Marco Koch likes variation and trying different things, both in training and in life. So when he heard hypnosis therapist Simone Lücke giving a talk at his club, he decided to give it a shot. Starting at the end of 2013, he’s had hypnosis sessions with her about once a month ever since, and if his recent results are anything to go by, it’s been a masterstroke – in 2015 he enjoyed his best year ever, winning his first 200 breast world title in Kazan and doing the 100-200 double at the SC Euros in Israel.
“When you’re competing against the best in the world, everyone’s training really hard, so every little thing can make a difference,” he says. “Hypnosis has helped me to relax, and to bring the positive feeling I have in training to my competitions. I’ve even used it for technical things like improving my wall approaches and turns.”
So how exactly can hypnosis help a swimmer? By getting into the unconscious mind. “The mind is like an iceberg,” says Simone, “with the conscious mind like the 10% tip that shows above the water, compared with the 90% below the surface. This 90% is the unconscious mind, and this is where we find our true selves. By tapping into the unconscious mind through hypnosis, we can undo the limitations that learned behaviour creates in our conscious mind, and develop more positive responses in our behaviour when we need it.”
The type of trance you enter under hypnosis is far more common than you might think. Consider reading a book or watching a movie, for example, and how you can block out distracting noise and activity – you actually go into a trance of sorts when you focus on one activity like this. Being able to tap into this state can be very valuable when you’re trying to relax or concentrate, such as before a race.
This mental ability is one of the three ways that hypnosis can be used with a swimmer. And it goes even further than just blocking things out – building self-belief, getting into the groove, and being able to ignore the man with the hammer when he’s telling your conscious mind that you can’t give any more.
Relaxation is another clear benefit. Less obvious is how it can help on the technical side – by visualizing in your subconscious the mechanics of the perfect stroke, you can perform better, use less energy, help the body recover more quickly, and suffer fewer injuries.
Another great thing about it is that Marco can invoke it on his own when he needs it: “I also use self-hypnosis when I don’t have much time, and I need to relax, imagine my race, or get into a positive frame of mind.”
Hypnosis on its own naturally doesn’t make a champion, and for Marco training is still the most important. “But I’ve also worked with sports psychology since 2009, and started focusing more on my diet in 2013 when a blood test showed that I am sensitive to 78 different foods.” Out went all 78, including gluten products, eggs, and milk. The results have been great, he now has more energy, and has started re-introducing some foods now that his body’s settled down.
In 2016 Marco is scaling back his competition schedule a little so he can focus on training for the Olympics, but in the first 3 months he’ll be competing in the FFN Golden Tour and the Euro Meet in Luxembourg, followed by Euros in London in May. And as Rio draws closer, one suspects that he and Simone might start spending more time together helping him to, maybe, visualize standing on a podium?