Using Imagery to Learn and Practice Sport Skills

Nicole Westlund, PhD Candidate
Western University, London, Ontario, Canada
Mental Coach, Eclipse Performance

Imagery of Sport Skills and Techniques

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Visualizing sport skills and techniques is one of the most common uses of imagery. Every sport requires certain skills or movements to be mastered in order to play them successfully. Whether you are refining a skill you have performed thousands of times or are trying to master a new skill, imagery can help you reinforce these movements.

The more you rehearse a sport skill or technique, the more automatic it will become. While most people tend to use visual imagery, seeing themselves perform a skill, it is important to use kinesthetic imagery as well, feeling how your body moves while executing those skills or a certain technique. This will help form stronger connections in your brain, making it feel more comfortable when you are performing. This is especially important when you are in a high-pressure situation – where your technique has a tendency to break down. The stronger those brain connections are, the more likely it is that your body will be able to perform the desired movement at a time when it might be the most critical – such as during team tryouts or in the championship final.

Depending on your sport, you may only be able to mentally rehearse specific sport skills immediately before you go out to perform, such as in hockey, rowing or swimming. In other sports, you have the luxury of time between individual shots or performances. Some examples of sports like this are archery, curling, golf and even baseball.

Professional golfer, Jack Nicklaus was famous for doing this. Every time he was about to step up to the ball to hit his next shot, he would visualize his golf swing. Not only that, Jack would visualize where he would hit the ball, the arc-like path that the ball would take as it traveled across the fairway, and see exactly where he wanted it to land. More importantly, Jack did this both during competitions and during every practice.

If you are ready to give this a try, remember these tips:

– Make sure you visualize the complete sport movement. For example, if you are about to make a free throw attempt in basketball, see yourself squaring up to the net, feeling your body move as you prepare to throw the ball, and watch it traveling through the air as you feel your follow through.

– Always visualize positive outcomes – your brain will remember what you practice! See yourself, making that pass, scoring that goal, hitting that target.

Remember, practice makes perfect, both with your physical game and your mental game. Keep it up!