Every now and then, a professional athlete may succumb to the pressure of the moment, causing a jolt to the self-esteem and affecting the athlete’s performance. What can be done to regain the talents that seem to have vanished?
Sports hypnotherapist Peter Siegel of Marina del Rey maintains that he can take any athlete who is no longer performing at his or her previous level, get to the root of the problem, and solve it.
Hypnotists aren’t new to the sports world, and have been known to produce some favorable results in the past, if statistics are any testament.
In 1983 and 1984, Dr. Harvey Misel of St. Paul, Minn., worked with baseball players Rod Carew and Mike Witt of the Angels, Bill Buckner of the Chicago Cubs and Floyd Bannister, Tom Paciorek and Richard Dotson of the Chicago White Sox.
All showed improvement immediately after hypnosis. Witt, for example, pitched two complete game victories after meeting with Misel in early 1984. Bannister was 2-9 when he began seeing Misel in midseason of 1983 and took a 16-10 record into the playoffs.
In fact, in 1983 Misel was hired by the entire White Sox team. They were in third place in the American League West at the time and went on to win their division title by 20 games.
But the effects seemingly wore off as they were beaten by the Baltimore Orioles in the American League playoffs. Hypnotists, however, don’t claim to instill invincibility.
“We’re only as good as the people we work with,” Misel said. “The talent has to be there.”
And gazing into cold eyes, or concentrating on a swinging pendulum is “absolute nonsense,” according to Siegel.
“Hypnosis has nothing to do with that Svengali BS,” he said. “Hypnosis is a natural state of mind. It is a capacity to become responsive to new and creative ideas and suggestions that can help you improve yourself and achieve more of your inherent potential.”
Misel has since settled into a more private practice and is currently not involved with sports figures, but he said that it will probably be years before athletes in the United States realize the importance of mental training.
Siegel, 30, hopes to cut down significantly on that time. “There’s no doubt in my mind it will be the wave of the future,” he said. “And I intend to be the leader of that wave.”
Like Misel, Siegel seems to have had some success with his clients, the most notable being pitcher Sid Fernandez of the New York Mets.
Siegel works with Fernandez for about an hour before each of his outings, usually by telephone but sometimes on tapes, and believes that his work is partly responsible for Fernandez’s achievements on the mound.
“I don’t take the credit for the success of my clients,” he said. “But my influence in that kid’s life is absolutely undeniable, and we keep working and we keep coming on strong.”
Fernandez, a former Dodger, is 12-2. According to Siegel, he will get better.
“I think Sid will win between 20-24 games this season,” he said.
Why the improvement from the 9-9 record he posted last year?
“He’s now coming into the awareness that he doesn’t have to be what other people think. He can dig within himself and find out his true power and what he’s capable of, which is a major factor why he’s been so dominant this year,” Siegel said.
Fernandez doesn’t believe Siegel’s influence is absolutely responsible for his success but gives him some credit, nevertheless.
“Just because I know him doesn’t mean I had a good year,” Fernandez said. “I could have probably done it on my own, but he brought out in me what I didn’t know existed, but what was in me.”
After hypnosis, Fernandez is convinced of his superiority.
"(Siegel) gives me a load of confidence,” he said. “He puts you in a relaxed state of mind and brings out what’s positive in your subconscious. Everything he does is positive.”
Exactly what goes on between Siegel and his clients is confidential, but according to Siegel, the general idea is this:
“To shake up the mind in order to dislodge that mental block holding an athlete back. I help them mobilize the seed of their power. I help them get to the essential point of their ability to express peak athletic performance, and help them become regulators of that ability.”
Siegel, who studies physical training systems as well, claims that he is able to give the athlete a complete mental and physical balance.
“I make sure the power of the mind works in conjunction with the power of the body,” he said. “Thought is to the mind what food is to the body.”
One can feed on Siegel’s thoughts for about $75 an hour.
What he does has nothing to do with psychology, Siegel remarked: “It’s not a pep talk. I work (through hypnosis) with identifying and releasing the counterproductive aspects associated with an athlete’s mental conception of what he or she can do.”
Another of Siegel’s clients is boxer Vinnie Curto. Curto has been fighting for 13 years and, at 30, is admittedly entering the twilight of his boxing career.
Don King Productions has lined up a string of four fights for Curto, though, and hopes they will lead to another title opportunity, which Curto said, “will probably be my last shot.”
In his last fight, Curto (79-9-3) was knocked out in the 15th round by South Korea’s Chong Pal Park in an International Boxing Federation super-middleweight title fight last April.
Even so, Siegel likes Curto’s chances of becoming a champion.
“Vinnie always thought of himself as a contender, not a winner,” Siegel said. “Since we’ve been working, I’ve seen (in him) a tremendous surge of emotion and he now thinks of himself as a winner. It’s conceivable that he’ll be the next middleweight champion of the world. . . Hagler will probably retire by then.”
Curto’s first fight under the influence of Siegel will be Aug. 26 at the Country Club in Reseda.
Said Curto: “I feel like I got the whole world off my back, 100 times more confident. It’s the first time I’ve trained hard mentally.”
Siegel also performs his magic on defensive lineman Pete Koch of the Kansas City Chiefs. Cut by the Cincinnati Bengals two years ago, Koch is looking forward to this season more than any other. And why not? According to Siegel, “He should be All-Pro this year.”
Siegel said that, through hypnosis, he has found and disposed of what was holding Koch back.
“Through my work with him, we found out that there were a couple of mental blocks that had to be dealt with in terms of his ability to let go of his past, and different thoughts and different ideas that were in fact holding in check a certain degree of power, that he now has at his disposal.”
Koch, who started working with Siegel last February, recently broke three strength records for the Chiefs at mini-camp, and said: “I’m very anxious to get started and put this thing to a test.”
Koch was introduced to Siegel by his training partner Fred Hatfield, who also trains Curto.
Hatfield, editor of Sports Fitness magazine and a former weightlifting champion--he also has a degree in sports psychology--was a customer of Siegel, and says it was Siegel who helped him set the world power-lifting squat record at 1,008 pounds, more than four times his body weight.
“That’s a pretty intimidating weight for anybody,” Hatfield said. “There is no doubt in my mind it (his successful lift) came from Peter’s therapy. Peter has a unique talent which goes far beyond that of sports psychology.”
Siegel decribed what he does by saying: “I constantly give the athletes more of themselves. I get them to go out there with the attitude of conquest, and I get results.”
The reliability of hypnosis in sports may be hard to document, but as former Dodger Jay Johnstone once put it: “It may be just psychology. If you think it’s going to help you, it helps you.”
Said Siegel: “That statement has some truth. But I think there is more to it than that.”