“See the ball, be the ball” was the advice given by Chevy Chase’s character (Ty Webb) gave to Danny Noonan in the classic sports movie Caddyshack, suggesting that you must first see success before you can expect it to happen. Creating (or recreating) mental thoughts with the goal to improve sport performance is known by sport psychologists as imagery, and it is a tool that every athlete can use to improve focus, calm nerves, and even bounce back from adversity.
Imagery can be a powerful tool for athletes, but it’s important to note that imagery is not “magic,” and it’s only effective when athletes show patience and discipline when integrating it into their game. Imagery is also not a substitute for putting in the work, but it can compliment and strengthen the work athletes do put in when practicing to be the best.
Some additional interesting facts about imagery include the following:
- Any athlete can use imagery, and imagery can be used before, during, and after games.
- Imagery (in theory) strengthens neural connections in the brain, and thereby allows athletes to have more consistent, immediate muscle memory movements (automatic movements) while playing.
- Imagery can be used to help with skill acquisition, skill proficiency, calming nerves, pumping up, and improving focus.
- The more senses athletes use (i.e. tactile, kinesthetic, auditory, olfactory, and visual) the better and more realistic the imagery experience will be for the user.
Imagery should also be controllable (meaning you use imagery to see yourself being successful and practicing good techniques, etc) and vivid (realistic and lifelike). The more real you make the imagery experience, the more likely your brain will become conditioned to act/react more quickly in game situations.
As important as it is to understand what imagery can do in terms of athletes looking to gain a mental edge on the field, it’s just as important to understand what imagery is not. For example, imagery is not “magic,” nor is it a substitute for working hard, learning your plays, or getting it done in the weight room. Athletes who elect to use imagery should look at it as a complimentary piece to what they are already doing, rather than a substitute to get out of work.
If you’re an athlete looking to gain an edge on the competition, then imagery might be a worthwhile tool to add to your arsenal. Imagery is easy to do, doesn’t take long, and if you’re committed to using imagery you will likely experience positive results.