Positive images, imagery or visualization refers to the process of creating or recreating situations in your mind (Vealey & Greenleaf, 2001). Whenever you imagine yourself hitting a golf shot, shooting a free throw, throwing a football, running a cross country race, you are using imagery. Creating pictures in your mind is something that almost all people do. In its application to sport, it is a powerful tool for enhancing performance.
Imagery is practice in the mind. The events that we visualize in our head are as real as the physical movements that we make with our body. Our mind does not distinguish between an imaginary and a real experience.
An excellent example of the use of imagery is Sylvie Bernier, an Olympic springboard diving champion, she captures the essence of what we need to do as athletes using imagery.
I did my dives in my head all the time. At night, before going to sleep, I always did my dives…I did everything as if I was at the Olympics. I saw myself at the Olympics doing my dives. If the dive was wrong, I went back and started over again. For me it was better than a workout…Sometimes I would take the weekend off and do imagery five times a day. It took me a long time to control my images and perfect my imagery, maybe a year, doing it every day…As I continued to work at it, I got to the point where I could feel myself on the board doing a perfect dive and hear the crowd yelling at the Olympics. I worked at it so much, it got to the point that I could do all my dives easily (Orlick, 2000, pp. 110-111).
Notice how the above diver describes her imagery experiences. Think about how her experiences in visualizing apply to your sport. Remember that it works, but takes some practice just like the physical. She visualized her dives, and when they weren’t right, she went back and visualized them again until she got it right. As she practiced her imagery skills, she got better and better at involving all of her senses. Note how she talks about even hearing the crowd. This is mental simulation, a recreating of an experience, in building our image we slowly add all of our senses. As we learn to visualize, we will be able to see the swing, see the shot we want, hear the click of the ball off the club, feel the wind on our face, smell the golf course, and create the perfect image and live it in our mind. Eventually, we will never hit a shot until we see it first.
This is a skill that everyone can develop, it takes some longer than others, but with work we can add it to our routine, our mental preparation, as well as, applying it to all aspects of our sport. Imagery can be applied in numerous situations. It can be used to enhance physical skills; from helping beginners visualize the motions of the golf swing to correcting a mechanical technique in the swing of an advanced player. Imagery can be used to enhance our perception by visualizing new shots on the course, going back over a round we just played, seeing the errors we made and mentally practicing a different shot and outcome.
Positive images should be a big part of your preparation in your sport. For more information, contact Coach Neer at Silent Mind Sports.