Using different psychological exercises to optimize performance has become a staple for athletes. One of the most powerful psychological exercises used is Imagery. Imagery can be loosely described as “getting competition reps without actually competing.” This is done by imagining competition scenarios repeatedly in your head, which in turn allows you to keep stress levels low once the actual scenario occurs. If stress levels are low and there isn’t over arousal, quality execution in competition is much more likely to occur.
Below are a the variables associated with an Imagery training plan:
Type: First Person or Second Person
Imagining a competition scenario occurs in two ways. The first (and most effective) way is to imagine sport activity in the first person. This allows athletes to feel the sensations that occur during competition. These sensations include “feeling” the movement. The second way is in the second person. In the second person, you’re essentially viewing from a coaches standpoint. This can come in handy for competition formats that require vigorous judging and grading (gymnastics, figure skating etc.) as the athlete can act as their own “judge”.
Frequency: Every day
Imagery is a no impact, no risk activity that has no negative physiological effects on the body, so why not do it every day? However, for big games and events, the closer you are to the performance date, the more imagery should take place.
Intensity: Based on Scenario
There are generally three levels of stress in sport. The first is usually the lowest level of stress and involves the pre-competition ritual and warm ups. The second is early competition situations (non-clutch) where a winner is unclear due to the competition still being in the beginning stages. The third is late competition situations (clutch) and should be a focal point of imagery practice. Repeatedly Imagining clutch situations help keep excitatory hormones low when the time comes to perform in the actual clutch. However, imagining clutch scenarios too often may lead to an over-release of cortisol and other stress hormones. It is best to limit imagining clutch scenarios come bed time or during a time when relaxation is desired.
If implemented properly, the above concepts can be a very helpful tool for an athlete. As the old saying goes “It all starts up top”