Have you ever been in a situation where the night before an important match, you find yourself thinking about all the negative outcomes that could take place the next day? Maybe you are thinking how you might forget part of your gear or equipment at home or that your opponent will beat you. If your answer was YES, then in essence what you are practising is visualisation but the negative kind that will not benefit your game. Lets look at visualisation made easy for athletes further in the blog.
What is visualisation?
To put it into simple words, ‘visualisation is a form of guided imagery where there is a representation of an object or phenomenon (in its absence)’. Using this from of mental rehearsal can prove beneficial for both the mind and the body (Predoiu et al. 2020). While the human body has certain limits to what it can achieve, the depths to which the mind can go are endless. Visualisation can be used as an effective tool for athletes who are aiming to improve performance by working on their concentration, focus and confidence.
Why is visualisation important?
Why visualisation is looked at as an important mental tool for athletes is because it can be practised anywhere. Essentially what visualisation focuses on is when athletes create a series of images relevant to their sport, that are mentally generated without any external prompt or stimulation (World of Sports Science, 2022).
To make the process of imagery easier, athletes could also depend on auditory images, kinaesthetic images, tactile sensations and emotional stimulation. Visualisation is also a very important tool to enhance performance because during visualisation the brain targets the muscles to work in a desired way. So essentially, even if you are not actually kicking a football, or bowling a ball in reality, visualisation creates a neural pattern in the brain, which is identical to the network used by the actual physical performance of the movements.
During visualisation, by imagining the full picture of a scene, complete with images of a previous best performance, a future desired outcome, and the experience of performing each move, the athlete is able to fully embody that feeling. While imagining these scenarios, the athlete should try to imagine the detail and the way it feels to perform in the desired way. As one study notes, using internal imagery during training and competition improves performance more than relying on external imagery or “psyching” yourself up before you compete (Quinn, 2021).
Emily Cook, veteran American freestyle skier and three-time Olympian, described how her specific imagery scripts and mental rehearsal involving all the senses have helped her maintain longevity in her sport, She said “Visualization, for me, doesn’t take in all the senses. You have to smell it. You have to hear it. You have to feel it, everything. I would say into a [tape] recorder: ‘I’m standing on the top of the hill. I can feel the wind on the back of my neck. I can hear the crowd,’ kind of going through all those different senses and then actually going through what I wanted to do for the perfect jump. I turn down the in-run. I stand up. I engage my core. I look at the top of the jump. I was going through every little step of how I wanted that jump to turn out.” (Cohn, 2022).
So how exactly can visualisation be made for athletes?
Visualisation as we have read can be very beneficial for athletes and when practised correctly, can really do wonders for an athlete. Here are ways that athletes could make the process of visualisation easier for themselves:
- It is important for the athlete to look for a place or reach a state of relaxation which would be helpful in facilitating imagery control. The athlete should ideally be sitting in a place where they are most comfortable to keep their eyes closed and where there are no disturbing factors. This state of relaxation is important to achieve because only then will the athlete be able to direct their thoughts, emotions and feelings inwards to their own body. Relaxation is also necessary as athletes are always under high stake environments to perform well and under great levels of stress and anxiety.
- Visualisation is also highly effective when not only the athletes mental images are tapped in to but also having an experience that involves all of the senses. The images that an athlete pictures should be colourful, as realistic as possible and should involve emotions and feelings that an athlete feels when in the position of performing the technical and tactical actions during the competition when motor skills and sensory registers actually have to be used (Predoiu et. al, 2020). For example, an athlete could sit on the football field itself, so he is being able to touch and feel the ground he plays on, he can also smell the fresh grass and feel the wind on his face, this can help him visualise playing during a match and even scoring a goal because he is one with his senses.
- Writing down your goals and what you wish to achieve from visualisation can help you embrace a mindset of purpose and focus. When things are written down they usually seem more achievable and easy to follow through. Writing down a visualisation script could also guide you through the first few rounds of imagery so you do not feel like you are straying off the course of your visualisation routine.
- Pre-rehearsing events in the head can also be beneficial before the actual event is coming up. For example, do a mental rep every time before you actually execute the action in reality. In a start-stop sport like a 100m sprint, you’d visualise your approach to the blocks, your set up, the internal dialogue in your head, the announcer cues, the gun going off, the acceleration, the transition, the force through the ground as you approach max velocity, the commitment to the final twenty and then crossing the finish line. You’d then approach the blocks, and do that in practice. This way you might rehearse an upcoming event, repeat a practice you’d just completed, or visualise you performing at the highest level you could imagine. Whichever way you go, consistency will be key (2020).
Lastly, don’t forget that practicing everyday will make visualisation easy for athletes and more effective. Only because you do not see changes after the first one or two times you practice it, do not think that there are no effects on the mind or the body. It is important to stay consistent and keep practising imagery for 10 minutes every single day so that it becomes a habit. This helps to make a commitment to practise visualisation for the same amount of time every day.
Performing visualisation first thing in the morning as close to waking up is as ideal as possible because the mind is slightly lucid at the time which makes it easy to conjure up images .Neason, 2012