As an athlete, I have discovered that mental control, confidence, and self-belief can make the difference between succeeding and failing to perform up to potential. Among many techniques that sport psychology uses, visual imagery is a powerful tool that helps performers make desired outcomes a reality.
Visual Imagery is using one’s senses to create or recreate an experience in the mind with the intention to enhance confidence, manage intensity and anxiety as well as prepare for optimal performance. Research indicates that when individuals engage in vivid imagery, their brains interpret these images as identical to the actual stimulus situations.
Some of the types and purposes of imagery include:
Skill and Strategy Learning and performance: This type of imagery involves images of correctly performing specific and general skills such sprinting or cycling. This is most effective when the purpose is to learn and master the motor skills and mechanics.
Motivational: Motivational imagery is an important source of confidence and involves images of winning, receiving a trophy or medal and being congratulated by other athletes, coach, colleagues, or parents. Moreover, it can involve images of coping with difficult circumstances and overcoming challenging situations.
Intensity and Anxiety Regulation: Training and competing in sports can provoke intensity by accelerating our heart rate and increasing our mental alertness. Depending on the activity and the motor skills needed (fine or gross), we can use intensity and anxiety regulation imagery to find that ideal energy needed to perform at our best. For example, performing relaxed and in control for fine motor skills such as golf, or performing with power, strength, and endurance for gross motor skills like cycling.
Injury Rehabilitation: Imagery in rehab, allows the athlete to speed up the recovery process by seeing the movements that lead to restoration. There are two types of imagery used in rehabilitation. One type is the emotive imagery, which allows the athletes to see the possibilities that lead to recuperation. The other type is the healing imagery, which allows the athlete to sense and see the transformational process of recovery.
There are many factors influencing the effectiveness of visual imagery including:
-Ability: When athletes have a more complete understanding of the skills to visualize, they can include more details into their images such as correct mechanics, realistic sensations from all the senses and kinesthetic feeling.
-Image Speed: Visual Imagery has been very effective for those athletes that purposefully choose a speed at which to image, and also considering the purpose and the level of the visual imagery practice. There are three types of speed for three different purposes. First, and most commonly used is the real-time speed, which is the easiest to image and most accurate representation of movement and tempo. Second, slow-motion is characterized by being used for those learning or developing a skill or strategy, which takes a great deal of attention and detail. And last, fast-motion images are most often used when imaging skills or strategies have been mastered.
-Age and Skill Level: Visual imagery seems most effective after age 14, when children are fully able to image similarly to an adult. On the other hand, higher skilled performers use imagery more often than lower skilled performers, even though it is more recommended for lower skilled performers in order to learn and develop faster. However, it is important to consider the performers’ experience and confidence with visual imagery.
-Perspective: Visual Imagery can be done in two different perspectives (i.e., internal imagery and external imagery). On one hand, internal imagery, the most commonly used, is characterized by being able to image the execution of a skill or a strategy from our own visual point. On the other hand, external imagery is characterized by being able to visualize the execution of the skill from the perspective of an observer. External imagery is more often used by experts on imagery and can have a big impact in performance.
Visual imagery is one of the most effective strategies to enhance performance and no matter the age, skill level, and purpose, I highly encourage you to start practicing visual imagery in order to gain confidence, motivation, and mastering of skills. I have implemented in my daily routine and I have seen its impact in my performance and I am sure it will help you too!