by Seymour Yang
For most BJJ students, preparing for a tournament usually involves a lot more mat time, more conditioning, drilling and generally more physical effort. But for a growing number of competitors, not just in BJJ but also in many other sports, mental preparation is equally important. For these sportsmen and women sports hypnosis and mental performance coaching has helped them gain an extra edge over other competitors. Seymour Yang went to meet Eamonn Madden, a UK-based BJJ coach and a mental performance coach who uses his techniques in the class.
The FightWorks Podcast: Hi Eamonn, please introduce yourself for the Mighty 600,000?
Eamonn Madden: Sure, my name is Eamonn Madden and I am a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Felipe Souza and I am one of the head instructors at the ‘BJJ School’ academies. I have been training BJJ for over ten years and I am also a professional mental performance coach.
The FightWorks Podcast: Explain what you mean by ‘mental performance’ coach?
Eamonn Madden: Well I believe that for any athlete, whether they are an elite Olympic player or just an regular recreational player, the ability to perform to their maximum ability in their sport is 80-90% due to their mental preparation and state of mind. What I do is to use various tools that enable these players and athletes to improve their performance, or overcome a sticking point in their development.
The FightWorks Podcast: So what tools do you use?
Eamonn Madden: The main tools that I find really work well with my clients are a blend of sports hypnosis and NLP – neural linguistic programming. I view it as the equivalent of installing new ‘software’ for the brain.
The FightWorks Podcast: Really? You can literally reprogram the brain, like some sort of computer?
Eamonn Madden: Kind of, I prefer to use the term ‘reroute’. If, for example, someone had a negative association with an incident that occured in the past and it was catalogued in their subconscious, and ever since that time it had hindered their performance, then NLP and hypnosis can get to the root of that problem and alter the person’s association by working directly with the subconscious.
The FightWorks Podcast: If I can try to understand correctly, you mean you actually alter a person’s memory?
Eamonn Madden: No,no I can’t alter a person’s memory, but I do change the feelings associated with that memory. I like to use the analogy of a bouncer on the door of a club – he is the barrier between the conscious part of the brain and the subconscious. Usually the bouncer chooses who he lets in and who he stops from entering. But what hypnosis does is to distract the bouncer so he looks away, and that allows me to sneek in and do my work.
The FightWorks Podcast: Can you give examples of how a past incident can affect a person’s sporting performance?
Eamonn Madden: Something that I see a lot with high level athletes is where a previous coach or parent has been their principle coach when they were younger and they used a lot of misunderstood coaching methods. Examples of this could include shouting or being really hard – experiences where nothing the kid did seemed to be good enough. This kind of memory is stored in the subconscious and can hinder their performace as an adult because whatever result they achieve, they believe that it is never their best. So my job is the break down the barriers they have and destroy any limiting beliefs.
The FightWorks Podcast: How did you get involved in this field in the first place?
Eamonn Madden: Since I began jiu-jitsu, my father was always there to watch me compete, every match he was there right up until I was a purple belt. But then he passed away to cancer and after that, I found it really hard to get back my passion and desire to compete. I would enter tournaments but there would always be some sort of last minute injury that would stop me. In the end, I went to see a sports hypnotist and with his assistance I identified that I was subconsiously self-sabotaging myself in order to avoid the tournament.
The FightWorks Podcast: And you had no idea you were doing this?
Eamonn Madden: No, absolutely not until after only a few sessions and then it dawned on me that this was the reason behind my untimely injuries. After that revelation, I continued some more sessions and the more I learned about this area, the more I got interested into it as something I could do to help others.
So I studied all the books I could find and participated in training courses under some very top level guys in the field.
The FightWorks Podcast: Like who?
Eamonn Madden: I studied one on one under KC Johnson in New York, who is an amazing guy. He works with a lot of athletes and wrestlers and taught me a lot of what I use today. More recently I’ve had the privilege to train under Chris Howard, who is one of the biggest names in the mental performance field, and is also a passionate BJJ Brown Belt who trains under Rorion and Rickson Gracie.
The FightWorks Podcast: A lot of people might think what you do is a bit dubious; how do you react to critics?
Eamonn Madden: It really doesn’t bother me, I just laugh! Any criticism is just based on lack of knowledge. What I do is not the stage hypnosis you see on TV. Everyday I get comments from students or new guys who say to me “that stuff ain’t gonna work on me” or “you’re not gonna make me bark like a dog” and they have no idea I am already working on their limiting beliefs just with conversation.
The FightWorks Podcast: Who have you worked with so far?
Eamonn Madden: My clients come from all sorts of backgrounds but I specialise in sports and combat sports in particular, obviously because of my own training background. Right now I am working closely with UFC fighter Nick Osipczak.
The FightWorks Podcast: How did you help Nick?
Eamonn Madden: In the build-up to his last fight with Matt Riddle, one of the recurring things that Nick would think about is the fact that his opponent had an extensive wrestling background, and this thought grew in Nick’s mind.
But it was very easy to break down these barriers and I used chess metaphors to do this, since Nick is a really big chess player. I got him to visualise his fight in terms of chess strategy. He was also aware that his opponent had a track record of always going the distance in his fights, and again, we reframed that barrier by turning that thought around. In other words, we got Nick to realise that this ‘lasting the distance’ issue actually meant that his opponent could never finish a fight. I turned a negative into a positive for Nick and it really worked. As part of our preparation, we slow-motioned and fast-forwarded the entire three rounds of the fight under hypnosis.
The FightWorks Podcast: Nick got a great result in the end didn’t he?
Eamonn Madden: Yeah! At UFC 105 Nick totally dominated Riddle tactically and the ref had to stop the fight. He will be fighting on UFC 112 and we’re working together again specifically for this fight.
The FightWorks Podcast: Have you worked with any BJJ athletes?
Eamonn Madden: Oh yes, quite a few. Daniel Agard, for example, came to me as he needed to get over his extreme physical nervousness before a tournament.
The FightWorks Podcast: Surely nervousness before a match is normal?
Eamonn Madden: No it’s not! I mean Daniel was feeling physically nauseous days before a match and it was preventing him reaching his full potential on the mat. What I’m saying, is that this is something that you can reroute and utilise. Stimulating arousual is certainly important for a professional athlete, but not nausea.
The FightWorks Podcast: So how did you manage to solve his problem?
Eamonn Madden: With Daniel, I used a tool called an ’emotion thermometer’ which controls the arousual level. We also used ‘future pacing where, with hypnosis, we fast forward through all match senarios to the desired outcome – such as holding up his gold medal or standing on the winners podium and other positive situations where Daniel is in control. This helped deal with his nervousness. Then we anchored certain ‘word-triggers’ into his subconscious mind. When that word-trigger is spoken, either by himself, or by another person coaching him, it acts to fire him up at the right time. We call this a ‘resource anchor’ where you can control your physical and mental state gaining instant confidence and readiness to fight.
The FightWorks Podcast: How has Daniel improved since working with you?
Eamonn Madden: Daniel has achieved awesome results since we began working together. For example, he recently won the UK ADCC World Pro BJJ Cup trials, so he’s off to Abu Dhabi where he will continue to use his ‘triggers’. Daniel loves his ability to switch on or off for a fight. He actually said to me, “now I want you to make me psycho!!!” [laughs]
The FightWorks Podcast: Do you use resource anchors yourself?
Eamonn Madden: Oh yes I use them daily. I used them moments before you arrived in fact. I wanted to get myself in the right state of mind to do give a good interview!
The FightWorks Podcast: If I came to you and said I was suffering from, let’s say, claustophobia, what would you do to help me?
Eamonn Madden: Whenever I work with any new client, I always talk to them in depth about their barrier and I like to find out the exact point or as close as possible at which their problem occurred. Once we can establish the incident or event that coincided with the onset of their claustrophobia, then we work from there using the techniques discussed previously. Something like claustrophobia can easily be erased and that change can in certain situations happen as quickly as twenty minutes to an hour of a session with me.
The FightWorks Podcast: Do you use your tools when teaching a normal group class?
Eamonn Madden: Yes I use conversational hypnosis all the time in class. When I teach BJJ, I like to use metaphors and ‘yes settings’ a lot. For example I’ll ask the question: “Is this good? Yes or yes?” and the students can only answer ‘yes’ and it puts them in a positive state before practicing the technique. These types of ‘mental jiu jitsu’ tricks are really just ways of me assisting the outcome so both the student and I can get the result we desire, I must make this clear though it is ALL for the benefit of the students.
When I teach, my aim is to install jiu-jitsu techniques into the students’ subconscious. Once there, it really speeds the learning process. Students don’t waste time thinking about what they have to do, it just comes out!
I also use open and closed loops when instructing. This is when I open up by beginning a story or anecdote, but then I’ll stop and teach a technique, then later on I’ll finish the story, and close the loop. But what happens is that the information inside that loop is stored by the students in their subconscious. I’ve essentially wrapped up that technique as one easily remembered unit for them. When you see my white belt beginners, you’ll see they’ve picked up techniques so well and really grown in confidence.
The FightWorks Podcast: Can you give a tip for the readers on how to improve the mental side of their performance?
Eamonn Madden: Construct your own resource anchor. Spend a few minutes and think back to a time in your past where you achieved something good or worthy. Remember this feeling, close your eyes and light that feeling up in your neurology. Now fire an anchor – maybe clench your fist or squeeze two fingers together – anything that you want or works for you, and that will be your resource anchor you can use whenever you need it. And you don’t have to stop there, you can have several resource anchors and ‘stack’ them up. It really works.
The FightWorks Podcast: If someone is interested in your help, how would they contact you?
Eamonn Madden: I have a website: www.sportmental.co.uk, all they have to do is fill in the online form and I will arrange with them for a free 15 minute consultation which is done over the phone. I really believe that I can help a person perform to 100 percent of their ability
The FightWorks Podcast: Thanks Eamonn, good luck with your training and your mental coaching career.
Eamonn Madden: Thanks Seymour, it’s been a real pleasure.
Seymour Yang is a BJJ purple belt training at the Mill Hill Roger Gracie Academy and he also writes the BJJ blog: www.meerkatsu.com