Are you looking for ways to improve your game? Have you ever considered using mental imagery? Studies of mental imagery can be traced as far back as the 1800s, but it wasn’t until recently that sports psychologists started examining the relationship between mental imagery and sports performance. Of the hundreds of studies that have been done, it is clear that mental imagery is a very effective technique when it comes to improving an athlete’s performance (Driskell et al, 1994; Martin et al, 1999). In fact, most elite and professional athletes note that using mental imagery is an important part of their training routine. Because mental training techniques are rarely emphasized in youth sports, many young athletes and aspiring college athletes have little practice when it comes to using imagery and visualization.
Mental imagery can help an athlete in all areas of their sport. Sport psychologists generally refer to five types of imagery that an athlete should master (Gregg & Hall, 2006): 1. Imagery involving mentally rehearsing plans and strategies of play 2. Imagery focused on the rehearsal of specific skills 3. Imagery concentrating on the anxiety and arousal associated with performing 4. Imagery used to imagine being in control and feeling confident, and 5. Imagery imagining goal achievement and accomplishment.
When imagining these types of situations, it is important that the function of the imagery matches the intended outcome. This means that if you want to improve your shot stopping ability, you need to imagine yourself stopping shots. When using visualization techniques, remember to picture yourself performing the skill or routine perfectly and confidently. Also, because every athlete is different, there is no right or wrong way to practice mental imagery. It can be practiced on or off the playing field, very quickly or over a long duration, laying down, standing up, with music, or in complete silence.
If you’re having trouble forming images or seeing results, here are a few tips:
- Look at pictures or videos prior to using imagery
- Make the imagery seem as realistic as possible by including all senses, in full color and detail
- Only imagine perfection. This will boost your self-confidence and reinforce good habits!
- Believe that imagery works, as your attitudes and expectations enhance the effect
- And lastly, practice imagery as often as you can. It may take months before you see improvement, so don’t get discouraged!
As so many great athletes and coaches have said, “Sports is 90% mental and 10% physical”. With this in mind, remember to include mental training tools like imagery and visualization into your training program. Mastering this skill is an important part of your development as an athlete, and will surely put you one step closer to becoming the best!
- Driskell, J. E., Copper, C., & Moran, A. (1994). Does mental imagery enhance performance?
Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 481 – 491.
- Gregg, M., & Hall, C. (2006). Measurment of motivational imagery abilities in sport.
Journal of Sport Sciences, 24, 961-971.
- Martin, K., Moritz, S., & Hall, C. (1999). Imagery use in sport: A literature review and applied model.
The Sport Psychologist, 13, 245 – 268.