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  • Writer's pictureDr Victor Thompson

The Sports Psychology skill of imagery or visualisation: What is it and how it can help your sports

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Sports Psychology imagery visualisation skill develop image

Imagery, or visualisation, can help an athlete in a number of ways. It’s something that not all sports people utilise, but at the top levels in sport, it is a commonly used psychological skill. Here I explain about what imagery is and why you might want to learn to effectively apply it to your sport.

Imagery isn’t a new psychological skill. Here’s what the golf great Jack Nicklaus has said about his use of imagery:

“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 behaviour on landing. The next seen shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous image into reality. These home movies are a key to my concentration and my positive approach to every shot.”

Nicklaus said that hitting a good golf shot is 10% swing, 40% stance and set-up, and 50% the mental picture of the swing. So for Jack Nicklaus, imagery was a key sports psychology skill for golf performance.

What is imagery?

Sports people use several different terms to describe their use of imagery, such as visualisation, mental rehearsal and mental practice. These terms all refer to creating or recreating an experience in your mind, recalling from memory pieces of information stored from experiences and shaping these pieces in to meaningful sports-related images. The mental rehearsal name for imagery highlights the way that imagery can be used to rehearse or prepare for a future experience – such as performance at a competition. I prefer the term imagery, over visualisation, as we aren’t just drawing on the visual sense, we are involving all our senses – what we see, hear, feel physically and touch, smell, and maybe even taste.

Imagery is a skill that most children use a lot, naturally. At first we see children engage in imaginary play when 2 or 3 years old. Within sport, boys who watched their football heroes on TV strike a ball into the goal, imagined themselves doing this and then later when out with friends with a football, imagined scoring this shot themselves (and celebrating like their heroes might, or that the situation deserved!).

How imagery can help

You can use imagery in many ways to improve both physical and psychological skills. Here are some of the main benefits to you as an athlete. Imagery can be used to help you to:

  • Acquire new and practice existing sports skills

  • Solve performance-related problems

  • Prepare for a new situation that you can’t rehearse in the real world

  • Develop effective strategies for managing competitions

  • Improve concentration and focus

  • Build sporting confidence

  • Better control emotions (at key times)

  • Cope with pain, injury and setbacks

I have helped numerous athletes improve their imagery skills and overcome their performance problem. If you would like some help to improve your ability to create effective images and/or to overcome the types of performance problems listed above, then why not get in touch for a sports psychology appointment via the contact page?

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