It is always great to hear from my former players. Many are parents whose children are now involved in athletics. Some are teachers and coaches themselves. They are quick to share fond memories of victories as well as bitter recollections of defeats. What I find particularly interesting is hearing what they “took” from their participation in athletics. I enjoy hearing what “worked” for them regarding motivation, teaching and coaching techniques. One common thread that I have heard from many of my former players is how much they think the technique of mental visualization helped them become a more successful and confident player.
I have often used this process with athletes during my career, and believe in its value. Visualization is an often-taught mental rehearsal technique in sports. It is an extremely powerful tool and numerous studies have been done that confirm its value in improving athletic performance.
One oft cited study involved three groups of people who were tested on how many free throws they could make. After this initial test:
- The first group practice free throws every day for an hour.
- The second group just visualized themselves making free throws.
- The third group did nothing.
After 30 days, they were tested again.
- The first group improved by 24%.
- The second group improved by 23% without touching a basketball.
- The third group did not improve which was expected.
Although using mental visualization can be useful any time, we particularly liked using it towards the end of the week as our contest approached. Normally at this time of the week, we were trying to limit the physical reps, focusing more on the mental aspect of game preparation. As with all things, the more our athletes practiced mental visualization, the better they became at using it, and the better the results.
Here is how we taught the process of mental visualization to our athletes.
- Take ten minutes, in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
- Take a defensive call, or offensive play from our game plan this week.
- Picture yourself making the “perfect play”, from start (the call in the huddle) to finish, against this week’s opponent.
- Involve all of your senses – in the first person. You are not watching a movie of yourself making the play. You are seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, feeling it, with all of your senses.
- Think and phrase in positive manner – Thinking about “keeping your feet when making a great cut”, as opposed to thinking about “not slipping”.
- See a clear detailed picture in your “minds eye”
- The more detail the better. Smell the grass, feel the ball against your ribs, hear the crowd, feel the emotion. The more senses you involve, and the more realistic you “paint” the picture, the more it will imprint.
- Enjoy, feel, and experience the feelings and emotions that will be evoked when making the “perfect play”
Although many of our athletes often scoffed at the notion of “mental practice” when we first began this process, it was always satisfying when those same athletes would tell us after a game that a particular play was “exactly like I visualized it this week!”
Remember – “You Can Do More… your brain is lying to you… Don’t Believe It!”
Jeff Floyd – firstname.lastname@example.org