Visualization 101


One of the most commonly used mental training tools is visualization. In this article, I will try to address some mistakes that I often see with this tool and provide some guidelines for incorporating visualization into your training.

Why is visualization effective? Simply put, if the image is vivid enough, your body responds as though it’s happening. There are two pieces of evidence that we have to support this. First, the same muscles twitch and fire when imagining a skill or sport as when we perform it. Second, the same neural pathways in our brain that are developed when learning and executing a skill are built as those developed when imagining we are performing that same skill.

Visualization Guidelines

Here are some tips to get the most out of visualization.

Use all your senses: I actually prefer calling it imagery because “visualization” implies only seeing. However, to make it seem as real as possible, try to incorporate sounds and smells (and even tastes). Imagine how you feel within your body and also imagine the feel of the bat in your hand, water on your skin, etc.

Make the image as vivid as possible. For the same reason as above, you want it to be as vivid as possible. This means seeing the lines on the field, hearing the swish of the basket, noticing the details of a uniform, etc.

Relax before visualizing: Take a few minutes to relax. This is important because (a) the more relaxed you are, the more focused you will be and (b) you want to pair the image with being in a relaxed state (as opposed to an anxious state).

Keep it short: Visualization sessions should not be the same length as the performance. That is way too difficult and unnecessary. Instead, keep the sessions short. Five to ten minutes is usually sufficient.

The more times you visualize, the better:  A common mistake I see is to only visualize the night before a game. While this won’t hurt, it probably won’t help a ton either. Just like practicing a skill, we need repeated reps with visualization to cement something into “muscle memory.” See if you can incorporate 5-10 minutes of visualization into every day of the week.

See yourself succeeding, but make it realistic: Definitely make sure you are successful in your visualization scenarios, but also make sure you are being realistic. Unrealistic images are not helpful and can even lead to added pressure.

Imagine various situations: Make sure you are preparing for a variety of situations. For starters, consider incorporating some of these things into your sessions: playing with a lead, playing behind, weather changes, poor officiating, supportive crowds, rowdy fans, mistakes by teammates, etc. Many of the athletes I work with will even develop a “script” for each session that varies from day to day.

Pair the images with music: For some people, incorporating music into their visualization sessions can be helpful.

Use photos and/or video: Try using still photos or videos of the stadium or past performances to help you “see” things more clearly in your sessions.

PRACTICE: Visualization takes practice. In order to get good at it, you must keep at it. Just like physical practice, mental practice takes discipline, determination, and work ethic. You will reap the benefits…if you put the time into it!

Want to learn more? Attend a SPIRE camp and get exposed to our mental training coaches and curriculum!

Dr. Maniar is the Director of Mental Skills Training at SPIRE Institute & Academy and the Founder of the Center for Peak Performance, LLC—a sports psychology and business consulting firm. More information about Dr. Maniar and his work, including his social media handles, can be found on his Linktree.

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