Can You Picture It?

Is visualization a part of your performance training? It is one of the most powerful tools humans have to enhance performance. Brains learn best with the use of imagery. Visualizing ties all your senses together.  And the more detailed your visualization, the more you activate the neural networks in your body. (Remember last week’s Mental Fitness Friday: Hebb’s Principle – Neurons that wire together fire together). 

Our memories–pleasant or unpleasant–are stored as images. Ultimately: the more the images you use, the more your brain learns. 

But why does our brain do that? And why is visualization important to performance training?

Take the infamous hockey call from the 1980 Olympics. You know the one; “Do you believe in miracles?!”

This phrase evokes so many images; the celebration, goaltender Jim Craig with the flag draped over him, and the medal scenario. Those images come to mind almost immediately. With it comes the emotion, the sounds, and for those of you old enough, you remember where you were when heard it happened.

It puts you back in that moment. Now take that an apply it to performance and being in those moments.

We benefit when we visualize how we want to perform, or how we have performed (like that time you were unstoppable, the best game of your career). Consistent visualization practice helps us to power great performances. It’s like you have been there before. It puts you in that moment.

During the coronavirus shut down, many athletes adapted and turned to visualization to maintain the sharpness of their skills. And athletes who spend 10-15 minutes per day visualizing often report that the game slows down, and they are better able to anticipate and perform.

So, what if you haven’t been a utilizing this mind trick? The good news is you can start now. YouTube has all sorts of guided visualizations for free that work.

You can also create your own program, which naturally may be even more effective because you can customize it and you know better than YouTube what you need to spend your time on.

Create mental workouts of skills specific to your sport. Plan them like a practice or a workout. 

There are 5 guidelines to remember in designing your own visualization program:

1. Visualize yourself playing well or in your Optimal Performance Zone.  Identify four words that describe the way you play. i.e.  (Intense, confident, fast, smart, quick)

2. The key to visualization is consistency. For visualization to be most effective, an athlete must practice at least 5 days per week for 10-15 minutes per day for 4 weeks.

3. It’s OK if it doesn’t feel natural. At first it may feel labored and uncomfortable. As you practice visualizing more and more often, it will become more comfortable and smoother over time.

4. You will find that you will become distracted by random thoughts. This is normal. Just notice what they are and let them pass.

5. Include and engage all 5 senses. This also includes your emotions. And note how your body actually feels.

However, you want to practice visualization is up to you. Write a script. Steal ideas from the YouTube videos. Download voice recorder pro on your phone and make a recording that you can listen to on a daily basis. Make a few of them and mix them up. It’s yours to visualize, and your performance to improve. Do what works best for you.

Need more ideas?

• Check out this visualization log, visualization tools you can use to create a variety of visualizations.

• Here are some links to visualizations we have done with some of our athlete’s so you can get a feel for how it’s done.