The What, Why, When-Where and How you should be using mental imagery in your training. Part II:
In Part I of the imagery blog, I discussed what imagery is, why you should be using it as part of your training, and when-where to use it. In Part II of this Imagery blog, I am going to discuss how to use Imagery.
Before we start talking about How to use imagery, take a minute to think about the following questions:
- Think of the most successful sports experience and write down as many details (sights, sounds, touch/feel) that you can remember from that event.
- Do you think about races before they begin, (i.e. positive thoughts, negative thoughts, strategies you will use throughout the triathlon etc.)?
Imagery offers another way to “practice” and refine skills pre-competition, in order to ready you for a successful performance. Imagery involves seeing yourself succeeding during every portion of your triathlon, while remaining in a positive mind set no matter what obstacles come your way. Learning what imagery is and how to properly use it should be just another step in your pre-game preparation checklist. Seeing yourself succeed in your head certainly cannot bring about negative results, so trying it can’t hurt.
At the end of my last blog, Imagery Part I, I asked you why you are a triathlete. What is motivating you to get in the pool before the sun comes up? That motivation is what I want you to build upon. Imagery breeds motivation, and motivation keeps you moving towards success, which is why imagery should be a routine part of your training.
Remember these important aspects of using imagery:
- Use all of the senses; sight, touch/feel, hearing, smell, taste
- Be as vivid, real as possible
- Must know what a good performance looks like, in order to be able to practice it (The first question I asked you in this blog)
- Serves as a “mental rehearsal” (prepare to execute specific skills)
Following the above guidelines here is an example of a successful imagery experience (to keep it simple, I am going to use the cycling segment of a triathlon):
You are on your bike, looking a few feet in ahead of your front tire. Your shoulders are relaxed. Your pedal strokes are fluid and smooth. Focus on your right leg for 10 pedal strokes. At the top of each pedal stroke, you are shoving your foot into your shoe. 10.9. 188.8.131.52. Breathe. 184.108.40.206. Breathe. Now your left foot. Shove your foot into your shoe. 10.9.8.7.6.5. Breathe. 220.127.116.11.Breathe. Reach for your water bottle. Take a sip. Feel the straw in between your lips. Taste the water in your mouth. See the road in front of you. You are getting close to your next transition. Reach down and unbuckle your right shoe. Breathe. Now your left. Breathe. Pull your right foot out of your shoe. Breathe. Now your left. Deep breath, be in control of your heart rate. You pull up to your transition area smooth and effortlessly. Breathe.
Each individual athlete or coach is unique in their own way, and has different goals and needs. Therefore, they will use imagery for different reasons. There are two primary functions of imagery use;
- Cognitive function of imagery: experience specific sport skills, plan strategies
- Motivational function: experience goal attainment, coping, arousal strategies
Building of off these two general functions of imagery, there are 5 specific types of imagery use. That is, the use of imagery can help you to fulfill 5 different needs.
Five Types of Imagery Use:
To motivate to build confidence:
- Ex. Passing other runners and keeping your pace
To practice the ability to focus.
- Ex: Thinking positive thoughts during your swim
To practice controlling arousal
- Ex: Imagine using deep breathing to stay focused during your transitions
To practice a specific sport skill
- Ex: Shove your foot into your shoe at the top of the pedal stroke
To practice mental strategies
- Ex: When you are fatiguing during the run, visualize the perfect posture: hips forward, chest up, driving your elbows back and driving your hands forward touching your face
Imagery is another highly effective method of preparing you for competition. Seeing yourself succeed in your mind can only feed into a positive performance outcome in the end. However, just like physical practice, you must practice your use of imagery. It takes time and effort, but in the end, you will reap the rewards of being more prepped for success. Envisioning yourself succeed breeds confidence, keeping you motivated to work hard and push towards achieving your goals.
About the author: Colleen Sager, M.S. is the owner and founder of Mind Games Pro Performance Consulting and current Bolton Endurance Sports Training (BEST) staff Sports Psychology Consultant. While working towards her B.S. in Psychology at New Mexico State University (NMSU), she spent her spare time racing throughout New Mexico and Arizona for NMSU’s cycling team. Training her mind for athletics never occurred to her until her first 100-mile bike ride with her father, when she crashed mentally 60 miles in. When she returned to school after this particular ride, she researched Sport Psychology and immediately knew this was something she wanted to study. After earning her degree, Colleen attended Ithaca College where she studied Sport Psychology under one of the nation’s top sport psychology consultants – Greg Shelley.
Colleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.