Posts Tagged ‘visualisation’

Using Imagery for Olympic Games Success

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014


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.

Using Imagery in Sports Performance

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013


Mental Skills of Sports PerformanceTop athletes can experience mental blocks which hamper sports performance, often in technical sports such as diving. Mental blocks can arise in the high-pressure environment of sports competitions where large crowds, constant and close media scrutiny, and seeing the performance of rivals can raise anxiety levels and increase pressure.

Some athletes thrive under pressure, performing at their best and even breaking records. Others may underperform due to pressure and other distractions. Managing mental blocks is vital during high-profile events such as the Olympics and sports psychologists can help athletes through techniques such as imagery.

What causes mental blocks?

Bad experience: A well-learned skill is the result of long periods of training and practice and is executed automatically with very little conscious thought – just like walking or dancing. A previous experience that resulted in failure can lead to overthinking a well-learned skill as the athlete reviews the causes of failure.

Anxiety: Anxiety can be a mental block when it interferes with automatic processes perfected through constant practice or use. An athlete can experience anxiety about his ability to perform a skill quite well. Anxiety can also lead to conscious effort, blocking autonomous performance as the athlete tries to avoid making mistakes and turning the athlete’s fears into a reality.

What is imagery?

Sports psychology is based on the underlying principle that mental discipline is as important as physical training in sports competition. In the Olympics, where participants are a chosen elite whose physical skills and training are almost the same, the mental strength of an athlete can spell the difference between a winner.

Specific strategies during training and competition can promote calm, focus, concentration, discipline, confidence and physical expertise. An effective sports strategy involves imagery where the athlete plays a mental film of playing a game, performing in an event and overcoming challenges.

Many athletes who participate in the Olympics conjure clear images of swimming laps, running around a track effortlessly or sinking a putt. With constant mental rehearsal of a problematic move, a previously learned skill is reinforced and its autonomy is restored. Similarly, imagery can help rebuild confidence that may have been lost due to a previous bad experience.

Imagery can be used together with other psychological factors such as motivation, mindset, and positive self-talk to boost sporting performance.

A mind coach specialising in sports psychology can walk athletes through visualisation, teach them how to visualise before an event or competition, handle stress and immense pressure during competition, practise being in the moment without overthinking every move and other mental strategies for superior performance.


How Elite Athletes Develop Concentration Skills

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Developing Concentration Skills

The ability to focus the mind entirely on the right cues at the right times during competition is crucial to peak performance.

During competition, concentration can be especially difficult due to various internal and external distractions. Developing advanced concentration skills and managing internal distractions can help elite athletes focus and produce their best performance, or the performance required to win in events.

Types of distractions

Distractions are internal and external factors that can potentially reduce or disrupt concentration. Internally generated distractions such as thoughts, worries and concerns can take over the minds athletes and prevent them from concentrating on the right cues at the right times, leading to failure.

Sources of distraction can be:

  • Thoughts that dwell on past performances
  • Thoughts that obsess on future results, outcomes and consequences
  • Negative self-talk
  • High arousal and anxiety levels which can narrow attention and decrease the athlete’s ability to scan the environment
  • Fatigue

External sources of distraction are those that surround the athlete during performance or competition, potentially affecting concentration. These include visual, auditory and gamesmanship factors.

Visual distraction:

  • spectators
  • camera
  • scoreboard
  • competitors

Auditory distraction: are the sounds of mobile phones, and people talking, shouting, laughing, and cheering.

Gamesmanship distraction: trash-talk

Strategies for improving concentration

Concentration and attention form part of mental strength and are aspects that can be developed and improved through a combination of sport and non-sport related strategies. These include:

Simulation training: This approach teaches an athlete how to manage specific distractions during competition by incorporating them during training.

Cue words: Mind coaches assign keywords and phrases that are used to prompt athletes on things they need to focus on and get back to the present.

Positive self-talk: This strategy deals with internal distraction coming from negative self-talk. Positive affirmations are used to keep negative thoughts away.

Switch On and Off: When elite athletes can “switch on” at a specific point, and learns how to direct focus and attention entirely to the given point. On the other hand, an athlete will “switch off” by shifting his attention to non-performance matters. This approach helps develop attention control that is crucial during competition.

Parking thoughts: “Parking” is used to set aside distracting thoughts to a later time by using visualisation techniques or positive self-talk which shelves the troublesome thought elsewhere in a secure and non-distracting location until after the performance.

“Here and Now”: Athletes are taught to view the present as the only timeframe that they can control unlike thoughts of the past and future. The goal of this strategy is to develop the athlete’s ability to focus on the present.

Developing concentration skills is not always easy. Athletes who wish to excel in their game may need the professional services of a sports psychologist or mind coach who can assess their psychological needs and create the best mind strategies for them.


Mental Preparation of Athletes, Demystified – Part II

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

In Part II we delve deep inside The Preparation Funnel to bridge the gap between knowing you need to do something and doing the something you know you need.

Mental Preparation for Athletes

Competition Day Formats

In the previous Article we looked at the significance of consistent action in creating sustainable behavioural change – with recognising ’the difference between knowing you need to do something and doing the something you know you need’ as an area of performance some athletes and coaches can, at times, struggle with.

We identified some of the more common performance issues such as anxiety, nerves, self-doubt and unpredictability of core skills that athletes face around competition time. And we ascertained these were probably internally created and fed by our own unchecked and somewhat wild imagination and sensitive emotions.

We looked at an effective and practical approach to managing this issue with the application of a preparation funnel. 

We then delved into the first phase of the 2 part funnel: The 7to2 Process, a process which creates positive momentum by actively crafting an abundant environment of success, enabling athletes to actively hone their focus and reward their achievements.

And if you do nothing more than the 7to2 Process, you have already increased your prospects of getting to competition day in a more stable and productive state of mind.

However, as an elite athlete, we want more. So the real magic occurs when we deploy the second part of the preparation funnel, when all this preparation can be brought together …

Competition Day Formats

Now by knowing what you know and doing what you do, you are already more efficiently primed for sustainable performance. So how do we maximise on this on competition day?

Again this is all about managing our emotions and controlling our imagination – it all starts long before you get to the competition venue. You wake up and follow your pre-game structure, knowing what you will do and how you will do it in the lead up to competing. This enables you to take full advantage of your internal rewards system and control your emotions. It adds a sense of familiarity to your day and puts you back in the driver seat.

Visualisation: One of the key techniques we teach athletes within the Competition Day Format includes a powerful visualisation exercise, which involves an athlete visiting the venue the day before competing to familiarise them with the layout and idiosyncrasies, before crafting a detailed performance plan to then visualise this in a very structured and precise format.

Switching On: Part of this process also ensures athletes identify where and when the ‘athlete mode’ is switched on with precision.

The concept of mentally switching an athlete on and off is all about maintaining optimum quality. If an athlete (as many do) believe they are in ‘athlete mode’ 24/7 then there is no differentiation between idle and throttle, between focused and relaxed or between preparing and performing – and this is unsustainable for long periods of time.

To avoid burnout, understand there needs to be a switching phase that enables an athlete to be highly focused, precise and concentrated when it matters rather than diluted by time.

This switching process is specifically designed to enable an athlete to be 100% on task and not have distractions, to be on the job when it counts.

It also provides a ‘physical’ trigger to an emotional state, mentally stepping up the level of intensity and precision.

It should also be a key part of the training preparation too, because we know if we train like we want to compete then we have an active NPR (neurological point of reference), so training your brain and emotions to switch into athlete mode when needed and off when not prepares athletes for competition day by creating an effective blueprint as well as maintaining physical and emotional levels of fatigue…

The Trigger: So once we have actively identified the key differences between the person and the athlete and the benefits and emotional signatures that go with each identity, a switching point can now be created (normally the entrance to the venue) and we build a specific and personalised trigger that is anchored and actioned.

Then we can move on to athlete tasks…

Athlete Tasks

These are the key tasks, such as pre-competition preparation; warming up; assessing and visualisation; and mentally focusing. When switched into athlete mode we see things differently. We can see them from a more relevant perspective as our athlete filter is activated. We get a feel for the now, being ‘the athlete’ gives your mind permission to be centric, focused on you and your needs in the context of the event.

And as with the 7to2 Process, we have a set of tasks that need to be completed before you set foot on the pitch, mat, track or ice and by identifying them and structuring them in such a way that encourages mini-successes, in turn releasing serotonin into our system which makes us feel great, motivated and in control!

But hold on there one minute – there is one more step we have not competed yet…

There is a missing link to this highly structured, highly crafted emotional manipulation that is designed for success…

And that is the PERFORMANCE! The end objective – the reason!

The whole way through this preparation funnel: the 7to2 Process and Competition Day Format we have been filtering down to that last step, that one performance… and so what action do we initiate to move efficiently into that end step?

We move our consciousness up another notch, becoming even more focused, more emotionally centered and more in control – and we do this by going from the switched on athlete who is in fine-tune preparation mode to the pure athlete – the 100% performance focused, in the moment, in the ‘system’ athlete – an ultra athlete if you like.

This is initiated by again identifying what does the pure athlete have that the general switched on athlete doesn’t, what is needed to perform at the ultimate state?

The pure athlete transcends to a new level of focus, clarity and perspective – whatever it is for you it is this next intrinsic level that produces the sparkle, brings out the stand out performance and enables you to replicate it.

We craft a second trigger point, maybe stepping up to the line, standing on the blocks, at the crease or placing the blade on the ice!

At this stage there is nothing else, no distractions, no unproductive thoughts, no destructive emotions – it’s just you and the performance!

And once you have performed as a champion, unpack the athlete and switch down a gear to athlete and then to you as the non athlete (your Clark Kent).

What we have just moved through is a highly structured template which produces a replicable, effective and efficient performance every time.

So the next time you are faced with a competition build up and the outcome is important to you – ask yourself have YOU done everything you could have done in order to be the champion you know you can be?

And if you haven’t done the preparation funnel, check in with your emotions (and serotonin levels) to see if that calming feeling that all that could be done, has been done is present in your body.

If not, begin again at the top and start ticking!