Sport Psychology: How to use visualization to maxinise performance
Sport Psychology has developed our current understanding of sports visualization and opened us up to a world of possibility. Although, within sport psychology literature, there is a healthy debate in relation to the science as to why this works and what empirical evidence is available; I suggest that you become the scientist whilst you are reading these articles and make sports visualization come alive for you. The real test, the real evidence is what works for you, is it not? To make sure that these techniques are understood properly you must apply your own experiences to them and rate them on that basis deal? Our first working assumption is that there is no difference between mind and body Many of our current approaches to repairing, training and improving human beings are based on treating the mind and body as two separate entities.
In sports we often focus our training on the body via physical activity, diet, rest and supplements for our biology. Of course it would be ridiculous if we didn’t since sports performance is demonstrated physically. What would happen if we treated the mind as part of the system as well? Have you ever noticed how even the most physically sound athletes can have ‘Off-days’? You may have noticed it happen to yourself too. Whatever your chosen activity of excellence is, sports or otherwise, you may have trained really hard in a safe practice setting and got to a level where you are perfect every time in that setting, yet when you get to the arena where your performance actually matters, you are inconsistent. Your body may seem to act in ways that are completely useless, like the nerves that weaken your knees, tension that inhibits movements and uncontrolled movements. Perhaps these ‘off-days’ can be a thing of the past, with a little visualization can help.
So lets quickly experience this mind-body connection. The saying goes that kids are some of the best teachers and I often agree. My young son has got into playing a certain style of game with his friends and I take some of these as useful examples for our purpose. One of the things that Id like you to do is follow these instructions exactly. Go ahead and clasp your hands together, locking the fingers together. Good. Ok, now I would like you to unlock and extend upwards the index fingers whilst keeping the rest of the fingers locked. That’s right; the fingers closest to the thumbs on both hands so they are pointing upwards………. Now, squeeze the fingertips of your index fingers together. relation
You need to squeeze until the colour changes on your fingertips. Ok, squeeze hard, focus tightly on the fingertips, stare at them for 10-15 seconds.
OK……..Relax and let your fingertips separate naturally. Keep the rest of the hand clasped. Focus into the space between the relaxed fingertips and just form an image in your mind of what the fingertips looked like when you were pushing them together. That’s right, remember the colour of the fingertips etc. Now you may even imagine a tiny elastic band around the fingers. Imagine it getting tighter……tighter……….
Good……Now that we’ve done that id like you to stand up and put your feet shoulder width apart, face straight ahead. Now extend your right arm in front of you and point at a spot straight ahead you, with your feet remaining in position.Turn around to the right, in a clockwise, circular motion, keeping your hand extended and your eyes in line with where your finger is pointing. Go as far as you can whilst your feet remain fixed in position.
Return to your original position, pointing at your original spot ahead of you.Keep your arm and finger in mind as you close your eyes.Replay the movement you just did in your minds eye. Get to the spot that you managed to turn around to and see the detail of it. Now extend past that and see yourself following your finger right around so that you have made a 360 motion, a full circle back to your original spot.
Good…….open your eyes and do the original motion again, pointing straight ahead and then turning in a clockwise motion as far as you can go. Enjoy the difference!! These are just some simple demonstrations of the immediate effect that visualization can have on your body. If the above exercises didn’t work for you, its ok, sometimes we need a little practice especially when you’re reading the instructions from a page and then working through them stage by stage. Perhaps if you find this is breaking the effect read through it a couple of times, visualize yourself doing the exercises whilst reading the instructions and then close your eyes, if you want, and run through the entire exercise. Now it is time to get to the core technique of visualization that we shall be building from.
I am intending for this series of articles to help you in acquiring and improving skills. Furthermore, the main type of skills I’m aiming to help you improve are motor skills, that is, skills that can be demonstrated in physical movement. So, think for a moment what kind of skill you would want to learn or improve. Typical skills are sports skills, perhaps a great long jump or shotputt technique. You could be chasing the ultimate golf swing, maybe you want to improve your serve in Tennis. Are you looking to hone a perfect and consistent lay-up shot, or take the perfect penalty? Equally, you could be a musician seeking to get that amazing guitar technique nailed, or a painter needing to work that brush perfectly. You could even be a trainee chef wondering how to cut vegetables so quickly and evenly. Now is the time to capture your dream. Go for something that is at least just beyond your reach. In these early days make sure it really is something that you want to do. If you want that skill badly and can imagine how good you’ll feel once you’ve got it then you really have picked a good starting place. Next ask yourself, how do I know it is a great skill and who have I seen perform it? If you are going to pick up a skill make sure it is the best example of that skill you can get access to. Its no real point learning to play a perfect defensive shot from a cricketer whose been playing for one month. You need to find a Model of Excellence, someone you know is the best. This is where your hero or heroine is utterly valuable. Its worth doing your research and finding that performer who you really want to be as good as, who you respect, admire and want to emulate. OK, so have you done the above?
Have you decided upon your skill? Have you found your Model of Excellence? Great! Here is the basic code:
1. Watch model of excellence performing skill
2. Slowly repeat movement 10 times
3. Watch model of excellence
4. Visualize and rehearse perfect execution (4mins)
5. Perform skill
6. Watch model of excellence/integrate adjustments
7. Visualize perfect execution (6 mins)
8. Perform perfect execution/repeat steps 5-7
Before you go and practice this extensively, let’s take an example to help work through the steps. We shall pretend that you are learning martial arts and you want to master a particular kick.
1. Watch the sensei/teacher demonstrate the kick a few times.
2. Perform the kick slowly around 10 times. Get it as close as you can to the actual kick.
3. Watch the sensei perform the kick again.
4. Stand or sit. Close your eyes and run an internal movie of yourself performing the kick perfectly.
Make sure you are in your body, seeing yourself performing the kick through your own eyes for the majority of the time you are visualizing (as opposed to seeing yourself performing the kick as an observer, like you would when watching a video of yourself) Run this internal, mental rehearsal of the kick for 4 minutes.
5. Open your eyes and physically perform the kick. Notice whatever comes to your attention. You may realize that you were mentally rehearsing a part of the kick slightly incorrectly. Maybe you realize the knee needs to come up higher before the lower leg is extended for example.
6. Watch the sensei perform the kick again.
7. Using the extra information you have just collected, close your eyes and begin rehearsing the kick again, even more perfectly than last time for at least 6 mins, through your own eyes, in your own body. Notice and become absorbed by the sensory information, the quality of the colours, the accompanying sounds, smells, tastes and other sensations. Go as fast or slow as you want to do it perfectly. If your mind wonders allow it to gently come back to movie.
8. Get up and perform your kick again.
Enjoy practicing and allowing your body to settle into the movement. (repeat steps 5-7 until you’re satisfied) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ul7Z9u5zgeI&feature=related – be careful!!!)
There really is nothing to be done but practice from here. Apply the code to the skill you want to learn or improve. Do it obsessively until you work out its limitations, if any, work it until it breaks!You may find it difficult to concentrate on one thing for stretches of 4 mins or more so you can start with one minute and build up. We have provided downloads and videos to help guide you through the process and keep you on track. They also contain sounds that promote the brainwave activity that is best for visualization. Remember, sports visualization is based on a mental muscle. Train it and strengthen it for outstanding results and a competitive edge.A word of warning ! This technique is very powerful. Pick skills that are good for you and will generate great possibilities.In our next article we will explore exciting techniques of visualizing with your eyes open!
For those that are serious about sport psychology and are serious about understanding more about the true nature of sports visualization techniques than i recommend signing up to our Sports Visualization online workshop