Research by sport psychologists has shown that mental imagery tends to be more effective in training sessions just prior to a competitive situation than it is in earlier training situations.
This suggests that it is better to use mental imagery to help competition performance when skills are already developed, rather than for refining or developing new skills.
For example, a gymnast may imagine going through a flawless routine just prior to taking to the floor for competition. This perfect image of the performance would help to reassure the gymnast that they are capable of performing well. It would also raise the gymnast’s confidence and help them believe that the difficult moves could be executed without error.
The live performance could then occur in a more relaxed state, which would increase the chances of success.
Mental imagery can also assist athletes who compete using equipment in their sport. Although it is not a replacement for real training, using mental imagery to imagine using equipment such as a discus, oars in a rowing boat; a horse for show-jumping, can have a place in an athlete’s overall training schedule.
If it is pouring rain, an athlete is injured or the equipment is not readily available, athletes with a well-developed skill level can imagine competing without these obstacles. To do this the athlete relaxes, closes their eyes and tries to see and feel themself repeatedly performing the skills successfully.
The result is usually an increase in self-confidence, which can be transferred into improving competition performance.
Athletes can also use imagery to motivate themselves. Mental imagery for motivation involves imagining achieving set goals and feeling the arousal that accompanies the sense of achievement, which again assists to build self-confidence. If arousal levels are too high, imagery can be used to think of calmness, resulting in the lowering of arousal levels and performance-related anxiety.
From 'Psychology in Action', second edition, December 2009, Nicole Letch, Edwina Ricci, Reprinted with permission from Macmillan Education Australia Both Nicole Letch and Edwina Ricci are former psychology teachers and exam setters for VCE Psychology. Nicole currently works with children and adolescents suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while Edwina is working as a consultant on sport development and education. Find out more about 'Psychology in Action'