Visualization is one of the primary techniques used in sports psychology today – and one of the most underutilized by athletes. An athlete’s performance is often the result of what’s happening inside his or her head, or more specifically the movies and soundtracks playing inside that head!
Performance visualization is used by virtually all great athletes and research has shown that, when combined with actual practice, improves performance more than practice alone. Imagery also isn’t just a mental experience that occurs in your head, but rather impacts you in every way: psychologically, emotionally, physically, technically, and tactically.
Think of mental imagery as weight-training for the mind
There are two keys principles to keep in mind when practicing visualization. The first is, your practice needs to be consistent. 10 minutes a day every day, will always beat an intense hour long session once a week.
It helps to make a commitment to practice your visualization the same time every day. First thing in the morning as close to waking as possible is ideal. This is because the mind is still slightly lucid at this time, which makes it easier to conjure up images.
The second key principle is you must stay positive in your thinking. Even if you can’t quite see crystal clear images yet, you will still gain huge benefits from your visualization practice. Trust me, it still works. For some people that will be feeling the image, or just getting a sense of what it might look like. Wherever your current level is, nurture it and allow it to grow.
Accept that you can’t always perform the way that you visualized
Research has also indicated that the act of envisioning a relevant muscle movement can potentially result in electrical activity in the specific muscle, despite the fact that there is the absence of the actual movement of the muscle.
That same electrical activity bears a resemblance to the electrical movement that occurs during the actual movement. In this regard, the relevant muscles are primed for the upcoming physical activity.
Also, you should visualize successful outcomes…
Sports psychologist Patrick Cohn recently shared a story from USA volleyball players Alix Klineman and April Ross, who won the gold medal in beach volleyball at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Klineman/Ross became only the second U.S. women’s duo in history to win an Olympic gold medal in beach volleyball.
When asked how she pumps up and prepares for a game, Klineman pointed to visualization as a significant component.
KLINEMAN: “I do some visualization, which has been really powerful. I visualize myself in my body, so instead of looking at myself from another perspective, I see myself on the court, going through different skills and doing them really well. It’s like this positive reinforcement of knowing what it feels like, looks like, and how to execute it at a really high level… There’s a really powerful connection between body and mind, which I think a lot of people don’t realize.”
Visualization or mental rehearsal is a powerful mental tool to raise the level of your game. When you use mental rehearsal with your physical training, you will improve consistency, you mental game, and take your game to a new level.
Per Cohn, if Olympians use visualization to achieve greater results, you can also raise your game by adding visualization to your daily training schedule.
Finally, check out this video from one of my favorite sports psychologists, Dr. Patric Cohn. I’m a big fan of the good doctor, as he really values and emphasizes the power of visualization in sports. Although this isn’t the most dynamic video you’ve ever seen, it’s content is extremely powerful.