Many elite athletes routinely use imagery and visualization techniques as part of their training. Athletes find that they give them a competitive edge and a renewed mental awareness. Both of these factors are important when athletes compete.
Imagery is a specific technique that is often used by psychologists and sports trainers to help athletes visualize or mentally rehearse an event. The athlete will create an imagined experience by using all of their senses.
This visualization is also called guided imagery, mental rehearsal or mediation. But whatever it is called it shouldn’t be confused with the guided imagery of New Age thought. Instead this is a process of going through an event in your mind before the event happens. It is a way of training the body to follow what the mind believes has already occurred. In other words it is creating mental images of an event the way you want it to happen or how you want to feel.
Elite athletes use imagery and self-hypnosis to create the result of a race, training session or other competitive experience. By imagining the scene and the results, complete with images of the outcome the athlete is able to program their mind and their body to anticipate the result and future performance.
Using the imagery and self-hypnosis the athlete should try to imagine in great detail the event and the way in which they will feel. The best outcome from this type of training comes from athletes who walk the course of the race prior to the event, anticipating and imagining every part of the event from their breathing, to the way their muscles will feel, their time and the feel of the road beneath their feet.
Those athletes who are detail oriented will also evaluate the terrain prior to a race all the way to the potholes or other obstacles they may encounter. This helps them to fully utilize the imagery and anticipate the results.
When athletes use this technique they should try to involve as many senses as possible. They’ll want to use imagery to anticipate they way the course will look, feel, hear and smell. Driving a long course athletes may encounter a bakery mid-way through the race and the smell of the baked goods during the race will trigger memories of the pre-race routine.
Using their mind the athlete can practice bringing up these images to enhance their skill and desired outcome. The skill of imagery and self-hypnosis is improved through repetition and rehearsal, very similar to the way that physical abilities are enhanced through practice.
Recent research into sports psychology and the use of imagery has found that both physical and psychological reactions can be improved with visualizations. The repeated images can increase the confidence of the athlete to perform certain skills under pressure. As the athlete performs successfully repeatedly using imagery the mind believes that the body is capable of reproducing those results. These techniques have proven to be very successful for the weekend warrior to the Olympic athlete.
Trainers, psychologists and athletes have found that imagery and self-hypnosis maximize the efficiency of their training and effectiveness of their performance. Today, when success is measured in seconds most athletes grasp at every possible training technique to give them an edge over their competitors. Visualizations and imagery just may be one edge to help them gain a step over their opponent.