The aim of this page is to help you develop your imagery (visualisation) skills. We will look at the elements of imagery development and the creation of scripts to help in developing your imagery skills.
The five main categories of imagery have been identified as follows:
- Motivational-specific (MS) - This involves seeing yourself winning an event, receiving a trophy or medal and being congratulated by other athletes. MS imagery may boost motivation and effort during training and facilitate goal-setting, but is unlikely on its own to lead directly to performance benefits
- Motivational general-mastery (MG-M) - This is based on seeing yourself coping in difficult circumstances and mastering challenging situations. It might include maintaining a positive focus while behind, and then coming back to win. MG-M imagery appears to be important in developing expectations of success and self-confidence
- Motivational general-arousal (MG-A) - This is imagery that reflects feelings of relaxation, stress, anxiety or arousal in relation to sports competitions. There is good evidence to suggest that MG-A imagery can influence heart rate - one index of arousal - and can be employed as a 'psych-up' strategy
- Cognitive specific (CS) - This involves seeing yourself perform specific skills, such as a tennis serve, golf putt or triple-toe-loop in figure skating. If learning and performance are the desired outcomes, evidence suggests that CS imagery will be the most effective choice
- Cognitive general (CG) - This involves images of strategy and game plans related to a competitive event. Examples could include employing a serve-and-volley strategy in tennis or a quick-break play in basketball.
Where do I start?
To be effective, like any skill, imagery needs to be developed and practiced regularly. There are four elements to mental imagery - Relaxation, Realism, Regularity and Reinforcement (the 4Rs)
Having a relaxed mind and body so you can become involved in the imagery exercises, feel your body moving and experience any emotions generated. It may help to use a relaxation technique prior to imagery training.
Create imagery so realistic you believe you are actually executing the skill. In order to obtain the most realistic imagery possible, you must incorporate clarity, vividness, emotion, control and a positive outcome into your imagery:
- Clarity - Make the images as vivid as possible, include colour.
- Vividness - Incorporate as many of your senses as possible into your imagery so the scene is as clear and realistic as real life itself.
- Emotion - Try to include emotional feelings in your images. Refresh your memory constantly by emphasising specific sensory awareness (e.g. smells, the wind) during training.
- Control - break down the image into small components and visualise those components. (Sprinting - consider the action of the arms, legs, trunk, head, feet, hands, breathing etc.)
- Positive outcome - This is essential, "you only achieve what you believe".
Spending between 3 and 5 minutes on imagery seems to be most effective. It should be included in training and time outside of training should also be spent on imagery. (10-15 minutes a day)
The writing of imagery scripts will help you plan the content and timing of your imagery training.
Creating a Script
Outline the basic content of the act or situation to be imagined - write it in the first person (I). To describe a skill execution, make sure you include all components of the skill to be imagined or behaviours to be emphasised, especially if it is a complex skill. If you are describing the events in a sport situation, include all actions that occur in the event and the correct sequencing of all the actions.
Add the sensory stimuli - the descriptors (adjectives) that add colour, detail (e.g. context, weather) and movement qualities (e.g. speed of movement) to the original script components or events.
Add the movement or kinesthetic feelings, physiological or body responses, and the emotional responses. The words that are added are action words such as verbs and adverbs that clearly describe the quality of actions or emotions.
Refine the script
Read it to yourself and try to imagine the event in all its sensory, action and emotional detail. Do you feel as if you are actually executing the skill or experiencing the event? If not, re- examine the descriptors and action words to see if they accurately reflect the sensations associated with this action.
When you have a suitable script then record it on to audiotape and you can then use it as a prompt for your imagery training.
Example - Tennis Serve
Basic Story - Components: Preparation, Ball toss, Impact, Recovery, Ball flight and landing in service box
Adding detail - Seeing the racket in the hand, the bright yellow ball rebounding against the green court as you bounce it in preparation, seeing the position of the opponent, looking at the point on the court where you will direct the serve. Feeling the relaxed shoulders and hands, the racket grip in the hand, seeing the bright yellow ball nestled on the fingers in the hand, feeling the smooth release of the ball at the arm's full stretch, feeling the body weight shift, the knees bend, the body rising upward as the knees extend, feeling the power in the body, the racket head accelerate, the wrist snap, the sound of the racket making contact with the hall, watching the ball swerve and land in the centre corner of the green service box and kick away for a clean ace. Feel the exhilaration and pleasure.
Refine the script - Rewrite the script until when you read it, you feel as if you are executing the serve.
In designing your imagery program apply the FITT principals, as we do with physical training
- F is for Frequency - Aim to incorporate imagery into every day of your training schedule. For busy people, just before you sleep could be a good time, and it helps if you are in a relaxed and tranquil state
- I is for Intensity - Try to create an all-sensory experience that is as vivid and clear as possible. Initially, practising in a quiet environment can help to minimise distractions and facilitate clear images
- T is for Time - Imagery should make big demands on your attention, so short (5-10 minutes) frequent quality sessions are preferable to long ones
- T is for Type - Remember to decide on your desired outcome and select the type of imagery to match it.