Have you ever daydreamed about winning a race or a game? Have you spent any time watching YouTube videos to improve your technique? Perhaps, stood over a golf ball and played the perfect trajectory out in your mind or mentally watched an impossible backhand cross-court shot catch the line? Ok, put your hands down. We all have.
You may not have the imagination equal to Bill Murray’s Cinderella story in Caddyshack, but the practice of visualization is ingrained in any sports-minded human. From when we were children in the backyard throwing touchdown passes to win the Super Bowl or practicing bending it like Beckham on the soccer field, visualizing success comes naturally to everyone.
The use of visualization for adults can be a powerful tool for all activities and levels of abilities.
Visualization Practice Makes Perfect
Mental imagery is widely used across every imaginable sport. Competitive swimmers and runners are known to tape a goal time above their beds so it’s the last thing they see before closing their eyes and the first thing they see in the morning. Collegiate Crew teams will enlist sports psychologists for guided visualization of the perfect race. And mountain bikers improve off the trail by “virtually” ripping through challenging sections.
One key to actual gains through visualization is consistency. Give your visualization practice some time to take off. It’s a skill that everyone can develop over time. Set aside 10 minutes each morning before the noise of the day creeps in. Keeping your focus on a specific performance goal can be difficult at first as the mind is always wandering.
Close your eyes and relax physically and mentally. Imagine yourself performing at your peak, the sounds of the environment and the feel of your equipment. Draw on the feelings and emotions that are associated with the start of a race, the critical portions of a training session or an intensity level you want to achieve. And do it again. Every morning.
Remember that you are visualizing positive outcomes or improvements. The great thing about mental imagery is that there are no injuries or exertions to recover from. Simply restart the system and practice to perfection.
The Science of Visualization
Ok, so maybe your thinking this visualization stuff is all in your head. You would be exactly right!
Guang Yue, an Exercise Psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, found that study subjects that used visualization for virtual workouts over three months were able to increase muscle strength by 13.5% compared to 30% by the people who actually did the same workout.
But the fact is that many of the world’s greatest athletes take visualization and imagery very seriously. The goal is to create a full sensory, lifelike experience that the body and muscles believe is real. Replicating positive athletic scenarios in the mind enhances performance and helps prepare for the real thing.
So have it at folks. We all have a Cinderella story inside waiting to play out.
“It’s in the hole!”