Imagining Your Way to SuccessAugust 24, 2021
Are you an athlete and recently sustained an injury? Are you worried that during your injury you will get rusty and your skill will decrease? If so, you are not alone. One of the most frustrating things about getting injured as an athlete is your inability to train and practice. However, being injured gives us a pause to assess our strengths and weaknesses. It gives us an opportunity to work on the mental side of the game.
Why Use Mental Imagery?
What makes a great athlete is not just physical prowess, but also mental sharpness. A great athlete has the ability to focus, to stay locked in, to predict what is going to happen before anyone else does, and to stay calm with pressure. A powerful way to train your mind is not simply through playing, but the use of imagery.
There are two ways to practice this: motor imagery and action observation. These can be performed independently or together. There have been several interesting studies that have been conducted that have shown that performing motor imagery and action observation improved skill-based tasks performance (1).
Two Types of Mental Imagery: Motor Imagery & Action Observation
When performing motor imagery at home, sit or lay down in a quiet room. Then, close your eyes and imagine yourself performing a task that you would like to improve.
For example, imagine taking a penalty kick in soccer. Start with imagining yourself at the penalty spot, you are looking at the goal, the goalkeeper is shifting their weight side to side in the goal. Next, imagine yourself stepping back to the normal number of steps that you would take, feel your legs moving, your arms swinging as you step back. Then, continue to focus on the way that your body feels as you run up and kick the ball past the goalkeeper into the back of the net.
The first time you perform imagery starts with the basics that you can easily imagine. As you continue to practice, begin to add in layers to make the image more vivid. Add in the sights, smells, your heartbeat, breath, tactile sensations, emotions, and your limb position. By making it more vivid you will have a stronger response and an even greater carryover to real life.
Performing action observation at home can allow you to not only refresh on skills that you already have but to learn new motor skills as well.
The best way to do this is to watch someone perform the skill that you would like to practice. For example, you can watch a video of someone performing a penalty kick, focus on the way that they move, the contact they make on the ball, the positioning of the goalkeeper. As with motor imagery the more details that you can focus on the better your carryover to performing the task yourself will be. With this technique, you can also add mental imagery to make it even more effective.
Eaves, D. L., Riach, M., Holmes, P. S., & Wright, D. J. (2016). Motor Imagery during Action Observation: A Brief Review of Evidence, Theory and Future Research Opportunities. Frontiers in neuroscience, 10, 514. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2016.00514