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Imagery! It’s Powerful Stuff!

“Imagery is a form of stimulation, it is similar to a real sensory experience, but the entire experience occurs in the mind.” (Coaching for the Inner Edge) Using Imagery you can re-create previous positive experiences or picture new events to prepare yourself mentally for performance. It can be used to build confidence and concentration.

Imagery has been said to help athletes enhance their performance of motor skills. In your mind, visualizing the task you want to accomplish, like the hitting the ball, can actually help you produce the results you want. This entire entry is all about how you can use imagery before a performance to increase your chances of success.

Using imagery

Imagery is a form of simulation that happens in your mind. You can re-create or create an experience in your mind that is similar to a real life sensory experience. Keeping these simulations positive is the key to success when using imagery. Imagery should encompass as many senses as possible, using more than one sense helps to create more vivid images in the mind. Use your visual sense (sight), your auditory sense (hearing), tactile sense (touch), olfactory sense (smell), and your kinesthetic sense. Your kinesthetic sense is the sense that detects bodily movement, weight shift or movement of the muscles and tendons.  Here is an example of how you can prepare yourself before an at bat by using imagery; this can be done in warm ups while doing dry swings, or in the on deck circle, or in even in the car before the game begins.  

Hitting

Visual– See the pitcher and the team on the field behind her. Now shift your focus to only her, see her wind up, every little movement.  Then start focusing on watching the ball as the pitcher releases it  from her hip. Watch as the ball comes toward the plate. Focus on the ball, see the color, the seams, and the rotation. See the ball as it contacts the bat and sails into left center for a base hit.

Kinesthetic sense– Feel the bend in your knees and the position of your stance. Know where your bat is in relation to your shoulder and how tightly your fingers are wrapped around it. Know and feel when to transfer your weight at the proper time to maximize power. Feel the position of your body when you hit the ball, your power position, and your follow through.

Auditory sense– Hear the sounds of the dugouts and the stands cheering.  Let those sounds slowly fade out and hear the slap of the glove on the pitchers thigh, and hear her grunt as she releases. Once you swing, hear the sound of the bat on the ball, and the cheers from your team mates and coaches.

Tactile sense– Feel the sun beating down on your shoulders, feel the sweat glistening off your body. Feel the grip of the bat in your hands.

Olfactory sense– Smell the fresh air, the cut grass, or the freshly watered dirt. 

Emotion: do you feel nervous walking up to the plate? Anxious? Excited? Confident? frustrated?

Remember to always attach emotion and thoughts to your imagery; are you happy, angry, in pain? Are you confident, nervous, concentrated, or distracted? Putting these emotions into your imagery can help you control them; within your images you can practicing changing your anxiety to excitement, or fear to confidence.

You can also use imagery to control anger after a bad call, or after a teammate makes an error. See yourself reacting in a positive way to keep your team up and focused around you. You can say cue words to yourself, like to stick the ball, to remind yourself to stay focused on the upcoming game, not on your error or the umpires bad call. In your off time, between games you can visualize an error you made in a prior game, then go through the visualization process of staying up and positive, do it with detail like the example above. In the next game after an error, instead of going through this whole process again, you can just say your cue word, like stay up, which will help you remember your visualization and react accordingly.

Don’t think it works?

I have evidence!

A study done at the United States Olympic training center indicated that 100% of sport psychology consultants, and 94% of the coaches of the Olympic athletes used imagery during their training sessions, with 20% using it at every practice session. (Coaching for the Inner Edge) If you want more, I got it!

Where can imagery be used?

It can be used in practice and in games, or before and after each.  Most athletes use imagery in pre-competition, but it can be useful to practice imagery at practice, so you can effectively transfer it over to a game situation. 

When can imagery be used?

Imagery can be used at anytime you want to work on your game. But it is said to be most effective after practice and after games because images of your performance are fresh in your mind.  Imagery can be especially helpful with injury, even though an injured player may not be able to physically practice, they can still mentally practice. Studies have shown a faster recovery rate for injured athletes who have used imagery.

Before and after practice– you can take ten minutes before practice to visualize routines and skills you are expected to perform. After practice, you can review what you worked on in practice and really feel the movements.

Before and after games– imagery can happen right before the game, before warm-ups, or in the car. After the game review things you did successfully, focus on the positive parts of your performance.

During breaks in action – it can be used between pitches or innings. Imagery can be used to build focus and self-confidence.

When injured– imagery can be used to relax and let go of the anxiety that comes with being hurt. Positive images of healing and full recovery have shown results in enhanced recovery.

Why do athletes use imagery?

They use imagery to enhance both cognitive and motivational behavior. Motivation- visual goals, goal oriented (outcome-oriented beating your opponents) and task oriented (improving your personal best). Visualize yourself winning and being congratulated, or being happy with the performance you gave on the field.  Cognitive- getting the “feel of the movement”. Research has shown that doing this type of mental imagery has enhanced performance above and beyond the level achieved merely through physical practice.

How does imagery work?

I know what you’re thinking; how does visualizing myself hitting the ball or fielding a ball actually change the way I play? Our minds can generate information from memory that is essentially the same as an actual experience; consequently, imaging events can have an effect on our nervous system similar to that of an actual experience. 

Imagery can be used to build confidence, control emotional responses, acquiring and practicing sport skills and strategies, and coping with pain or injury.

Improve concentration– it helps you focus on what you want to do, how you want to do it, and keeps your mind from wondering. You can imagine yourself in a situation where you would usually lose your concentration, after making an error or swinging at a bad pitch, and then visualize yourself staying composed and focused on the next pitch or play.

Enhance motivation– A study in an aerobic class showed that when using imagery to visualize themselves getting healthier and improving physical appearance they had more endurance while exercising.

Build confidence– Use positive imagery. See yourself throwing a perfect curveball that the batter swings and misses at, or grabbing a hard shot out of the air. But be careful, imagery can also work against you; if you imagine negative things it can lower your self confidence.

Control emotional responses– imagery can be used to psyche yourself up for a game or relax yourself before a game if you tend to play tense.

Solve problems-if you are in a slump or not performing like you want to be, you can visualize what you are doing now and compare it to what you did when you were playing at your best. Then you can decide what needs to change.

Practice or aquire a sport skill– you can practice that perfect swing or pitch in your mind which will help with execution, or enhance the learning process.

Sometimes athletes have trouble controlling their images, they can see themselves repeating their mistakes; i.e. striking out. The key is practice!

Remember, the same skills used in sports can also be used in everyday life. Use imagery before taking a big test or a giving a speech. Picture yourself doing well, and achieving your goals.

I’m not saying that everyone should use imagery, it may not work for everyone, but my job is to give you all the information I have, in hopes of helping you to be the best players you can be. Your job is to take it all in and try it. Use it accordingly, and if you don’t try it, it’s only your loss, and will only keep you from being the best you can be!

Quote of the day:

“Before every shot I go to the movies inside my head. Here is what I see. First, I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then I see the ball going there; its path and trajectory and even its behavior on landing.  The next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the pervious image into reality. These home movies are key to my concentration and to my positive approach to every shot.” – Jack Nicklaus (Golfer)

 

About smarcia12

I am a Sports Psychology graduate student who is more than passionate about the world of sport psychology. I not only strive to better the sports world, but all aspects of life! Sport psychology is so applicable to everyday life, it's amazing!

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