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Effectiveness of Imagery – Part 1

Athletes have not only been practicing physically, but they have also been doing mental rehearsals of past skills or experiences.  According to sports psychologist, Weinberg  mental practice has a longstanding tradition with sport and exercises psychologists, one form of this mental practice is imagery. Imagery - Fitness Fan UK BlogImagery has many different terms when talking in terms of an athletes mental preparation, including visualization, covert practice or symbolic rehearsal. All the terms mentioned, refer to creating or recreating an image in the mind, this maybe be done by recalling memory pieces of information of an experience together and shaping the collection of images into something meaningful through recall and the reconstruction of previous events. Imagery can be described as a form of stimulation where it is linked to the real sensory experience (the use of your five sensors), however the entire experience occurs in your mind. Vealey and Walter  define imagery as “using all the senses to recreate or create an experience in the mind.”

Imagery is a potent method of stress reduction, especially when combined with physical relaxation methods such as deep breathing . The principle behind the use of imagery in stress reduction is that you can use your imagination to recreate and enjoy a situation that is very relaxing. Sometimes we are not able to change our environment to manage stress, this may be the case where we do not have the power to change a situation, or where we are about to give an important performance . Imagery is a useful skill for relaxing in these situations. The more intensely you imagine the situation, the more relaxing the experience will be.

Sports coaches Orlick & Partington showed that imagery differentiates elite from non-elite athletes. However, elite athletes have to learn to control the imagery process as it become autonomous. Therefore imagery is a useful intervention when practicing performance, especially on skills that use a specific routine. For example, like a tennis serve or the process for triple jump athlete.  Further research from Mahoney & Avener distinguished between the different perspectives of internal and external imagery, where the external process involves viewing through the eyes of an observer, and internal is imagining it themselves. Internal imagery helps the concepts of the perceptual and kinaesthetic experience of actual performance, and for this maybe a reason is why it has used more by athletes. However, further literature states that many sports performers use a combination of both  Differences in internal and external imagery often not accounted for in research (White & Hardy, 1995).

Research also mentions the Symbolic Learning Theory, which principally is a coding system that helps athletes understand and acquire movement patterns claims Sackett, a pioneering pyschologist. This theory has helped psychologists in sport understand that mental rehearsal is important for new skill acquisition. However, in 1975, Richardson showed that imagery is most useful when athletes are familiar with the task. Which makes senses as how can you image something until you know what to image.

It is believed that precise timing in an important factor in sporting context, making sure the use of imagery is used for a particular skill. There is a higher success rate when using real time speed, rather than either slowing or speeding down the process of a skill . However, imagery appears to show benefits at varying speeds. Although this may be the case, researchers have failed to understand what speed is the most effective to provide good results. Therefore this makes it hard for an effective imagery script to be made. If the coach get an understanding for the athlete to see which timing technique best suits them to action imagery, until further research shows otherwise what pace to use.