The player who is competent at Mental Skills is often, unsurprisingly, the best in high performance situations. Take World Class player Wayne Rooney as an example. In a recent article he describes how he lies awake the night before a big game visualizing potential Key, match-winning moments that could occur. We often hear interesting descriptions like this that point to the importance of visualization and almost always the ‘How-to’ is missing from the description. The ‘How-to’, the essential steps and the manner in which they are done are of course crucial because you can bet that amongst everyone that visualizes before a big game there will be differences in their technique. I suggest that you should be focusing on those differences because what makes the great players great is the specific technique that they are using to visualize.
From Wayne Rooney’s basic description it seems that the essential points are :
A) State – Whilst lying in bed before falling asleep a trance like state will often spontaneously occur. This is important because in these states the motor cortex can be highly active whilst visualizing. That is, the part of you that deals with very complex movements can be firing off madly but paradoxically you are lying in bed instead of jumping around! Don’t be fooled! – There will be an incredible amount of physical activity occurring on a micro level (ideomotor movements) and the muscles will be trained for any potential movement in a very deep way. One piece of advice, DON’T go to bed when you are overtired or exhausted as you will probably just fall asleep instead of visualizing and slowly slipping into a football dream!
B) Critical points in the game: Rooney visualizes and mentally rehearses critical chunks of performance. The brain can respond very well when the contexts are specific, so instead of trying to visualize a whole 90 minutes it is more useful to visualize short chunks of play – i.e. Turning the player, making a cross, striking the ball etc.
C) Specifics of visualization: There are a set of key structural elements for successful visualization (Click Here). When a player sticks to these the visualization will translate strongly to the muscles, preparing the player for great flexibility, innovation and consistency in delivering excellent performance. Better still, that nice trance state will also find its way onto the pitch and will secure a relaxed but powerful and graceful performance.
It is incredible that the vast majority of English football clubs have no decent training programme in place to build even the most fundamental of mental skills (like visualization). Often a player will happen upon the right techniques and we will call them ‘gifted’. Although there is a lot of mysterious awe inspiring talent out there (thank god!), a lot of it can be built with mental training. Accordingly, any club that ignores the importance of mental skills could be considered negligent at best and an utter joke at worst!
Luckily any individual who recognises the importance of training the mind as well as physical skills can become a Wayne Rooney through disciplined practice. Have you done your exercises today ?
This blog first featured on UltimateMentalSkillsTraining.com