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Seeing, Feeling & Believing as an Athlete

For athletes, the phrase "seeing and feeling is believing" sums up the importance of using mental skills training. The images we create, store, and focus on everyday guide how we see ourselves, which in turn, shapes our behavior and performance outcomes (Vealey, 2005.) Physical relaxation is the simplest form of imagery that helps athletes unwind during different phases of competition (Vealey, 2005). Imagery and physical relaxation often work in tandem to enhance sport performance. Examining both practices provides valuable information for athletes on why applying these skills enhances their mental and physical abilities.

Imagery helps athletes to train so they think in positive and productive ways in relation to their performance. Using imagery to perform a specific skill repetitively in the mind is called mental practice (Vealey, 2005). Improvement in skills such as shooting a basketball or serving in tennis have been linked to imagery exercises. Athletes picture themselves performing the action as if they were looking through a camera lens or as a spectator (Vealey, 2005). Different angles provide needed perspective used in assessing and internalizing physical requirements of each activity. While visualizing the application of these specific skills, athletes can also tense and release the muscles needed to perform the task utilizing physical relaxation to enhance the mental training experience. Imagery is an excellent alternative to repetitive physical training as the human body can only endure so much before becoming vulnerable to injury (Vealey, 2005). Using mental practice as a supplement during off training times gives athletes a mental edge over other competitors. These techniques augment physical training and create clear mental maps that lead toward automatic skill execution.

Using imagery and physical relaxation immediately before competition has also shown to produce positive performance outcomes (Vealey, 2005). Improvements in strength, endurance and specialized skills have been reported through the use of pre-planned imagery and physical relaxation. Athletes who feel loose and focused going into the start of sport participation often perform at their peak. Depending on the needs and personality of the athlete, mental exercises may be used to produce feelings of arousal or calmness prior to competition (Vealey, 2005). Pre-performance routines for athletes often involve a planned sequence of thought and physical relaxation techniques. Some examples of imagery and physical relaxation skills that athletes use include imagining the muscles in their neck becoming more elastic and loose while they slowly rotate their heads to release tension (Vealey, 2005). A personal example that I use is shaking out each leg after I envision making a strong step around an opponent. The combination of the visualization and physical activity serves as a calming resource prior to the start of any sporting event. Sharing the importance of imagery and physical relaxation with the athletes I come in contact with is a priority for me as a coach. Visualization and relaxation is routine for the athletes I coach who grasp the importance of mental skills training. Athletes that embrace imagery and physical relaxation exercises enjoy participating and performing at their best.

Vealey, R. (2005). Coaching for the Inner Edge. Morgantown, VW: Fitness Information
Technologies.

-Katie Wurst

Imagery

Anyone that has played or coached knows that sport is a full body-mind experience, requiring complete mental and physical synchronization in order to execute skill at the highest level. Physical strength and skill are consistently trained and placed at the forefront of many coaching agendas, without much emphasis on mental skills training and development. As previously discussed in class, mental toughness and skill are just as critical to optimal performance as physical ability. The mental and physical aspects of sport not only coexist within athletic performance but each aspect greatly influences the other which highlights the necessity for developing both mental and physical skill with equal regard. The mental skill of imagery can be used to develop optimal performance skill and behavior. Understanding the concept of imagery and integrating it into regular sport training may enable athletes to perform at an even higher level of mental and physical ability.
According to Vealey (2005), imagery is the act of recreating an experience in the mind using all types of senses. In sport, it is a method of creating a mental guide through a sport performance or skill. Imagery allows an athlete to visualize a sport experience and to actually feel the potential emotional and physical reactions to the experience without doing the physical task. Imagery can be utilized by athletes at any level of sport and positively supplements the development and maintenance of sport skill and competitive performance.
In order for imagery to be effective in enhancing athletic performance, the athlete and coach must understand the technique and objectives of the process. Vealey (2005) explains that imagery is most beneficial when it is controlled and systematic. Athletes that can control their imagery have the capability of manipulating the images in order to highlight positive performance aspects and gain the greatest amount of self confidence in their actions (Vealey, 2005). It is the responsibility of the coach to integrate imagery within the training program in order to make it part of regular mental skills training and to encourage its automatic use among the athletes. Like all mental skills, imagery is most effective when it is regarded as a "normal" activity; this will alleviate any undue stress surrounding its use so as to not hinder the performance or self-confidence of the athlete. With regular use, athletes can develop more refined, vivid imagery skills that utilize multiple senses, including kinesthetic sense, which are essential to the most accurate recreation or creation of a skill or performance. Athletes should also be encouraged to incorporate internal and external image perspectives (Vealey, 2005) throughout their imagery training in order to broaden the mental experience of their sport performance.
In accordance with the symbolic learning theory, athletes are able to harness and refine movement patterns through the process of mental coding (Vealey, 2005). Imagery allows athletes to practice skill and competitive performance outside the physical domain of sport and facilitates greater positive thinking and appropriate emotional reactions to the obstacles of competition. Athletes are better prepared to constructively respond to the actual sport events, both expected and unexpected, when they have developed the mental ability to visualize the task and control their physical and emotional response. Imagery is a way for athletes to correct mistakes and practice perfection in order to increase the likelihood of consistent, positive performance. The integration of mental skills training within sport not only enhances mental toughness but fosters greater self awareness and emotional control among athletes which are essential to safe, high level physical performance.
-Dani Benson

Vealey, R. (2005). Coaching for the inner edge. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology

Imagining means Relaxing

Physical relaxation and imagery are things that occur in our lives on a near daily basis. We all have our own way with dealing with the stressors that occur in our lives. Whenever I get stressed out, I always take a little moment to close my eyes and imagine myself doing all of the fun things that I get to do as soon as my work is complete. In sports, being able to relax yourself mentally and physically are important steps in preparing for game day. Vealey says that when a player can control his or her mental imagery, it can increase their physical relaxation enhance their playing ability by being able to see themselves completing a task that they or she needs to do. (Vealey, 2005).

Developing imagery skills when an athlete is young is a great way for an athlete to build up their mental ability to play sports. The longer that someone systematically practices imagery skills, the better they will be when they are placed in these types of situations. This is something that coaches can teach their athletes to do to help them build up self-confidence amongst themselves. When you picture yourself doing something, you feel more confident in your ability to perform that task (Vealey, 2005). Make sure, as a coach, that when you begin to instill the knowledge of imagery within the minds of your athletes, that you only supply them with positive thoughts. Always have them picture them succeeding in the task that they are trying to do and that there are no feelings of self doubt or inadequacy in their abilities. Learning how to think of yourself in a positive light is the first step to becoming a productive mental athlete.

The thing that goes along with mental imagery is physical relaxation. When athletes are practicing their mental imagery skills, they are often in a relaxing state of mind and body (Vealey, 2005). They are allowing their bodies to relax and release the tension and calm their nerves that sports cause them. Physical relaxation can also come by way of controlling breathing patterns and muscle contractions. By controlling these usually involuntary actions, it creates a feeling of calm and control within the athlete and research has proven that it can control their heart rate and body stressors, thus causing physical relaxation.

Some athletes may argue that too much thinking about their role as an athlete may damage their psyche and cause them to feel more nervous about what they have to do in their sport. This is a valid concern as some athletes do succumb to a form of nervousness. One of the classic terms that I can think of for this is something called the "yips'. The "yips" are what athletes claim to have contracted when they seem to not perform even the simplest task correctly while playing. The best example that I can think of for this is Chuck Knoblauch, former second baseman for the Minnesota Twins. He was an outstanding fielder in the early part of his career, but after gaining recognition for his playing ability, he began to make errant throws on the easiest of plays and couldn't understand why these things were happening. It was later revealed that he was too busy worrying about not throwing over someone's head and not thinking about how he usually throws. When negative images are thought of before performing a task, this creates a sliver of fear and nervousness in the athlete and makes them lose focus on what they know they can do (Vealey, 2005). This is why coaches need to only encourage positive imagery thoughts and never mention the negative ones.

When it comes to practicing physical ability, practice makes perfect. The same rules apply when practicing your mental skills as well. Athletes that are mentally prepared, and at the same time physically relaxed, can imagine themselves achieving goals and are more likely to obtain them then those who have not practiced mental imagery. Everybody relaxes differently and it is up to the coaches and athletes to try and figure out what they can do to become a better, mentally prepared athlete.

Works Cited
Vealey, R. (2005). Coaching for the Inner Edge. Morgantown, VW: Fitness Information Technologies.

Imagery and Physical Relaxation

Mental training is just like any other type of training, it takes practice and imagery and physical relaxation are two great tools to use as part of mental training as an athlete. Imagery is a form of mental practice and although it's not necessarily better than physical practice it can still be a significant benefit in training and is definitely better than no type of practice at all. Imagery is important because it shapes how we see ourselves and causes us to act the way we do based on those images. Vealey (2005) states "imagery may be defined as using all the sense to recreate or create an experience in the mind" (p. 178). By being able to recreate or create new experiences athletes are able to practice sport skills without physically doing them. Anyone can imagine things, but the key is to use imagery in a controlled fashion to learn from previous mistakes and to train us the correct way to respond in the future. Images can include using a variety of senses such as visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile and kinesthetic. The more senses you are able to use during imagery the more effective it will be at improving your performance based on creating or recreating those experiences.

Self-talk is similar to imagery in that you are mentally training yourself to think positively and improve what you are already physically doing. Being able to control what you are thinking and imagining is very important in using imagery effectively. And by using triggers or self-talk you can teach yourself to consistently improve past performances that may have been negative and imagine yourself in those same situations, but cue yourself as you play it back in your mind to do things differently to produce a more positive and successful outcome.

Athletes can use different types of perspectives during their imagery. Some use external imagery where they are viewing themselves from the outside looking in, while others may use internal imagery as if they are imaging the situations like they are actually there and viewing it through their own eyes. Using both perspective techniques will enhance an athletes' imagery experience, but they should also remember to always use the method that seems to work best for them.

According to Vealey (2005) "research has also shown that using imagery immediately before performance can help athletes perform better" (p. 183). Most people have some sort of pre-game ritual that could involve anything from listening to music, being by themselves, eating the same foods, etc. and imagery can be used in addition to those pre-performance routines as part of physical relaxation to prepare for an upcoming game. The imagery in a pre-performance routine should be preplanned and will help the athlete imagine how they want to play. Part of creating that mental toughness before a game is remembering to focus on the things you can control and always respond to the situation not react to it.

Physical relaxation can also be extremely helpful in a pre-performance setting. "Physical relaxation, as a mental training tool, is about willfully controlling bodily functions such as muscular tension, breathing, and heart rate to induce a more relaxed physical state of being" (Vealey, p. 226, 2005). Combined with forms of P3 Thinking and imagery physical relaxation can help calm an athlete down who may have pre-performance jitters. Athletes can work on different breathing techniques such as controlled breathing, power breathing and a quick power breath. They can also work on controlling muscular tension with tense-release methods that will help them be more aware of when they are starting to tense up, where and how to control it and prevent it. By using physical relaxation techniques athletes are able to conserve more energy for the actual competition and "peak performances usually occur in sport when athletes feel loose and relaxed while extending themselves toward full exertion" (Vealey, p. 227, 2005).

Imagery and physical relaxation techniques have many positive aspects to them, but they can also hurt athletes' performance if not used correctly. Athletes should try to avoid focusing on the wrong images at the wrong times. Coaches can help be refraining from negative coaching which can sometimes cause athletes to over think. Imagery and physical relaxation should also be a natural part of the athletes' overall training. It should not be introduced for special occasions and it should never be anything that you as a coach have not tried for yourself.

Works Cited
Vealey, R. S. (2005). Coaching for the Inner Edge. Morgantown, VW: Fitness Information Technologies

Christina Gilbert

Imagery and Physical Relaxation

Imagery and physical relaxation are two valuable, and, best of all, free tools to both coaches and athletes that can enhance athletic performance if used correctly. According to Vealey, imagery is defined as, "using all the senses to recreate or create an experience in the mind." Research has shown that when individuals engage in vivid imagery, their brains relate these images as identical to the external stimulus (Vealey, pg. 178, 2005). I think what is important for coaches and athletes to remember is that the most effective way to use imagery is to involve all the senses, and that the kinesthetic sense is one of the most vital. Imagery helps an athlete's performance in that it provides a mental blueprint to the athlete. If an athlete can picture a performance or competition before it actually occurs, it makes it easier for them to recreate and familiarize more easily with the event when it actually comes time to perform. It is a good idea for athletes to imagine intense and perfect behavioral, mental, and physiological responses to various competitive challenges (Vealey, pg. 186, 2005).

From a coach's perspective, imagery is a great tool to be used on a regular basis. It should be considered as a component to the athlete's regular training regimen. Vealey notes that the important part about incorporating imagery into your coaching philosophy is to be consistent with it. The athletes should not see it as being something extra, special, or optional. (Vealey, pg. 188, 2005). Also, as we talked about in class, there is going to be little to no benefit in having a sudden 'mental prep session' for the first time immediately prior to a big game or competition. Imagery is something that needs to be habitual and practiced in order for the full effect to be seen.

When it comes to competition, everyone knows that stress comes in two ways; mentally and physically. It is arguable on which can cause more harm if at a maximum stress level, but I would argue that the effects of mental stress have a much higher impact than the effects of physical stress. Just about every coach I've ever had has mentioned the negative effects that mental stress can create if you do not keep a handle on your mentality as an athlete. This is where physical relaxation comes into play. Physical relaxation is defined as, "willfully controlling bodily functions such as muscular tension, breathing, and heart rate to induce a more relaxed physical state of being" (Vealey, pg. 226, 2005). According to Vealey, there are four important components that tie into physical relaxation; imagery, self-talk, Power Breathing, and conscious muscle control.

Self-talk is something that I never really had experience with as an athlete in high school. I always had words and thoughts flowing through my head but I don't recall ever talking aloud to myself. However, Vealey claims that saying words or phrases aloud to yourself helps to program and relax your body. This whole concept about self talk is really interesting to me because I am curious as to how much of a greater impact it would have by actually saying the words aloud to yourself in contrast to just thinking the thoughts in your head.

The section on Power Breathing was one that I was quite a bit more familiar with. Being a distance runner, I have a base of knowledge about the importance of using a breathing 'rhythm' to your advantage and how the ways in which you control your breathing can greatly affect your performance. I think a lot of athletes and even coaches lack the specific knowledge that goes along with Power Breathing and I think they do not realize how much breathing has an impact. Vealey says that breathing reduces the level of CO2 in the bloodstream, which in turn causes blood vessels to constrict. The constricting of the blood vessels leads to light headedness, anxiety, tension, etc. Power Breathing is something that can be taught/learned very easily, so it is a great option for coach's who are looking to enhance their athlete's performance.

Towards the end of chapter 11, Vealey goes in depth on the topic of conscious muscle control. I like the point that she makes about how a lot of coaches out there lack confidence when it comes to putting their teams through physical relaxation exercises. I think it's because a lot of coaches are worried that because it's something that athletes often times aren't used to, that their athletes aren't going to buy into the theory of the exercise and are going to think it's a waste of their time. However, Vealey mentions how it's always a good idea to practice the exercises yourself before you have your athletes do them.

In high school I could always see such a huge difference between my cross country and track coach in contrast to my basketball coach. My cross country and track coach was big on the mentality part of the sport and spent a ton of time doing imagery and physical relaxation related exercises, touching on a lot of the keep points that Vealey discusses in chapters 9 and 11. My basketball coach on the other hand saw these components of the sport to be not worth the time when you could be working on your physical conditioning and skills. He wasn't big on the imagery or physical relaxation aspects of the game and it is interesting because his teams over the last 15 years are always successful, but when a conference championship or a regional or sectional championship are on the line, his teams always lose the big games within the last 3-4 minutes of the game and I am convinced that it is because he doesn't touch on the mental aspect of the game near enough. My distance coach however has had 3 athletes in the past 8 years who have been state champions, 2 of them winning a race at state in the last 100 meters. I am convinced that all the extra time and work that he put into getting his athletes mentally prepared and to have a vision before going to the starting line of every race is what guided them to achieve such great success.

Works Cited
Vealey, R. (2005). Coaching for the Inner Edge. Morgantown, VW: Fitness Information
Technologies.

Cory Graef

The Middle Ground

Competent individuals in the workplace ideally know how to do their job because they have been educated through school, on-the-job training, and experience. These factors are also true for competence in sports. This is because when one faces competition, pressure arises and mistakes will be made. Ideally, athletes and coaches learn from their mistakes. Athletes develop a different mindset after losing. They understand that they need to change themselves mentally and/or physically to acquire 'flow' (197). Overemphasis on one way to think is detrimental to the progress of the athlete. Athletes entering sports pre-collegiately are more susceptible to peer influence than older, experienced athletes. That is why it is important to ingrain athletes with mental strategies because their maturity is insufficient to guarantee that they make competent decisions.

Imagery is very important to introduce at a young age because, with a mental plan already set, the athlete will develop self-confidence. With visionary plans already mapped out, the athlete will enhance "goal choices, effort, persistence, cognitive efficiency, and emotional adaptiveness" (317). However, imagery also can bring an adverse effect where it enhances and embellishes pessimistic thoughts. That is where the coach is needed to redirect negative thinking. The coach can highlight the positives of losing or being injured (191). The coach can provide a mental map to becoming what the athlete once was or, even better, what he can become. Losing is important because it can motivate the athlete to improve. That is why imagery plays such vital role. If athletes are frustrated, often they will quit at young ages. Redirecting their focus with imaging techniques can help them stay with the sport and improve their performance. Since the millenials are young, the coach has to be clear as to how they can succeed to prevent them from quitting sport forever (CBS).

This is all accurate; however, one could argue that too much thinking, mental mapping, and imagery can actually injure the athlete's performance. To reach the level of an expert, the athlete has to perform the activity as an automatic process (264). If one thinks too much, mistakes can and will be made. This suggests that little or no thinking is necessary to perform well in sport. LaVoi suggests memorizing in terms of three. It could be phrases of how to compete the task, motivational phrases, or matters of ignorance (LaVoi). Whatever the case, the technique should work, because, like telephone numbers, the information to be learned is separated into groups of three in order to facilitate memorization. Vealey gives the example of sprinters who develop focus plans. Focus plans are plans on how to think, feel, and act during portions of a competition (259). Sprinters divide the race into three phases based on their technical needs: the first phase in which they focus on acceleration, the second where the athletes focus on maximum velocity, and the last phase where the athletes focus on speed endurance. The athletes have a plan on what to do for each phase and act accordingly because they need little thinking to perform well.

In conclusion, thinking too much and hardly thinking at all are detrimental to the athletes. Too much thinking can create somatic anxiety involving muscle jitteriness, nervousness, and, in more extreme cases, choking, where the performance of athletes is severely diminished (296). Encompassing a middle strategy, like thinking in threes, does not cause mental frustration because it does not require the young athlete to think much at all and helps him organize and focus his thoughts. Imagery helps, but it is important to introduce it and find means to make it simple.

-Sam Suber σ_σ

Mental is to Physical as 4 is to 1

"See the skill correctly, feel the skill correctly, quickly and correctly execute the skill to ad nauseam." My college basketball coach used this phrase many times. When we talked about this phrase in our program we most often referred to it in the physical execution of fundamental skills. This phrase is applicable not only in the physical context, but the mental context as well.

The first step in executing a skill correctly is to see the skill executed correctly. It is unreasonable to expect your athletes to execute a particular skill correctly if they have never seen the skill performed correctly. When youngsters attend basketball camp during the summer it is important they see a proper demonstration of fundamental skills before they begin to work on those skills. Athletes are able to imitate the action of others because their mind takes a picture of that skill which serves as a mental blue print for performance (Vealey, Ch 9). In order for the mental blueprint to be correct, the physical demonstration of the skill must be correct. As athletes begin to practice executing fundamental skills, they can play mental images of the proper demonstration to improve their technique.

The second step in executing a skill correctly is to feel the skill performed correctly. During this phase of skill execution it is important for the coach to correct the player's imitation of the skill. Coaches can guide athletes by using verbal triggers to help them focus on key aspects in an image to make the mental blueprint correct and the response perfect (Vealey, Ch 9). Verbal triggers can help the athlete make corrections of the imitation in their mind and athletes can transfer these mental corrections to physical corrections of the skill. Athletes can incorporate verbal triggers into their own self talk which helps induce physical relaxation in pressure situations (Vealey, Ch 11) by allowing them to concentrate on the execution of the skill.

The last step in executing a skill correctly is to repeat the imitation of the skill until the techniques are habitual and automatic. Physical repetition of a skill will help build muscle memory, and mental repetition of a skill will help make the movements of the skill more familiar and automatic. Elite athletes don't need to analyze or think about how to perform because their mental blue prints are highly refined for automated, skilled performances (Vealey, Ch 9). Athletes who can unconsciously perform skills at a competent level will separate themselves from those who must consciously think about their movements. The unconscious and competent level is reached by effectively using mental and physical repetition.

Practice makes perfect is a common cliché, but it is misleading. In order for practice to make perfect, the practice must be perfect. Therefore, a more appropriate phrase is "perfect practice makes perfect." In order for athletes to achieve perfect practice they must see the skill correctly, feel the skill correctly, and quickly and correctly execute the skill to ad nauseam.

Dan DeWitt

Imagery and Physical Relaxation

Physical relaxation and imagery occur naturally in our daily lives. We all dream, a habit qualified as imagery. We all can find ourselves in a relaxed state when we are sleeping, watching T.V, sitting on the porch in the morning drinking coffee, etc. But can we control when and how we get into a relaxed state when we are worked up, stressed, anxious, about to step to the starting line, etc. Also, can we control how we use imagery to meet a specific need? Vealey states that physical relaxation and imagery should be systematic and controlled to be considered mental training tools (Vealey, p. 180, 2005). Coaches can play an integral role in teaching imagery and physical relaxation skills. Based on my past experiences, I believe that the two most important roles a coach can play in relation to teaching these skills are communicating its effectiveness and eliminating misconceptions by teaching specific strategies that meet individual athlete's needs.
During my coaching interview, I asked a coach about his perspective on mental training. He stated that he feels imagery is "soft" and is not a priority of his time. He does not see the benefit of taking physical training time for lying down and visualizing. Many coaches, and also athletes, believe that imagery and physical relaxation activities are a waste of time and only applied in an inactive and meditative state. Additionally, some believe that imagery is "hoaky." Just as Dr. LaVoi modeled and joked about in class, mental training is not some superstitious wave of a wand activity. It actually requires intentional effort and persistent commitment to the development of mental skills; it is a process. First and foremost, both athlete and coach must believe in its effectiveness for such mental skills to help an athlete achieve his or her inner edge. If one believes the activity is pointless, naturally the Pygmalion effect will occur; the athlete will not engage fully in the imagery and will not imagine vivid images that include the behavioral, mental and physical responses required for effective responses according to the bio-informational theory, and consequently the athlete will not benefit from the experience, and finally he or she will not believe in its effectiveness (Vealey, 2005). Coaches and athletes must understand the role that imagery and physical relaxation play in their sport. They can be used in a variety of ways and should meet the specific need of individual athletes. For example, imagery can help develop mental skills including attentional focus and self confidence. Imagery can also be used for skill development, stress management and energy management.
Once a coach and athlete understand and believe that imagery can be effective, they must understand how to utilize and implement it. I believe if they understand how to use it effectively, misconceptions about its ineffectiveness and "hoakiness" will be reduced. They must acknowledge the foundational idea of symbolic learning and bio-informational theory, which states that imagery should be vivid and should included physiological, mental, and behavioral responses to situations in order to make responses automatic (Vealey, 2005). Automatic responses lead to the athlete's desire "flow." If coaches can help athletes practice specific constructive imagery and relaxation approaches, they can mitigate negative misconceptions about imagery. For example, imagery can prove ineffective, or even detrimental, when the imagery is negative or focuses on what not to do. If an athlete knows specific strategies for constructively using imagery or to relax such as using the power breath or visualizing perfect execution, they will not use imagery in a detrimental way, and negative experiences with imagery will be eliminated, or at least mitigated.
As a distance runner, I am often instructed by my coach to run through the race in my head, but not too many times. Consequently, when I think of imagery, I often think of "over-thinking." I am quick to assume that overthinking is a result of imagery and detrimental. If, however, I learn to do it systematically and with specific intentions, I will not need to deal with the fear of overthinking or overanalyzing my race.
Although imagery and relaxation strategies may be deemed unproductive by society, they have been proven to be successful by many researchers. A coach using GAP thinking, must take a risk, and try to implement these tools accurately and effectively to provide opportunities for athletes to develop their mental skills, which in turn will help them reach their "inner edge" (Vealey, 2005).

Works Cited
Vealey, R. (2005). Coaching for the Inner Edge. Morgantown, VW: Fitness Information
Technologies.

Elizabeth Yetzer