Dick Harmon, Deseret News
Dennis Meyring, a recent retiree from education and coaching, believes the secret to not choking is preparation in the mind.

LEHI — A 45-year educator, piggybacking on the philosophy of a former U.S. Olympic judo team advisor, says there is a remedy for athletes and teams choking. He believes there’s a way to avoid that paralysis in big moments that cheat players from the lofty rewards from all that practice time and potential.

It’s the concept of the Field of Dreams, the power of affirmation, visualizing success and training the mind to win before a tipoff, kickoff, first serve or before the starting gun fires.

Dennis Meyring, who spent decades as a swimming coach in Southern California and has helped Westlake High athletics, says it works. It’s even worked with family members who’ve had troubled kids.

I once heard Hall of Fame golfer Johnny Miller tell a group at Thanksgiving Point Golf Course the power of affirmation by parents with children is powerful. “Earl Woods told Tiger all his life that he would become the greatest golfer who ever lived. He ingrained that belief into his son and it came true.”

At least before Tiger’s crash in 2009, it was true, and it began before Tiger turned professional, back when he won three U.S. Amateur titles in succession, a feat unequaled.

Meyring once talked to USC’s swim coach about what he did to prepare his athletes for big meets. He said he went over visualization and goal setting, things most sports psychologists emphasize. He then told Meyring of a USC female swimmer whose personal best in the 200 backstroke was 1:53. Right before nationals she was stressed, in tears, the weight of that moment was too great. She ended up with a time of 1:59. Her mind became an anchor.

Choked.

Athletes sometimes hit a wall at crucial moments. They may have trained for the moment, possess the skill set, but are unable to do their best at times it counts the most.

Performance under stress is an art form. The oriental culture loves to address this challenge.

Meyring, captain of BYU’s swim team the first years the Richards Building pool opened, has used mental programming taught to him by George Hamm, who worked with the U.S. Judo team in 1984. That year the U.S. stunned the judo world when it won silver and bronze medals at a time Japan dominated the sport. Hamm, who died in 2004, was a former Marine who served in Korea and had eighth-degree black belt status in judo and jujitsu. At the time, this was a rare achievement by Westerners.

Hamm, an expert in hypnosis and “training the 90 percent of the brain,” once took a U.S. Olympian judo athlete and without him knowing it, brought a man right off the street with a few instructions on some moves and the random guy beat the Olympian simply by taking advantage of the American’s frozen state of mind, or fear. He choked.

Hamm lectured nationally on enhanced athletic performance techniques and was a certified hypnotist used by the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs.

“It’s about your belief system, getting into that ‘zone’ and programming the mind,” said Meyring.

Meyring has seen this work in athletes like Jimmer Fredette, whose older brother took him in a darkened hallway to practice dribbling. Fredette now believes he can score against anybody. He’s seen it in Steve Young, who became a Super Bowl MVP. It is preparing the mind as well as the body.

Meyring said a child’s mind cannot separate the conscious from the subconscious until 10 or 11 years old. It is ripe for programming and what programming it receives sets a stage for that person’s outlook on life.

“If a child is constantly put down, criticized or told he can’t do something, it is programmed into him or her. If they are praised, encouraged, affirmed, it becomes part of their personality,” said Meyring.

What Meyring says Hamm taught is a method to help “take the brakes off the brain.” It gives them another tool. It doesn’t guarantee victory because sometimes the other guy is just better, he says. But the brain does have a brake and it needs to be released at times.

Hamm asked Meyring to continue in what he taught before he died. It involves a little hypnosis. It involves writing a script for a specific athlete for specific acts to be performed. He puts this script on a tape and the athlete listens to it repeatedly when resting, pondering or before sleep.

Here is a sample of a football running back script Meyring prepared for Westlake High:

"You enjoy having the football thrown to you or handed off to you because you have glue pots for hands and you hang onto the ball no matter what happens and you give it up only when the referee blows the whistle. If you touch the ball, you catch the ball and you hang on to the ball. You hang on to the ball until the whistle. It stays with you constantly because of your hands and or glue pots. When you have the ball it is yours and yours only. You protect it at all times. You thrive in yards after contact. You refuse to be tackled by one defender. You will not let one defender tackle you. It will have to take more than that to bring you down. You are relentless in your pursuit to get to the end zone. You take great pride in catching anything that is near you. As a ball carrier holding on to the football at all times, making the right moves, running the appropriate patterns. You enjoy running the appropriate patterns. You do them with precision and power. Every route you run looks like you are running a go route. You explode off your position. You have the quickest feet and the most powerful lower body your opponent has ever faced. Your fakes and foot placement are perfect. You stick your foot in the ground with power and you make explosive cuts. You are always in the right place at the right time doing the right thing."

You get the idea of where this is going, the programming.

Here is the second graph of that script:

“Everything works for you. You see yourself being successful each and every night in your mind. You hear the sounds of success. You hear the crowd roaring when you score the touchdown. You feel the feelings of success. You think success, you smell success and you taste success. You can do anything that you can visualize in your mind because thoughts are real. As you think only positive, winning thoughts, that is all that your body can deliver. It only delivers that set of actions that allows you to be a part of this winning Thunder football team that is closer now as a team than ever before, and you accomplish your goals. You are always at the right place at the right time doing the right thing."

This is 50 percent of the script. It continues with emphasis on performing perfectly, enjoying contact, being relentless hitting the mark, the goal, the perfect performance.

Now, who knows what works, what elevates performances?

I know personally that believing leads to doing. Constructing wins in the mind does lead to victories. I’ve seen and experienced it in things like putting on a golf course and making free throws. Kind of thinking it in the hole or basket. Believing.

In the Biblical realm, we have the verse in Mark 9:23, “… if thou canst believe, all things are possible to he that believeth.”

Maybe Meyring and Hamm are onto something. These scripts may seem hokey to some, but if some thoughts are tattooed inside your subconscious, perhaps an enlightened “brake off brain” attitude starts it in the right direction and the body follows.

And at critical junctures, it could mean the difference between winning and choking.