6 ways to make your visualizations a reality.

If you haven't already, I would certainly encourage exploring an imagery practice. What is imagery or...visualization as it's also known? Simply put, it's "our ability to recreate or construct an experience in the mind using all of the senses," (Vealey and Greenleaf, 2001, p. 248). Imagery is one of the "go-to" tools for elite athletes and has been linked to a number of profoundly positive affects on performance and mindset. Increased confidence. Sustainable motivation. Fierce self-regulation skills. It's also an incredibly valuable practice for athletes who need to hone their craft in very distinct ways, such as learning a new skill, overcoming injury when physical practice isn't an option, or learning to better prepare for performance and competition. Regardless, imagery is a powerful tool and if wielded correctly, can be the difference maker during the highest of stakes. So how can we ensure our visualization practice is worth our time and effort, that we aren't simply day-dreaming with spittle running down our chin? Well, clue in on these tips and you'll start to build a personalized practice that could be the game-changing catalyst across any endeavor. 

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1) Make it a regular thing. 

Like anything, whether it's physical fitness, nutrition, or meditation , the capacity to suss out tangible benefits takes time. You're not going to sit back, visualize yourself scoring a couple goals, and boom, Lionel Messi 2.0. It needs to be a habit. It's need to be systematic. In order to maximize your mental development and reap the rewards of imagery, you need to be diligent and persistent. Schedule a tri-weekly session prior to going to bed. Get up five minutes earlier to visualize your ideal scenario. Instead of adding on 10 minutes of cardio, find a quiet place and dedicate that time to envisioning yourself in a harsh situation that you need to overcome. Whatever the criteria, ensuring your practice is as automatic as brushing your teeth is key. 

 

2) Incorporate ALL the senses.

Another key to an effective imagery practice is making it vivid. Making your practice as vivid as possible starts by bringing in all of the senses. A good exercise is to gather intel while you're actually performing. What do you hear as you perform? What do you taste? Smell? What do you feel on an emotional level? Take a mental note of this criteria and bake it into your visualization foundation as it will bring a much sharper sense of realism to the practice. 

 

3) The "PETTLEP" elements. 

For a highly effective and controllable imagery, research has identified 7 key elements to consider when planning, integrating, and executing your practice. As these can be quite in-depth I would suggest working directly with a sport psychologist or mental performance coach to ensure your practice construction is optimized. The PETTLEP elements are:

 

Physical – related to the athlete or performer's physical sensations and responses.

Ex: The weight and tactile sensations of equipment.

 

Environment – refers to the physical environment in which imagery is performed. "To access the same motor representation, the environment when imagining the performance should be as similar as possible to the actual performing environment, (Smith et al, 2007).” 

Ex: My practice will take place in the my home arena. 

 

Task – the imagined task[s] need to be as closely representative of the actual task[s]. Should be specific to the performer and the craft.

Ex: As a goalie, I will focus on the proper technique to ensure I angling correctly in an attempt to square up my attacker. 

 

Timing - correct pace and precise timing is a vital element throughout your practice 

Ex: My task will be in real time where my opponents and the puck will move as fast as they would in real life. 

 

Learning – refers to the adaptation of imagery content in relation to the stage of learning. 

Ex: As I learn to hone my angling skills, I will adapt my practice to reflect this. 

 

Emotion - the athlete should try to experience all of the emotions and arousal associated with the performance

Ex: I will work on maintaining my focus and arousal during the opening puck drop. 

 

Perspective - refers to the way imagery is viewed; internal vs. external imagery and when to use each appropriately.

Ex: I will imagine my practice through my own eyes, ie. Internal perspective. 

 

4) Loading Scenario...

The beauty of an imagery practice if you can do whatever you want with it. Shootout of a championship game? Dial it in and hone coping skills to stay locked into the moment. 10,000 seat recital with a 10 minute solo? Sit back and visualize what it truly feels like to be in that moment while exploring techniques to ensure your confidence and focus is peaked. Whatever the situation, don't hesitate to bring in a detailed scenario to your practice. I always like to think of this quote by Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Missy Franklin,  “When I get [to London], I’ve already pictured what’s going to happen a million times, so I don’t actually have to overthink it too much." 

 

5) What's the goal in mind? 

Have a goal in mind for what you want to accomplish from the practice. Better yet, have a goal in mind for each individual practice. Like we explored above, go in with a purpose. The clearer your conviction, the more powerful your actions will become. 

 

6) Engage in directive learning / Get feedback. 

Get feedback about your practice. Whether that's from a coach, parent, peer or yourself, feedback is an invaluable resource. Maybe you think you need work on your jump shot, where as your coach might feel you need work on your vision, or "seeing" the court and the game as it moves. So take the time to do the "lonely work", and give yourself the opportunity to continue learning about your craft and how you better approach it on a daily basis. 

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References: 

MacNamara, A., Button, A., & Collins, D. (2010). The role of psychological characteristics in facilitating the pathway to elite performance; Examining environmental and stage related differences in skills and behaviors. The Sport Psychologist, 24, 52–96.

Martin K., Moritz, S., & Hall, C. (1999). Imagery use in sport: a literature review and applied model. Sport Psychologist, 13, 245–268

Martindale, R., & Mortimer, P. (2011). Psychological Skills for Developing Excellence (Chapter 4). D. Collins & A. Abbott. Performance Psychology: A Practitioner's Guide. London: Elsevier.

Orlick, T., & Partington, J. (1988). Mental links to excellence. The Sport Psychologist, 2, 105–130.

Weinberg S., & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology [Sixth Edition]. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.