Visualization is one of the most-talked about sports psychology tools. The research is clear that athletes of all disciplines who regularly engage in visualization outperform those who don’t. In fact, surveys reveal that 100% of Olympic track and field athletes use visualization as part of their training.
It’s also often misunderstood and is frequently used incorrectly. Today I’ll show you three ways elite competitors use visualization to get the competitive edge.
#1: They don’t always visualize a perfect performance.
This is probably the most misunderstood concept. Elite competitors make visualization realistic. You definitely want to see yourself “doing it right”, but if you normally struggle with nervousness in the arena, or have difficulty with certain maneuvers, you should expect that to crop up during your visualization sessions.
When it does, don’t be discouraged. Instead welcome it as a chance to work through the issues. You can hit pause and rewind on your mental movie as many times as necessary to work out the kinks.
Elite competitors do imagine how they’ll work out the kinks
If you always tense up and stop breathing when you trot through the in-gate, imagine yourself using your breathing exercises and relaxation cues to calm yourself down. See yourself breaking the cycle of tension and creating a better ride with each mental rehearsal. The goal of each session should be to get just a tiny bit better, and build on that.
#2: They don’t use visualization only for competition
Most competitors reserve visualization for show-ring situations. They use it leading up to show day to create a mental blueprint of the perfect performance. But this is only one use for visualization.
How the “elite of the elite” use visualization
Remember those track and field athletes I mentioned in beginning? While 100% of them use visualization, the top 10% of them report using it both during competition and practice. What this means is that the “elite of the elite” use imagery techniques as a way to move to the next level.
You can use this concept by keeping some brief notes of your lessons and training sessions. Note what is going well, and what needs improvement. Then, spend some time visualizing your last training session and correcting the problem areas.
You can also bring visualization into your training sessions. Take 30-45 seconds to properly visualize a problem maneuver, such a flying lead change, before performing it. Doing this creates a mental framework for your body to follow when you actually do the maneuver.
#3: They don’t use visualization to replace physical practice
Athletes who engage in both regular physical practice and visualization tend to outperform those who don’t. But visualization does not replace physical practice. It takes thousands of hours of practice to become an expert at a sport. The good news is that visualization greatly enhances this practice.
Elite competitors don’t slack off in their physical or mental practice. They understand how the mind and body work together to produce the best performance on show day.
Learn more at junecstevens.com
Photo credit: Wiki Creative Commons user Katja Nevalainea