Imagery or mental rehearsal refer to creating an experience in the mind of the athlete. So Imagery is a form of simulation and is similar to a real sensory experience but occurs entirety in the mind (Weinberg and Gould, 1999). Mental Rehearsal is about rehearsing your sport in your mind.

Imagery/Mental Rehearsal can be used to:

  • Improve concentration
  • Build confidence
  • Control emotional response
  • Acquire and practice skills
  • Acquire and practice strategy
  • Cope and recover with injury

As an athlete You want to aim for, and get into your image as many senses and feelings (positive and negative) as possible. The senses are vision, sound, smell, feel, and how your body feels when it completes an action. To improve your ability to mentally rehearse start by rehearsing something like peeling an orange or putting your feet into icy water or even better something familiar like your bedroom.
For example:
See your bedroom and its contents and where they are in relation to each other. Hear your favourite music playing from your iPod docking station, what other sounds are there and you can hear in the room? What does your room smell like? What does the carpet feel like on your feet? How do you feel when you are in your room?

Be aware of the different types of types of Imagery/Mental Rehearsal. They are:

  • Internal – imagining the execution of a skill from your own vantage point. Like Call of Duty on the Playstation.
  • External – perspective of an external observer. Like Grand Theft Auto on the Playstation.

Athletes switch between the 2 types so be aware of which you as an athlete prefer. What is more important is to get a good, clear, controllable image (more on this later).

Once you are comfortable with rehearsing something familar move onto sport specific rehearsing. Again get as many senses and feelings in there as possible. Make these senses and feelings realistic.

When you are comfortable in a sport specific image you need to work on the key elements of successful imagery. These are:

Make sure you use all the senses and feelings in there. A good way to think of this is to think of watching a 3D film. If you take the glasses off you get a blurry image. The image you create should be with your glasses on. Brilliant, clear, vivid. Work on recreating as closely as possible the event and if you are having problems go back to practicing on things that are familiar (like your bedroom).

Ensure the images do what you want them to. You want to work on controlling the rehearsal. Have fun with this. Can you make yourself superfast? Can you make the goalkeeper small and the net bigger? Play around with this. What works for you? Work on controlling image will ensure you see what you want to accomplish instead of seeing errors.

To mentally rehearse start by doing it for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes before you go to sleep. Ensure you are comfortable, relaxed and have no distractions. Once you have done this do it on the bus, in the car to training and slowly increase the time you spend doing it. Your body will think it is doing the skill and you might feel your muscles twitch. This is normal as you can β€˜lie’ to your body through mental rehearsal!