Training for the Olympic Games involves developing both physical and mental skills such as imagery. Creating vivid images that stimulate senses of sight, sound, touch and taste is an important and powerful mental skill for athletes who experience challenges during training and competition.
Imagery can involve mental pictures or a film in action featuring an event or activity without performing physical movement. The activity takes place in one’s mind but with the full engagement of other senses.
How imagery works
In this type of simulation, the athlete visualises himself as performing a skill or participating in a competition such as the Olympics. Every movement and every detail of the mental image is experienced through all senses without any physical activity. Through constant practice, the mental image or film creates muscle memory in the nervous and muscular systems as if the athlete had actually exerted real physical effort. The memory created enables the athlete to execute the visualised activity during actual competitions and performances.
Athlete’s visualisation perspective
Internal: In this perspective, the athlete observes the image through his, or her, own eyes as if he, or she, actually performed the activity.
Tip: While practising imagery, you must feel the movements and use all other senses to obtain a complete experience in the present.
Benefits of imagery
Athletes who possess good visualisation skills can:
- Improve athletic performance
- Provide continuous practice of physical skills during periods when it is not possible for the athlete to train because of illness, fatigue, and other constraints
- Boost self-confidence as a result of regular mental practice
- Increase energy levels through visualisation of energetic activity and effortless performance
- Induce calm and relaxation by visualising a peaceful and tranquil place when feeling stressed or nervous
- Minimise sleep difficulty by visualising a place of relaxation.
Tips for using imagery in sports
- Practise visualisation regularly. Repetition drives the image into your memory.
- Relax before imagery.
- Use all senses during imagery. Engage all your senses as you visualise an event, performance or occasion.
- Turn to imagery for training and competition whenever it is not possible to physically train due to poor weather, injury and other problems commonly affecting Winter Olympics’ athletes.
- Visualise yourself as a successful athlete who is in control of performance.
Imagery is best used as part of training and preparation for the Olympics. Not all athletes are able to utilise this visualisation technique properly and may need the professional guidance of a sports psychologist or mind coach. Beyond the Olympic Games, imagery can also be used in non-sports related situations such as a tool for relaxation and stress reduction, goal setting and achievement.