Effectiveness of Imagery – Part 2

Imagery - Fitness Fan Advice

While imagery aids elite athletes, this is also the case in novice and beginners when looking at imagery in a sporting context,  Read Part 1 here. It has been stated that it’s a very useful intervention for any athlete, despite their level. If athletes struggle to re-create an experince, this is because of poor teaching methods. A coach may teach an athlete a specific type of imagery to use in a specific environment, which may not be right for the individual and sport, and that one type of imagery may be used in all situations of an athlete’s sport because that is the only technique they know.

Salmon and Hall suggests that each athlete is different, just like our personalities and genetic make-up and therefore will have an individual response to particular imagery scripts. For this reason, sports psychologists must consider these individual responses and the nature of the situation before making a script, to gain the best possible results. By using the wrong imagery on an athlete or skill will directly affect a sporting performance.  It has been suggested that athletes will start associating it with negative thoughts and experiences.

Traditional imagery does not consistently enhance or influence performance.  It is believed that varied results are achieved by varied learning, in all levels of athletes. By practicing and perfecting a skill, leads to a poor resulting to poor mental image.  Literature explains that a poorly practiced technique leads to poor functional equivalence with insufficient stimuli for a mental trigger or note to be obtained to process a good selection of images to used, to help the effectiveness of imagery.

The PETTLEP approach developed by Holmes and Collins (2001) was used to enhance “functional equivalence” of imagery. P = Physical (control of somatic state), E = Environment (include multi-sensory environmental cues), T = Task (imagery must be task-specific), T = Timing (slow motion à real time), L = Learning (adapt image as skill develops), E = Emotion (include emotions within imagery) and P = Perspective (internal vs. external) to achieve optimal performance in sport. Research shows from Smith et al.,( 2007) that in order maintain a good performance they need to process the emotions and arousal associated with that particular performance, which has been described as the missing puzzle piece. In a sporting situation, such as a penalty kick in a finals match of football, emotional aspects include excitement, nerves, and memories of previous performances.

Imagery In SportThe PETTLEP approach implements emotions. This has a greater impact when recalling messages and images than traditional imagery. Research suggests that all imagery interventions should be composed to include similar characteristics of relevance to aid actual performance. By using emotions and our sensors of an imagery script it will allows athletes to recall past experiences no matter what the situation. Like creating a bubble for external forces and objects allowing athletes to focus on their desired skill or routine for that particular sporting event. In addition, the PETTLEP approach uses kinesthetic learning methods, which means individuals learn through the motions of a skill rather than it being explained.

Most people suffering from dyslexia or learning difficulties recall information best through this way of learning compared to the other methods. For example, somebody learning to triple jump would be to taught the right sequence of jumping movements by the coach doing them and then letting an athlete do the same, providing feedback.  Another example is a cyclist learning to corner at high speed, so by having the bike and gear, while doing the movement. Findings by Holms et al. support this by saying athletes should use equipment in practice, to recreate a clearer mental image. In order for an athlete to gain the best possible outcome, they should imagine the motion with no kinesthetic descriptions, but just allow memory to be triggered back to that particular skill rather than focusing on all the other details.

In conclusion, it is evident to see that the effectiveness of imagery can provide relaxation to athletes. This can be the case before or during match either at home or away. In addition, this stress relieving therapy can practiced anywhere by using memory to help performance. However, like self-hypnosis it can take some practice to master autonomous guided imagery. Despite its extensive use, there is no clear explanation as to why imagery may work. Since the mechanisms are not fully understood, care must be taken not to use imagery inappropriately, results in detrimental effects on performance. Finally literature of sport psychology interventions should be theoretically driven to the purpose of using that intervention.