before he lifts the club: “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head . It’s like a colour movie. First I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I ‘see’ the ball going there: its path, trajectory and shape, even its behaviour on landing. Then there is a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.”

And sports psychologist Jack Ludwig quotes a sports star in a totally different field to golf. Larry Mahan is a champion bronco and bull rider : “I try to picture a ride in my mind before I get on the bull. Then I try to go by the picture.”

Here’s a great visualisation for body builders which any athlete will enjoy doing:

Strip offand stand before a mirror. Study your naked body. Look at the good parts and the bad, and take in areas gqactivepicwhich you might prefer to pretend were different. Accept them as they are. Say out loud: “This is my body. It’s the only one I’ve got.”

Imagine the mirror is magic. It can change your reflection, moulding and shaping your figure into a perfect physique. The image before you is liquid, a spectacular slice of special effects from Hollywood. Your body is melting into god-like perfection – the ripples of extra weight are becoming the firm, smooth plates of muscle you would love to see. The dimples of cellulite are being replaced by silk-sheened skin. Muscles are swelling, your chest is swelling, and every inch is firm and glistening with health.

Now glance down at your real body. Incredibly, the improvement has already begun. Just by visualising a better body, you have subconsciously encouraged yourself to take up a better posture. When you focused on your stomach, you drew in your muscles. When you looked at your chest, your back straightened and your shoulders were pulled back. Your chin lifted, you breathed more deeply, your legs and buttocks tensed up. You started to stand with pride, as every athlete should. With a single thought, your body grew healthier and more attractive.

If you can do that in a few moments, imagine the benefit of daily visualisation sessions, over one month.

It’s as easy as daydreaming. And when you put visualisation to work for you in sport, it can be just as engaging, fun and relaxing. instead of idle thoughts of tropical paradises, now you can visualise sporting triumphs: see the ball fizz over the net, burning through the empty space next to your opponent’s racquet; hear the scream of your engine as you execute a series of split-second gear changes through the chicane; taste the ice-cold water as you grab a bottle from a cheering bystander in the last mile of the New York marathon; feel the champagne as it splashes over your tongue on the victory podium.

Note – every one of these visualisations is positive. Never try to picture things going wrong, even as an experiment to work out how disasters happen. These mind pictures work at a very deep level of your subconscious, and a negative visualiser risks programming the brain to engineer failure. Whatever sense you’re using, it makes sense to focus on the positive.

You can visualise at every natural pause in the game, the way Nicklaus does in golf. And you can visualise in a single instant, catching the wave of future events and surfing it a split-second ahead of reality. Your mind is the most powerful tool in the universe. Use it. Geller’s novel Dead Cold (Headline £9.99); Ella (Headline, £5.99);Mind Medicine (Element, £20). Visit him at www.uri-gollercom or you can e-mail him at [email protected].


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