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Imagery – See it Happen

When I work with athletes or teams, one of the first things I teach them to do is visualize themselves being successful in their chosen sport. Visualization, or imagery, is using all the senses to re-create or create an experience in the mind. The power of imagery allows athletes to practice sports skills, strategies, and mental skills without physically being in the competitive environment. As a result, imagery can also serve as a motivational function by helping the performer to focus on positive outcomes, whether that be improving on a previous performance or doing well against the competition.

Before and athlete can effectively use imagery, they must relax by using deep breathing exercises or any other relaxation procedure that works for them. Relaxation is important for two reasons. It firstly allows the person to forget about everyday worries and concerns and concentrate on the task at hand. Secondly, it results in more powerful imagery because there is less competition with other stimuli.

Whatever the sport, an athlete needs to design an imagery program for themselves. The first step is to practice imagery in the proper settings. It is vital that the environment is quiet and conducive to relaxation and concentration. There will be different times that imagery should be used, including before and after practices and competition, relaxing at home, as well as on the field of play. Research has shown that imagery can be extremely effective if done whilst wearing the clothing an athlete would usually wear when playing their sport, as well as doing the imagery on the actual field upon which they will compete. Therefore, I often will take a client to their sporting environment, wearing the appropriate clothing, and have them visualize themselves taking the shot, throwing the pitch, or catching the ball.

When using imagery relating to the performance of a skill, an athlete must try to use all their senses and feel the movements as if they were actually occurring. A golfer, for example, should visualize taking a shot whilst standing up swinging a club. This helps the golfer feel the game instead of just imaging it. It is also very important that an athlete maintains a positive focus while using imagery. The golfer should imagine themselves hitting the perfect shotand being successful, keeping mistakes out of the image.

The use of imagery has several benefits. The first is that it improves concentrationby helping an athlete to keep his or her mind from wondering, and remain composed and focused on the next play. Imagery also enhances motivation. Recalling successful images, or how an athlete will be successful in the future,will motivate themto achieve that success. Confidence is also benefited, as ithelpsathletes feel more assured in situations that have previously caused anxiety. Most importantly, imagery prepares athletes for whatever they may encounter during their performance. By mentally rehearsing every eventuality, the athlete will be physically and emotionally equipped for whatever may arise. If we have already seen it happen in our heads, the reality will not overwhelm us.

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