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Tag: visualization

Improving Athletic Performance Through Visualization

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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

Overriding Factors

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…

Success Story

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.”

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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.

Visualization – A Great Baseball Mental Exercise

I’m linking to a fantastic article from Geoff Miller at The Winning Mind regarding visualization and it’s fantastic capabilities to help baseball athletes prepare.

What is Visualization?

Visualization is the widely used mental technique of “seeing” your performance in your mind.

The technique is generally done by closing your eyes and imagining a play or action.  It can also be used as a primary training device to take the place of actual physical activity when a player is unable to practice.

You can read the entire piece here…and here’s a little bit about Geoff Miller and The Winning Mind:

Geoff is an expert in baseball psychology and manages sport programs at Winning Mind. Since 2005, Geoff has provided mental skills coaching services to the Pittsburgh Pirates (2005-2009), Washington Nationals (2010), and Atlanta Braves (2010-2014.) 

Why Does Visualization Work?

Per Miller’s article, visualization is effective for two primary reasons:

1. “It strengthens neural pathways, the roads that our brain uses to send out messages to our bodies. A strong neural pathway is like an exact route you know to get from your house to the airport, the mall, etc. The more you picture yourself executing your skills, the stronger your neural pathways become until eventually you feel so comfortable playing your game that the movements feel automatic.”

2. “Our brains see real performance and imagined performance the same. We experience this phenomenon often in our dreams.  For example, you might dream that you are falling and wake up bracing yourself or dream that you are in a panic and wake up sweating.  When you’re awake you might experience a real feeling if someone describes that light, tingling you get that resonates from the bat all the way down your arms when you connect with the ball on the barrel or the stinging in your hands when you get jammed on a ball.”

How Do You Do It?

Miller continues: “When practicing visualization, you should describe the sounds and feelings that go along with swinging the bat, fielding the ball, and throwing pitches. In comic books, Batman and Superman would beat up the villains by punching them, but to get added effect, the artist would draw in a big POW and BAM. When a bomb went off, you’d read KABOOM! These words strengthen our pictures and make our visualization exercises more effective.

Pitching words: fastball ZIP, curveball DIP, slider WHOOSH, POP into the glove

Hitting words: CRACK, SLAM, WHAM, CONNECT, LIGHTNING, POW

Fielding words: GLIDE, REACH, STRETCH, SCURRY, LEAP”

In Conclusion

The biggest issue that many players have with using visualization is not that they can’t imagine the details of their performance, but that they can’t see themselves succeeding.

If this is the case, I’d highly recommend that you read the complete piece here.

The goal we are trying to reach in using the mental game is to know what to do without thinking about it. As Miller says, “using visualization helps us practice our skills so we are more familiar with them and we feel like we’ve already “seen” our performance happen when it does.”

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