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Guideline for Using Imagery

Maximize your senses ability to improve athletic performance.

By Paul Schienberg, PhD

Sport psychologists have been able to derive several guidelines for athletes interested in implementing imagery techniques. The most important of these are discussed below.

Practice Imagery on a regular basis. More coaches and athletes should believe that psychological skills such as imagery require the same practice that physical skills require. Proficient use of imagery requires a commitment throughout the training season. It will only be effective if it is practiced at other than competition times. It would be best to have it be a part of daily practice.

Use all Senses to Enhance Image Vividness. The more senses that gets employed into the imagery, the more effective it will be. Draw from senses other than sight to increase the quality of the imagery. In skiing, familiarization with an upcoming race course; experience the kinesthetic feeling of passing through a touch gate, sense the wind and listen for the ski edges to slash through the snow.

Develop Imagery Control. It is important that athletes control the content of their images. Negative images can have a detrimental effect of performance. It is important to know the extent to which athletes are able to influence the content of the imagery. With practice, most athletes can learn to control the content of the imagery.

Use Internal and External Perspectives. Some athletes imagine themselves from the perspective that they are inside their bodies actually experiencing the imagined sensations. Others imagine themselves from the perspective of watching their performance on a movie screen. Some sport psychology research suggests that an internal-imagery perspective is superior because of the importance of kinesthetic awareness in sport performance. Other research suggests the use of external imagery with tasks in which perception and decision making are important.

Facilitate Imagery Through Relaxation. Imagery combined with relaxation is more effective than imagery alone. Relaxation strategies (passive progressive relaxation or deep breathing) before imagery rehearsal, clears athletes’ minds of distractions. Therefore, it allows them to concentrate on their imagery. This is especially true with athletes who are new to developing their skills.

Develop Coping Strategies Through Imagery. Positive imagery is, for the most part, preferred over negative imagery. But, sometimes negative imagery can be helpful. If an athlete only has positive imagery, he may be setting himself up for failure. Athletes need to learn to cope with adversity as well as success. Coping imagery can help turn a poor performance into a successful one. Negative images should not be used before a competitive event or too frequently.

Use Imagery In Practice and Competition. Imagery rehearsal should be used in practice as well as before competition. It helps athletes get in the right “zone”, both mentally and physically. This can create focus for practice goals and when an athlete does not feel motivated to practice. The image of losing to a rival can also create motivation in practice sessions. When a coach is teaching a new or different offensive or offensive maneuver for his team, the athletes should imagine the correct flow of movement of the team’s play.

Use Videotapes or Audiotapes to Enhance Imagery Skills. Athletes can find videotapes and/or audiotapes helpful to develop and reinforce constructive imagery. Success tapes can be made from clips of an athlete’s actual performance in practice or competition. Favorite music can be dubbed into the tape to be used as a trigger for excellent performance in the future. If it is inconvenient to use a videotape, the music on a portable headset can help as a trigger for feelings of success.

Use Triggers or Cues to Facilitate Imagery Quality. Triggers are words or phrases that help them to focus on appropriate cues during imagery. Triggers can also include specific sensory experiences, such as how a technique or movement feels. The trigger must be able to conjure up the appropriate image.

Emphasize Dynamic Kinesthetic Imagery. Have the athlete focus particular attention on the kinesthetic feel of a movement. The athlete should actually try moving during the imagery. For example, the golfer can actually swing a club while imagining the ball traveling through the air and landing near the hole.

Imagine In Real Time. The large amount of imagery should happen in real time or actual conditions of play.

Use Imagery Logs. Imagery logs can help assist the athletes in monitoring imagery practice and progress. It should be noted which images were helpful. It can also be used to help identify which triggers are better at getting into the imagery.
Source: “Imagery Training for Peak Performance” by Daniel Gould, Nicole Damarjian and Christy Greenleaf.