Using imagery, and the power of the mind to create successful athletic performances, can in fact help athletes achieve athletic excellence. Sound good? Why not jump-start your 2006 fitness and sport goals with a dose of mental training and imagery practice?
Surely you've thought about what you need to do to physically to achieve your goals this year, but have you given though to what might help you mentally? Imagery is a great place to start and incorporating imagery practice into your fitness and sport routine can enhance your performance and may even help you achieve that which you deem impossible.
Considerable research supports the value of imagery practice and it's been shown to increase motivation, improve confidence, improve focus and can even help you learn new technique or skill.
So maybe you're rolling your eyes by now and thinking that this imagery stuff is a bunch of hocus-pocus. But don't take our word for it --you might be surprised that most elite and professional athletes use some form of imagery practice and actually attribute their success to it.
Pro triathlete Wendy Ingraham shares, "The night before a big training ride I lay in bed and visualize the ride, how I want my legs to feel, what gears I need to use to get up that hill, down the road and around the corner, how much nutrition I need to take in and what I want my heart rate to be.
As I lay in bed I start out with relaxing my whole body. First my legs then work my way up to the mind. Then I visualize the ride, every detail. Usually I'm so relaxed I fall asleep by the end of the imagery exercise. By morning I'm ready to roll -- I'm refreshed and know exactly how I'm going to ride that day. Ninety-eight percent of the time the ride turns out the way I visualized the night before".
Creating your imagery script
Here's how to get started: Imagine your ideal sport performance and start writing down everything about the experience. See, hear and feel yourself participating in your sport. Be as specific as possible. Write down every detail you can see, hear and feel. The more senses you can include, the more effective the imagery experience will be.
Begin with arriving at your event, going through your normal prep routine, and the few minutes before it begins. Imagine yourself being totally relaxed, confident, powerful and in complete control of your body and mind.
Include affirmations such as " I am ready" and key words like "focus" and "relax" which will help you during your event. Go through the entire event thinking of each significant part of the experience. Feel yourself moving smoothly, performing with strength, endurance and grace.
You can also create imagery scripts for specific parts of your sport performance. For example, some triathletes will create an imagery exercise focused specifically on changing a bike tire. Because this is an activity that isn't often practiced, athletes will run through the exact steps through imagery practice. This helps them to remember all of the steps necessary and can help alleviate any pre-race anxiety should they happen to get a flat tire during a race.
When you've finished writing down your imagery script, edit and revise it until you're satisfied with it. Then dictate it yourself or have someone else dictate into a recording device.
To reap the full benefits of imagery, listen to your finished imagery script once a day. If that seems overwhelming, three or four times a week is a great place to start. Pick a quiet time and place where you won't be disturbed. Some athletes choose to do their imagery every night before they go to bed or first thing in the morning. Find a time that will work for you and stick to it.
Establish your imagery practice
When you're ready to start you imagery practice, it will be important to get yourself into a relaxed and meditative state. First, find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed. Wearing comfortable clothes, sit in a comfortable position that you can remain in for the entire imagery session -- legs crossed or uncrossed, whatever works for you.
Start by focusing solely on your breathing. Take in a big, deep breath and then release it, along with any pent-up tension. Put one or both hands on your abdomen, close your eyes and relax. (If you're not using both hands, leave one hand relaxed at your side).
Take a series of deep breaths. Breathe in for two seconds, hold for two seconds, and breathe out for two seconds. With each breath, imagine a circle being drawn from your abdomen, up through your chest, out your mouth, and then back to your abdomen. Continue to take deep breaths, and when you feel as relaxed and focused as possible, start your imagery.
You can also practice your imagery right before a key training session or the moments before your event begins. Simply close your eyes for a few minutes, take several deep breaths and try to relax and then begin your imagery routine. It will put you in the right frame of mind and help you focus before the activity begins.
Successful imagery requires motivation and commitment. To reap the full rewards, you need to practice it consistently. Start with once or twice a day and gradually work up to every day. Schedule your imagery like you would anything else in your life, such as a workout or training session, and before long it will become second nature.
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Paige Dunn is a sport psychology consultant and a competitive Ironman-distance triathlete. She counsels and educates athletes on the mental component of athletic experience through her private practice, Xcel Sports. In her practice, she teaches various sport psychology techniques to enhance performance: goal setting, motivation, confidence, relaxation, imagery, focus and concentration, and more. Paige has a great deal of success motivating athletes to perform at their best. She enjoys lecturing and is currently writing her first book.