SPORTS VISUALISATION:

How to imagine your way to success!

Why do Wayne Rooney, Jonny Wilkinson, Andy Murray and Jessica Ennis use visualisation before competition? And could it help YOU too?

Explore the powers of YOUR imagination

"Guided imagery, visualization, mental rehearsal or other such techniques can maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your training. In a world where sports performance and success is measured in seconds, most athletes will use every possible training technique at hand"


There is a powerful relationship between mental and physical performance in sport.

On the evening before a Premier League football match, Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney habitually asks the club’s kit man what colour shirts, shorts and socks the team will wear the next day. It’s not that Rooney is a closet fashionista eager to match the colour of his boots, underpants or hair transplants to the shades of his team’s battle garb. Rooney’s mind craves forensic details before a game for one special purpose: to enhance the accuracy of his psychological preparation.

“I lie in bed the night before the game and visualise myself scoring goals or doing well,” he once revealed. “You're trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a 'memory' before the game.” Knowing exactly which kit he will be wearing helps him conjure up a richer, more detailed and authentic vision. “I don't know if you'd call it visualising or dreaming, but I've always done it, my whole life.”

For Rooney, this use of imagery – the act of creating and ‘rehearsing’ a positive mental experience in order to enhance your ability to achieve a successful outcome in real life – is an instinctive method honed since childhood, and one shared by great athletes from Muhammad Ali and Michael Phelps to Jessica Ennis-Hill and Jonny Wilkinson.

Prior to London 2012, Ennis-Hill revealed: “I use visualisation to think about the perfect technique. If I can get that perfect image in my head, then hopefully it’ll affect my physical performance.”

Wilkinson regularly performs visualisation sessions before games. “You are creating the sights and sounds and smells, the atmosphere, the sensation, and the nerves, right down to the early morning wake-up call and that feeling in your stomach. It helps your body to get used to performing under pressure.”

Once the game begins and Wilkinson is required to kick for goal, he uses a visualisation routine to help him put the ball between the posts: “I visualise the ball travelling along that path and imagine the sensation of how the ball is going to feel when it hits my foot for the perfect strike.”

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU TOO?

The development of a wide range of mental powers, such as: FOCUS and CONCENTRATION, elevates athletic performance; over-analyzing detracts from the athlete's ability to react instinctively, an attribute that is usually a more desirable quality than the ability to reason through every sporting circumstance.

Visualization in sport is a training technique that is often introduced by a qualifed therapist which forms a part of the larger science of sports psychology. Visualization is also known as "mental imagery and rehearsal". Visualization is used primarily as a training tool, one that improves the quality of athletic movement, increases the power of concentration, and serves to reduce the pressures of competition on the athlete while building athletic confidence.

Visualization occurs when athletes are encoraged to recite and create an image or a series of images relevant to their sport, initiated by the professionaltherapist, without any external prompts or stimulation; the images are mentally generated by the athlete alone.

Visual images are usually the most important to athletic training and may be employed as the sole mental training method.

Athletes may also depend on auditory images (sounds), kinesthetic images (movements), tactile sensations (touch), and purely emotional stimulation, in combination with visualization or as freestanding training aids, as may be appropriate to the effort to elevate the performance of the athlete.

During organized athletic training, sports psychologists will commonly direct the visualization techniques employed by an athlete to be utilized in a quiet, secluded area, so as to eliminate distractions. It is common for athletes who are employing visualization training to participate in three such sessions per week.

The first application of visualization tools is the mental rehearsal or practice of the specific techniques required in a sport. Every sport has such training opportunities; the mental rehearsal of the precise footwork that a high jumper will take in an approach to the bar prior to takeoff, or the steps and delivery of a soccer player attempting a corner kick can be replayed by the athlete indefinitely.

The mental replay of the image of a successfully executed maneuver is a tool used by athletes to reinforce athletic confidence. When this type of visualization is used in conjunction with other sports psychology tools, such as positive self-talk, the self-encouragement that athletes direct inward for motivation, they can connect to an actual past success as a means of enhancing their future prospects.

Visualization is also a useful tool to contemplate the appropriate tactics the athlete might employ in a given competitive situation. A middle distance runner can visualize where in a particular 1,500m race the closing kick ought to be employed; for an ice hockey player or a lacrosse defenseman, game situations such as defending a two-on-one break by opposing forwards can be analyzed. In a similar fashion, the athlete can reenact circumstances where an error was made or a breakdown occurred, making the image an educational tool.

Visualization is also useful while the athlete is recovering or rehabilitating from an injury. Positive images of either competition or healthy athletic movement can be employed, particularly while the athlete is using a stationary trainer or otherwise exercising, to mentally remove the athlete from the mundane training room or gym to the exciting athletic life.

The BENEFITS OF VISUALISATION AS A TRAINING TOOL:

its portability; this form of mental training can be used during the athlete's off hours, during training, rehabilitation, or in the course of actual competition, particularly in those sports where there are intervals between event segments. The delivery of a tennis serve and the throwing of a javelin are acts that permit athletes to engage their powers of visualization and, when coupled with a positive mental outlook, assist in achieving their best form.