Dan Vitchoff, Hypnotist That Works with Steelers, Olympians

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Dan Vitchoff:

First, how did you get started doing hypnosis?

I had an undiagnosed learning disorder growing up – ADD. I loved playing sports but hated school. My father was heavily invested in me going to college and graduating. It was an issue between us. When he suffered his second heart attack I went back and worked in a memory program at school with a Bulgarian professor and jumped in with both feet ever since.

How did you get involved working with athletes?

I started off working with a couple of Olympic shooters. After I had success with them I was contracted to work with the whole team.

A while later, I was introduced to “someone who knew someone”. I got a call from a sports agent who had an NFL player he wanted me to work with. Filled out the forms and had success, so I picked up more clients from the Steelers and a couple guys from other teams afterwards.

What specifically did you work on for the Steelers?

Well, to take a step back, I some time ago patented the “Mind Gym” – I’m making one actually for Coach Tomlin. It’s to help for the mental preparation for the game. It made it’s mark in the Olympics. It puts athletes in a zero gravity position so oxygen to the brain is increased. It puts the person in a trance-like state. That, with headphones and a light machine manipulates the brain so that when you are visualizing something – say kicking a field goal, it helps you gain confidence. Repeated visualization enhances that confidence.

What you visualize in that state is like having a dream – but the visualization is also actually physical so it’s training your brain patterns.

The subconscious mind remembers. Athletes have to respond without thinking – if you react, your brain is slowing down. For example, when Ben leaves the pocket he’s more instinctive – he’s more effective. The brain is reacting to what it knows. We have an expression – those who know don’t think – those who think don’t know.

If an athlete is mentally prepared he’s better. How does a player get in the “zone”? The Mind gym technique shows them how to get in their zone where they perform on instinct.

Another example is what linebacker Stevenson Sylvester said after his first start against New England. He said he was too “amped up” at the start of the game. He wasn’t right mentally. We get them prepared so they are ready right away.

I’m working with a backup quarterback now so he’s ready and confident when he steps on the field.

Is this physical as well as psychological?

We see that confident expectations react differently in the brain than those who are not confident. The brain is occupied with what you don’t want to happen instead of what you want to happen.

I ask players when they are at the peak of their game how they got better? On special teams and defense especially, how do they do spectacular feats. It’s just like when people on an emergency are able to do amazing feats like lift cars or put their hands through boards. They can do those physical things because their brain is not preoccupied with what they can’t do. The person in the emergency situation is thinking “I have to” – not anything else.

So it’s more mental than physical. My ultimate goal is to have someone execute like it’s second nature.

What do you do with athletes that are resistant to the technique?

It’s never a problem. It’s not like hypnosis you see on tv. You don’t have to put people out. That’s old school.

I influence athletes by visualization and by talking to them.

For example, Gold medalist shooter Glen Eller fell victim to a new schedule when he went to the Olympics. He had to practice at night and he couldn’t see well – it wasn’t his fault at all. I could see he was forlorn and called his coach and the three of us sat down and watched tv in the Olympic village and had a couple beers. We didn’t talk about sports at all. But my body language and positive comments in general made a difference.

Do you plan to work with coaches to help them implement this type of philosophy?

It’s interesting you say that. I’m actually starting a coach the coach program now. I’m teaching them not to yell at players for what they are doing wrong. It’s the 33 method. Three things three different ways. tell them three things in a positive way, three different ways. It’s hot outside, the sun is shining, it’s not cold…. That creates an imprint on the brain much more than occupying the brain further with what it’s doing wrong. If you keep telling players what they are doing wrong that’s all they will think about.

What do you say to detractors of this type of method?

I don’t create losers. People don’t come to me and go backwards in their sports. I’ve been compared to quacks who do hypnosis but that’s not what we do at all. And there are lot’s of them who do hypnosis and don’t know what they are doing – but that’s not what I do.

How do you know when you are succeeding?

When they are performing better and feeling better. What I’m doing can’t not affect them. it doesn’t overnight, but the tones, sounds and words affect the brain. They have to.

What’s next?

Training the brain is the next frontier. With a functional MRI we can watch the brain build connections and increase skill level. We’re re-wiring the brain to function at a higher level. It’s function and theory working together, We’re seeing this with younger athletes now – guys that are succeeding at earlier levels because of this technique. I’m looking forward to seeing further results in the next five-ten years.

Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades To order, just click on the book:

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One thought on “Dan Vitchoff, Hypnotist That Works with Steelers, Olympians”

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