If you’ve been an athlete for any amount of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard from a coach or trainer that you have to “visualize” good performances before you ever go out there to do it for real, right?
Well, this is good advice except that very few coaches actually teach their athletes HOW TO DO IT.
But first, what is visualization?
To put it simply, it’s taking some time to imagine yourself performing the thing you want to do in the game.
“Winners make a habit of manufacturing their own positive expectations in advance of the event.”
There’s so much misinformation about “how to visualize.” The first thing to know is that you don’t have to be visual in order to visualize. In fact, coaches do a disservice to their athletes by telling them to “visualize” in the first place because there are some people who are not very visual and don’t know what you mean when you tell them that. It creates confusion in those players.
If you are a visual person, then it’s easy for to close your eyes and you can see pictures in your mind of what happens on the court or field.
But, if you’re one of those people who close their eyes and you don’t see anything or the pictures are not very clear to you, then that’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with you. Just imagine your success however you want to and you’ll be doing it right for you. You can talk to yourself in your mental practice sessions or you can just feel the right movements and emotions you want at performance time.
Instead of visualization, let’s call it what it really is: Mental Practice or Imagination Practice.
Here’s my 4-step process to get the most out of mentally practicing your sport.
Step 1: Have an idea for something very specific that you want to imagine doing well in your sport. The more specific and detailed you get, the more effective this will be for you.
For example, for a golfer, it’s good to imagine putting your ball into the hole every time you step on to the green. But better still, would be for the golfer to focus on keeping the body still while putting, or having the putter travel straight down the target line. Another example: a baseball or softball player can certainly imagine hitting the ball square every time at bat. But, more specifically, if the player really wanted to improve batting average, I would advise mentally practicing stepping into the batter’s box with that total confident feeling and attitude like he/she has done before.
Specifics are much more powerful than general visualizations.
Step 2: Get your body comfortable.
You want to be able to focus on what you’re doing without your body reminding you of it’s problems.
Step 3: Take 1 minute or so to breathe a little bit deeper than you normally do and a little bit slower. Breathe into your belly as this triggers a relaxation response and opens your mind up to this power. It’s optional whether you want to close your eyes or not. By the way, breathing like this for 1 minute any time, with practice, will train your body to relax on command. A useful tool for high pressure situations, right?
Step 4: Direct your thinking and focus to the act of performing your best for what you came up with in Step 1. In other words, what you will be doing is mentally practicing or performing your skills beautifully and effectively and do it over and over and over.
Go as long as you like and can keep your focus on what you’re doing. The longer, the better.
It’s good and useful to imagine yourself winning and coming through in clutch situations but you will gain more by mentally practicing small movements and sound fundamentals. Here’s more very specific ideas for different athletes:
- Football quarterback mentally practices his footwork in the pocket for every type of situation.
- Tennis player mentally practices throwing the ball up in the air for a serve into the perfect space and height.
- A hockey goalie runs through every possibility an approaching shooter can bring and defends with proven fundamentals for each situation.
- A gymnast can see or feel herself up in the air on on the parallel bars with her legs in perfect position on a skill.
Are you getting the picture here? (no pun intended). There are hundreds of things each athlete has to do to be successful for every sport. They key to making visualization or mental practice work for you is to pick specific things to work on in your mind and stick with it until it’s automatic.
When you learn a new skill or technique in practice, you should practice it that night, in bed, as you go to sleep and keep mentally practicing in spare thinking moments throughout the day.
This is what separates great athletes from average athletes.
In my mental toughness academy, I have created 8 guided visualizations for you to practice and improve your mental skills with my help. After using these for a while, you will be a pro at mental practice and visualizing for your sport.
Let’s do this,