Part III: Skill-Set: Imagery Rehearsal /Visualization / Mental Practice
This is the third post in my series about the effects Sport Psychology and Mental Skills Training can have on Jr. "A" Level Hockey Players. In the original I talked about four important skill sets. Relaxation: Imagination/Visualization: Self-confidence: Concentration. Of course these are not the only skills an athlete needs to work on, but it was a good place to get started as they have great impact and the terminology is easy to understand. Last week's focus was on Relaxation .
This post focuses on Imagery Training.
Imagination/Visualization: What if we could practice more shots every single day? What if we allow that it takes 10,000 repetitions to groove a movement to a level of expertise? If Perfect Practice really makes perfect, through the use of imagery and visualization we can learn new skills and perfect them faster by using our minds. So let's use the time we have wisely in order to find success. Utilize visualization techniques for both learning and accelerating your performance--in everything you do.
I have a great deal of experience in the area of applied imagery training. There are many diverse skills an athlete can develop with the aid of imagery. While working with athletes, I have developed these basic guidelines:
define realistic goals and limitations which are sport- specific
utilize relaxation training to prepare for imagery
develop a very clear image or feeling of the successful performance
maintain periodic surveillance over the athlete's experience
Clear pictures and feelings are important to the process. It appears that the clearer the picture, the better the effect. The picture can be of the event or of the athlete; it can and should be from many perspectives. This not only helps the athlete become more aware of the situation, but also aids in reducing anxiety as well. A pole-vaulter may visualize what the performance looks like from the pit or from over the crossbar. The resulting familiarity with the feel and sight of a successful performance will lessen anxiety as he/she vaults new heights.
Monitoring has always been important in order to subjectively judge how an athlete is doing with the visualization. This can be accomplished by asking the athlete to respond with a predetermined cue. Communication allows the athletes to take their time and feel comfortable with the clinician. It also allows the clinician to monitor the athlete's attention span and determine whether or not the subject has drifted into sleep. This can be a problem when working with an athlete who works out four to six hours per day.
The most familiar way of using imagery is to have the athlete see his/her competition. If we can simulate actual competition in the athlete's mind, competitive stress may be lessened by getting him/her to that stress. This procedure can be accomplished by slowly building up pressure to fit the situation. There are times when stress can be managed by having the athlete go through the event and see that he/she can, indeed, perform within his/her goals and limitations.
I was working with a swimmer who almost cut off a finger. He was preparing for his biggest competition of the year. He feared he would have a touch issue even though he was approved to compete. After using imagery and relaxation training for the two days preceding the event and seeing a very strong image of himself swimming well (in a surgical glove) and feeling that his teammates appreciated his efforts, this event happened. He swam well enough to surpass his own personal-record swim without too much discomfort.
The practice of imagery training combined with relaxation can improve performance. A world-class decathlete came to my office in the hopes of learning how to improve his performance. We used imagery training for all of the decathlon events, but primarily focused on the discus, shot put, high hurdles, and high jump. This coincided with the emphasis of his physical training during the fall and winter months.
Within one week after his first session, his performance started to improve. Within six weeks, he had broken his personal records in five events, and had approached the others closely, something he had not done for almost two years.
The decathlete worked on imagery training a minimum of three and one-half hours a week in my office, and one hour per day, five days per week at home. During this time period, he won three decathlons and scored better than he had in two previous seasons. He continued the imagery training for two months, and then stopped because of growing demands on his time.
Imagery training can also be used for the development of timing and pace. In the case of figure skating and gymnastics, this can be accomplished through music. The program music can be played while the athlete is in a deeply relaxed state while developing the feeling, the timing, and the precision. A metronome can be used by track athletes to aid in training, and the development of pace. Both pace and timing are very much like an internal clock. Imagery training can be used to fine tune them.
Another advantage of imagery training is that because time is relative, an athlete can look at performance at different speeds. It can be an advantage to go through a performance in either slow or fast motion. With slow motion, the athlete has the opportunity to further look into and analyze performance. Fast motion can be used to run through a particularly long event such as a marathon or decathlon and still give the athlete a feeling of continuity, which may reduce anxiety.
Aside from allowing you to rehearse mentally, imagery also allows you to practice in advance for anything unusual that might occur, so that you are prepared and already practiced in handling it. In cognitive behavior therapy this would be called coping rehearsal. It just makes great sense that when you anticipate something that might go wrong, you will prepare to assure yourself that this event will not happen and if it does calmly take care of the problem.
This is a technique used very commonly by top sports people, who learn good performance habits by repeatedly rehearsing performances in their imagination. When the unusual eventualities they have rehearsed using imagery occur, they have good, pre-prepared, habitual responses to them. Imagery also allows you to pre-experience achievement of your goals, helping to give you the self-confidence you need to do something well.
For imagery training to have the greatest effect, it must be flexible. In many training situations, the creative coach or sport psychologist can come up with an imagery strategy that may indeed help the athlete reach his or her own potentials.
Athletes can be taught as individuals or in a group. If a group situation is involved, it is important that individual programs are worked out so that each athlete has his own program. Audio recorders work well for this purpose, allowing group work to be even more effective.
The strategies covered were those applied in the field and in individual situations. Further study is necessary to substantiate the role of complex imagery training with different skills and skill levels. The only way this can be done is by looking at the whole picture of athletic competition along with closed skills and seeing the effects of mental training on the athlete.
I've done a good deal of research in this area. To understand more you can go to Imagery Research to see more about this important area related to sports performance. I've worked in most every sport and at every level, from hockey and figure skating to soccer and golf.
It is evident that we can no longer separate physical training from mental training. The opportunity in sport psychology is to bring practical techniques into our lives regardless of whether it is on the field or in the office. I recently did an imagery rehearsal session via SKYPE with the Cheyenne Stampede and then delivered mp3s for the players to continue their training.
My next blog addition will be about self confidence in hockey.
Play with passion. Enjoy the Game. The one on the ice and the one within you.
Athletes from all over the country have been seeking out Mike Margolies for close to thirty-five years for his expertise in helping them live up to their potential. They have sought his counsel and unique teaching style to learn about the game within the game. Mike founded Sport Psychology Consultants in 1983 and has helped over 2000 athletes. Mike has taught at four Universities and completed research at the United States Olympic Training Center.
Relaxation mp3s and imagery rehearsal programs can be ordered from http://themental-game.com/imagery-rehearsal-mp3s/
Mike Margolies is available for workshops, team and individual consultation, assessment and as a speaker. His new book is called "The Athlete within You- a mental approach to sports and business" It is for athletes and non athletes working to achieve more in life. Because of the great response I have had from the Jr. Hockey community, I am giving a 25% discount towards purchases of The Athlete within You when ordered. Click on the highlighted title The Athlete within You and add discount code 4ZHURJA4 .