Sports Training and Exercise:
Imagery and Visualization Can Improve Athletic Performance

The mind has a great influence over the body. Purposeful and directed use of the mind has been able to relieve pain, speed healing, and heal illnesses and injuries. And now more and more athletes are claiming that visualization and imagery can help them reach peak performance.

What is visualization and imagery? In a nutshell, it is the fundamental language of the mind. The mind processes everything through images, whether those images have to do with visuals, sounds, tastes, or smells. And those images have a direct effect on the body. Imagine for a moment that you are going to bite into a lemon. Close your eyes and think about the color, texture, smell, and taste of the lemon. Chances are as you imagined biting into the lemon, your body had a real reaction; you probably salivated.

Obviously, our thoughts have an impact on how we feel and behave. Athletes who know how to control their thoughts through visualization and imagery can positively impact how their bodies react in certain situations.

How does visualization and imagery work for the athlete? Basically, the athlete will create a scene in her mind of what she wants to happen. She begins with the end in mind. Athletes who do this are more comfortable when it comes to being in the real situation. The situation seems familiar and the athlete is more confident. The athlete can repeat the images over and over, enhancing her skill through repetition much like a physical practice. This type of mental rehearsal actually allows the body to perform what has been imagined.

Successful visualization and imagery training has the following components:

• Regular practice. Just like the physical practices, athletes set aside scheduled time for visualization and imagery. Begin by visualizing two or three times per day—morning and evenings while in bed is a good time and place. Start with 15 minutes of visualization. As you become more skilled you will need less time to practice.

Thoughts are purposeful and directed. This will lead to a positive experience. Learn to direct and control the images in your head. Letting the mind wander can be dangerous as it can result in negative chatter.

The session recreates a good performance. If you are a tennis player, for example, picture yourself at your match. Imagine the desired outcome and play scenes in your head, like a movie, of you performing your best.

It incorporates more than just visuals. A golfer, for example, should imagine the smell of the grass and the chatter of the crowd. Feel the sun beating down on your back and hear the sound of the club hitting the ball. The more sensory components you add, the more real the visualization.

It incorporates different situations. Throw in different scenarios that you might encounter and imagine the best possible way you could react to them. Imagine you are losing but are able to turn things around. Imagine distractions that you are able to tune out.

Today's athletes must not only be physically trained to win, they must have mental skill as well. Visualization and imagery training can give an athlete the extra edge they need.

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.