posted on: April 4, 2018
author: Brian Lomax
When I was a teenager in high school, I would shadow swing my forehand with my right hand while walking down the hallway to my next class. I didn’t realize I was doing this until someone pointed it out to me. It was a completely subconscious action. I was combining an image in my head with the physical execution of the skill, and so I was basically practicing my forehand while I was in school. Looking back on this now, perhaps I should have done more of this with my backhand!
Have you ever done anything like this or have you ever daydreamed about your sport? Maybe you have done it in class or in the middle of a boring meeting at work. I used to do it all the time (especially at work!), but I didn’t realize that it could be a beneficial activity for my game. What I labeled daydreaming is actually a form of visualization, and visualization is a proven training technique for performance enhancement.
Visualization (also referred to as imagery) has proven to be effective because when we vividly imagine an experience, we are somewhat using the same neural pathways that are engaged when physically performing. By going through the same pathways, we are strengthening and reinforcing those skills. For an effective visualization experience, you should try to engage more than what you see. Include the kinesthetic movements (when possible), feel (ball on the strings, etc.), emotions (confidence, intensity) sounds (ball off the racquet, sound of hitting a golf ball), and smell. Your visualization will be much more effective when it involves as many of these senses as possible.
50 for 50 Ideas 13, 14 and 15 are all about visualization. Let’s take a look at each one of these in more depth.
Try to remember one of your best performance in recent months and see if you can recall the details of it. It may be helpful to write some of the details in a notebook. Once you have the details in your mind, close your eyes and bring yourself back to that moment. Relive that experience including all of the senses mentioned above. You may want to play some uplifting music in the background while you imagine this experience.
Visualizing your best performances is a way of reinforcing all of the good things you did on those days so that you can do them more and more in the future. It can also be motivating and inspiring to see your own personal highlights video in your head. Try this twice a week (at a minimum) for 5 to 10 minutes to get the benefit of this training.
Watching our favorite athletes or teams perform can be a very inspirational experience. As part of my pre-match routine, I include watching highlights of Rafael Nadal because I love how relentless he is on every point. That gets me ready to compete. I also like watching Roger Federer, and especially his one-handed backhand. That’s a stroke I try to emulate on the court and if I watch video of his backhand prior to playing, I can replay that video in my head while I’m on the court. It gives me a mental model for how I should execute that shot. In essence, I’m trying to compete as if I were Rafael Nadal and I’m trying to hit my backhand as if I were Roger Federer.
The concept of playing “as if” you were someone else can be highly effective. You can also view that as playing a role. For example, “I’m going to be Lebron James today.” Watch video first and then imagine yourself playing like your favorite athlete. Commit to competing and training as if you were your favorite athlete. Try this a couple of times a week.
When we are learning a new skill, the neural pathways for that skill are not yet established to the point of proficiency. Therefore, we are often over-thinking that new skill in an effort to strengthen it. Visualization can help. Close your eyes and imagine yourself executing the new skill perfectly. Involve all of the senses mentioned previously, and especially include feelings of confidence and ease as you go through the visualization. This imagery will allow you to practice and strengthen this new technique even though you aren’t doing it physically.
A few years ago, I worked with an equestrian athlete who used this technique effectively while she was in college. She was only able to ride once a week, but she used visualization as a means to practice her skills in between lessons. Each week her trainer would be amazed at the amount of improvement shown and she didn’t understand how a rider could actually improve when only training one time per week. Visualization was her secret.
What experiences have you had with visualization or imagery? Do you use it? Many athletes use it during a performance and that is another very effective technique.
Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.
Learn more about the author: https://performancextra.com/brian-lomax/