In past post’s I discussed the challenge and mental strength required to set and stay on top of your goals. I discussed goals, goal setting and S.M.A.R.T.E.R goals. The topic of S.M.A.R.T.E.R goals could take several articles just by itself, but for now I’ll stay on tragic….visualization.
Some also call this imagery, there is a difference, but for the purpose of this article the terms will be used interchangeably.
As with goal setting, visualization and most sport psychology/NLP in sports concepts are fairly easy to understand. But they’re tough to implement effectively in practice and training, and more so under the pressure of competition.
Like goal setting, imagery or visualization is a term that’s familiar to most individuals and athletes. Visualization is creating a desired outcome or experience in your mind. Visualization has numerous benefits both on and off the playing field. Here are a few:
Building confidence and inner strength
Learning and perfecting technical sport specific skills
Preparing for competitive situations
Managing anxiety and other emotions
Maintaining or developing motivation
To really emphasize the concept of imagery, this is what Hank Aaron said about the way he prepared before a game:
“ . . .I would start visualizing—like I’m standing at the plate with, say, runners at first and second, or second and third —how he’s (the pitcher) going to pitch me in that given situation. Then, I would start visualizing, for example, if the bases were loaded, how he would try to get me out…I would put myself in all these different positions and put him in the same positions and try to figure out what is best for him and what I am going to be looking for.” (1)
Visualization is much more than a random daydream or just “seeing” yourself succeed. It is an extremely focused intention for improving personal performance.
Notice I didn’t say intention of wining….more on this later.
Think about this…would you consider running for a train or bus part of your physical training? Would you think that bringing grocery bags in from the car satisfies your strength training for the day?
Of course not!
The same holds true with mental strength training. The skills of visualization need to be learned and practiced; it is to be performed with purpose and with intention; it must be part of your daily mental training plan if you are serious about reaching your personal goals.
Following are some tips that will help you learn the skill of visualization. As you become proficient you’ll be able to use these mental strength skills to visualize your way to peak performance.
The 5 Keys to Successful Imagery
1- Imagery Effectiveness: How well you control the image; the vividness and clarity of the image and your ability to incorporate all the senses (sight, sounds, hearing, feeling and taste) into make the mental experience. You want to make it as real as possible.
2- Visualize What You Can Control: Sure you want to win, but in large part there are too many factors out of your control to make this happen. So, when you perform your visualization see yourself performing your moves perfectly. Controlling your body and how it executes specific maneuvers is 100% in your control.
3 – Know The Exact Place And Time: When you visualize see yourself surrounded by the environment you would see at the event during the exact day, time and place of the event. How this works is, suppose you’re going to be in a tack event at 2:00 PM. See yourself on the starting line looking around. What would the stands look like? How hot (cool) would it be? How many people would be there? You want to see everything as if you are then NOW. This part is still in the first person.
4 – See Yourself In The First Person: When conducting your imagery exercise for a behavior or physical task, see the images as if you are looking through your own eyes. Feel as if you are felling in your own body, hear as if you are hearing with your own ears. Visualize yourself (through your eyes) performing your task perfectly. I’m not big on instructing what not to do, but in this case it might be helpful. Do not see yourself as if you are watching a movie…not yet at least. This will happen later in the next process.
5 – Move To Second Person: Once you have finished the event and you have performed perfectly slowly move from first person into second person. That is, start to “drift” back and see yourself as if you are watching a movie. This is important because if just leave the image in first person your unconscious may think that you’ve already finished this event and the “future pull” will not be created. When you move to watching yourself your unconscious knows this has not taken place yet and will do everything it can to make it happen.
How to Visualize
Find a quiet, relaxing environment, preferably sitting. Sitting will help you stay awake. Once you have mastered staying awaking sitting lying down is fine. To start the practice of visualization pick a ‘non-sport’ place or object (something non-threatening so as not to arouse emotion when learning the skill) such as a favorite vacation spot, your family room or food items in your refrigerator. Mentally place yourself in the given location or holding a specific object—what do you see, exactly? What do you feel (i.e., hot sand, sun, soft carpet)? What do you smell? Manipulate yourself in the environment (i.e., walk on the beach, sit on your bed) or maneuver the object you are visualizing – that is, work on controlling the image by seeing and feeling yourself doing what you want to do. Spend time each day developing your imaging abilities, spending time focusing on the event in the finest of details, before progressing to applying imagery to your sport.
Integrating the skill of imagery into your every day activities provides you with opportunities to practice and further develop the skill. For example, in preparation for a meeting with your boss or coworker, visualize the encounter to prepare yourself. Or, take a minute to visualize details of the driving route before you get in the car to go to the store. Work on control, vividness and integrating all the senses.
Make visualization a planned and purposeful part of your training. Create or identify opportunities to integrate imagery into training. Doing so can enhance your practice performance as well as help you further develop your imagery abilities. Some examples; when focusing on technique in training, visualize correct execution of the skill prior to physical execution; before practice, use imagery to get in the right mindset and arousal level; after a great interval, shot or repetition, mentally review that practice success.
I would start with 5 minutes and then slowly work up to 15 minutes. Once you have mastered a non-sport event for 15 minutes move on to visualizing your practice sessions. From there move up to the event itself.
Make imagery a planned and purposeful part of competition. Similar to Hank Aaron, you can use imagery to prepare for competition by imaging various scenarios and the desired response or you can experience success via imagery to build confidence. Once your imagery ability is well developed, it can be integrated into competition preparation to enhance your performance.
1. Ravizza, K. and Hanson, T. Heads-up baseball: Playing the game one pitch at a time. Illinois: Masters Press,1995
Please let me know your experience or thoughts on visualization in the comments below.
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