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MENTAL TRAINING: Creative Visualization and Athletic Performance Part II – The Process

By Paul Schienberg PhD.

Some people do not know what it means to “visualize.” They become worried because they can’t “see” a mental image or picture when they shut their eyes and try to visualize. You do not have to mentally picture an image. While one person can see a clearly defined image, others report not seeing anything at all – are just thinking about it – imagine looking at it – become aware of a feeling impression. These are all more than acceptable. Your way is your process of imagining. Do not feel inadequate!

If you still are unsure about what it means to visualize, read slowly through the following exercises.

  1. “Relax. Think of your locker room. Remember some familiar details of it, such as the color of the lockers, how bright or dark they are, the size of the room, the tile on the floor, the length of the benches, where the showers are. Now, imagine yourself walking into the locker room and taking a seat on the bench in front of your locker. Can you see? What do you see?”
  2. Recall a pleasant event that has occurred recently. It is best if there was a positive physical sensation involved: a dinner plate, a beautiful painting, watching a baseball you hit sail out of the park, diving into the cool water of a swimming pool, etc. Remember the details of the experience so that you can re-experience the visual sensation.
  3. Imagine a heavenly setting in nature like the wild grass in a meadow, looking at the mountains surrounding the lake as your sailboat moves with the wind, the valley below as your bicycle reach the summit of the hill you just climbed. It could be a place you have been or would like to go. Think about the details of the scene.

Regardless of the process you employed to bring these scenes into mind, it is your way of visualizing. We can categorize two different approaches to visualization. In the Receptor Approach, one simply relaxes and allows the visual images to come up in its “natural” state. In the Active Approach, the person willfully selects and creates what we wish to imagine down to the finest details. It is good for you to be able to activate either approach.

Although “visualization” and “imagery” have been used interchangeably in athletics, they are quite different. Visualization refers to the sense of sight. So, when you see a picture in your mind, you are visualizing. Imagery indicates a use of all the senses. If you are imaging there is a picture in your mind, a smell in your nose, a feeling in and about your body, sounds in your ears, and tastes of flavors in your mouth. Imagery is thought to be of greater benefit because it incorporates all the sense. Visualization is easier for most athletes. It will take a lot of practice to become an efficient imager.

Let’s practice mental imagery. First, as is always the case, get yourself into a relaxed state of mind. Imagine you are at your favorite baseball field.

See

  1. The white clouds floating along the blue sky
  2. The marked line running down the first and third base lines
  3. The dirt going around the infield
  4. The two dugouts
  5. The crowd circling the entire field
  6. The umpires behind home and at each of the other bases
  7. Team mates and opposition players

Hear

  1. The shout of strike by the umpire
  2. The ball hitting the catcher’s glove
  3. The cheering of your team as you cross the plate
  4. The screaming of the crowd as your hit sails out of the park

Smell

  1. The tar on your bat
  2. The cut grass
  3. The smell of your glove

Feel

  1. The ball hitting the sweat spot on your bat
  2. Your hand touching the base as you slide in
  3. The excitement as you step into the batters box
  4. Your leg muscles as you stride to hit the ball

Taste

  1. Swigs of Gatorade as you take your seat in the dugout
  2. The salty perspiration as it drips down into your mouth

Use these senses to develop an image of you running down a long fly ball in the gap between centerfield and right field. See, feel, and hear yourself racing across the outfield grass with grace, reaching out your left arm as you track the flight of the ball, leap up the outfield wall and feel the baseball fall into you mitt just as it is about to disappear. Hear the roar of the crowd as you look in your glove and show the white ball to the umpire. Sense the excitement, as you become aware that the cheering fans are looking at you.

As you performed this exercise which sense was easier to use when creating the image? Which sense was more difficult to use? You might want to try the exercise a few times before deciding. The most accessible sense is the one you ought to predominantly use while imaging. If the hitting instructor is trying to teach by using a not so accessible sensation, let him/her know what works better for you and ask him to include it in describing the skill to you.

Go back to that great moment when you were playing the sport. As you review the action, does it seem like you are watching a video of it or are you looking through your own eyes as the action unfolds. If you are watching a video, it is called imaging externally. Imaging internally is the term used to identify seeing things through your own perspective. Research has showed that internally imaging is more powerful than external imaging. Again, it is important to practice from both points of view.

&npsb Hopefully, you have developed a small sense of competence in this mental technique. If you are frustrated, do not give up. Frustration will get in the way of relaxing. As you already know, relaxation is the first step in the imaging process. Until you get some direct tangible evidence of its power, you may remain a doubter and somewhat resistant to the process. Just stay with! The results will enhance your performance. We will get into more detail about it, in our next article on Creative Visualizaiton.