How Imagery and Visualization Can Improve Athletic Performance

Many elite athletes and Olympians routinely use visualization techniques as part of training and competition. There are many stories of athletes who used these techniques to cultivate a competitive advantage. However, as a multisensory experience, the technique involves much more than just visualization.

In fact, the preferred term in elite competitive sports is "imagination," which defines the process of imagining or representing athletic performance from start to finish, employing all of the senses rather than focusing solely on visualizing a particular goal or result. .

Athletes use these techniques to cultivate a heightened state of mental awareness, which has been shown to increase confidence and general well-being, and in turn, improve the athlete's performance in their sport. Therefore, athletes can use this technique to "try" the result of a race or training session, or simply to rest in a relaxed sense of calm and well-being.

What are mental images?

Mental imagination is a multisensory process that relies on the senses to create a vivid mental image of a specific process. Imagination is essentially the process of creating and recreating an experience in the mind's eye, which means that it can be practiced anytime, anywhere.

As a study on the subject points out, mental images "play a central role in the execution of human movement and functioning." In the context of sports, mental imagination is defined as the experience of an athlete imagining himself while performing certain skills.

According to the researchers, the two most common techniques used to generate images are visual (what the athlete sees) and kinesthetic (the experience of the body during the execution of a movement). Numerous studies have also shown that mental imagery improves an athlete's motor skills during competition, as well as their ability to learn new skills during training.

How Imagery Enhances Sports Performance

Imagination or visualization is also known as mental rehearsal or guided meditation. No matter the term, the basic concepts and techniques are the same. Generally speaking, visualization is the process of creating a mental image or an intention of what you want to happen or feel in reality.

Sports psychology researchers have been studying the impact of imagery on athletic performance for decades, particularly in recent years, and the effectiveness of the technique is well documented. An article published in 2017 explains that all people, regardless of their age, gender or athletic ability, can use images to improve cognitive, behavioral and emotional performance.

The authors also note that sports psychology research rarely focuses exclusively on goal-based imagery, but rather on the process of achieving a goal. "This is likely because athletes use less of goal- or outcome-based imagery (eg, qualify for a competition, win a medal)," the study authors explain. process goals (for example, completing stretching exercises before competition) rather than outcome goals. "

See success

By imagining the whole picture of a scene, complete with images of a previous best performance, a desired future outcome, and the experience of performing each move, the athlete can fully "embed" that feeling. When imagining these scenarios, the athlete should try to imagine the details and the feeling of performing the desired shape.

As one study noted, the use of internal images during training and competition improves performance by relying more on external images or "psychologically preparing" before competing.

Repetition

Using the mind, an athlete can conjure up these images repeatedly, honing the skill through repetition or rehearsal, similar to physical practice. With mental rehearsal, minds and bodies are trained to perform imagined skills and performances.

The investigation has shown that athletes can improve their physical and psychological reactions in certain situations with visualization. These repeated images can generate experience and confidence in the athlete's ability to perform certain skills under pressure or in various possible scenarios.

Using the Senses

The most effective visualization techniques result in a very vivid sports experience, in which the athlete has complete control over successful performance and faith in their new self.

These scenarios should include as many senses as possible. They can be visual (pictures and photos), kinesthetic (how the body feels), or auditory (the roar of the crowd). These sensory details help make the visualization more detailed and powerful.

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Source: Athlete Equanimity

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