Imagery

Imagery is a high performance mental skill in which athletes use all of their senses to create or recreate a successful performance in their mind. Think of imagery as practicing in your head, or as going to the movies of your mind. Imagery is not a quick-fix technique. Instead, it is a psychological skill that can be developed through practice. When imagery is used systematically in conjunction with physical practice it can have amazing results.

Research has proven that the central nervous system does not differentiate between real and imagined events. When you vividly imagine yourself shooting a free-throw or making a golf putt neuromuscular stimulation is occurring. The physiological pathways between the brain and body are activated. We often call this muscle memory. Furthermore, nothing builds confidence better than successful experiences, real or imagined.

Consider the following excerpt from an Olympic diver: “I did my dives in my head all of the time. At night, before going to sleep, I always did my dives. Ten dives. I started with a front dive, the first one I had to do at the Olympics, and I did everything as if I was actually there. I saw myself on the board with the same bathing suit. Everything was the same...If the dive was wrong, I went back and started all over again. It takes a good hour to do perfect imagery of all my dives…Sometimes I would take the weekend off and do imagery five times a day.”

Leonard Myles-Mills, the two-time national champion in the 100M dash, reported that his success on the track was partially due to his use of imagery in his pre-race preparation. He stated, “I visualize the race being run and I have won...I see the other athletes trailing behind me and that is exactly what happened when the race is actually run...The similarity between my imagery and the race is scary sometimes...it really increases my confidence.”

Practical Imagery Ideas

  • Practice imagery daily. 10-minutes a day = 60-hours a year!
  • Use all of your senses: See it, feel it, hear it, smell it, taste it
  • Make it an emotional experience
  • Use both internal and external perspectives
  • Facilitate imagery through relaxation. Begin each imagery session by taking a few deep breaths to get relaxed and focused
  • Use cue words to make imagery more effective. Such as, “let it happen,” “smooth and easy,” “dominate,” “powerful,” or “quick”
  • Change it up to keep it fresh. Focus on proper execution of a play or skill, re-live past successes, or imagine the game plan for an upcoming competition
  • Use mental rehearsal to improve technique. Work those neuromuscular pathways!
  • Use videotape to enhance imagery skills. Watch a positive model of a skill or performance and then picture it in your mind and feel it in your body
  • Use “snap-shot” images. These are brief imagery clips that are from 3-5 seconds in length and can be used in the performance environment. For example, a volleyball player could take a deep breath then see and feel a perfect serve before executing it
  • Use imagery to practice emotional regulation and re-focusing when things are not going well in a performance. Picture yourself maintaining your composure and making adjustments
  • Use imagery after a skill or technique has been demonstrated in practice. Take a deep breath and then see and feel yourself executing the skill properly
  • Use imagery after the successful execution of a skill or an outstanding performance. Re-experience it through imagery while it is fresh in the mind
  • “Re-write the ending.” As soon as possible, imagine how you would do it properly after a mistake or a poor performance