Do Your Athletes Know How to Make Visualization More Powerful?

By now most athletes have heard of visualization. Many have even tried it – picturing making the big play, winning the championship, or hitting a home run. Visualization is a powerful tool for optimizing an athlete’s performance. The problem is that most athlete’s visualizations are dull, quiet, and still. The most powerful visualization is vivid, dynamic, and immersive.

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Big League Visualization

Clayton Kershaw is the Los Angeles Dodger’s left-handed ace. He’s a six time All-Star and three time National League Cy Young Award winner who threw for 300 Ks in 2014.

As with any player, his dominance on the mound stems from how hard he works in practice. How has Kershaw achieved so much in only 8 seasons in the majors?

He gets more reps than other pitchers without the wear and tear on his body.

How does he do that? He uses visualization.

During the 2016 NLCS coverage on FS1, Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci called Kershaw’s visualization practice “shadow pitching,” akin to shadow boxing for the Mike Tysons of old.

Basically, Kershaw will hit the practice field or bullpen and pitch his game without ever throwing the ball.

Standing on the mound in shorts and a tank top, he takes the signs and pitches the game, going through his full pitching motion. Except the game is all in his mind.

Verducci said that Kershaw’s rhythm is do this twice between every start.

Turn Visualization into an Immersive Experience

Athletes who learn to turn their visualization into an immersive experience will reap the biggest returns. Coaches can help them do this by teaching their players the 4 core tenets of high powered visualization.

1. Perspective

Athletes can visualize themselves from two different perspectives. Think of perspective as if you’re playing a video game.

One perspective is that of a first-person shooter (i.e., seeing through your own eyes). The other is from a third-person perspective (i.e., seeing your body from an overhead or sideline view).

An athlete working on a specific motion or technique may benefit most from a third-person perspective. The first-person view may be best for visualizing well-developed skills prior to competition.

2. Multi-sensory

There’s a reason no one watches silent films anymore. Black and white TV has gone by the wayside. Virtual reality is the latest trend in entertainment because the more realistic the action, the better.

Consequently, the more senses athletes can incorporate into their visualizations, the better. Encourage players to include what they expect to smell, feel, hear, and taste, along with what they’ll see, in their visualizations to make them more real experiences.

3. Effort

When athletes practice and compete it takes focus, energy, and effort. Therefore, they need to integrate components of the competitive environment such as emotions, exertion, and muscular force into their visualizations.

For example, a defensive lineman could imagine how much force he will need attack a blocker. Or a pitcher may imagine the pressure he may feel with runners on in the bottom of the ninth in a one-run game.

4. Movement

Progressive coaches in the 1990s might have had their athletes lie down in the gym floor and imagine what it would be like to beat their rival or win a championship.

While that was a decent start, coaches can up their game by adding movement.

Like Clayton Kershaw, have athletes physically execute their sport skills while imagining the game-like situation in as much vivid detail and realism they can muster.

Mental Reps

I encourage coaches to plug visualization into practices. That is exactly what the Ohio State Buckeye’s football program has done.

On the practice field, athletes who are next to complete a drill mimic the player in front of them instead of just passively waiting their turn.

I don’t know if the Buckeyes use all of the 4 tenets above, but they definitely include movement. The mental rep player is basically doing the drill just without touching the ball or hitting a pad.

It’s an extra rep.

What if your players doubled their practice reps? They can by using visualization.

Bonus Download

To help you and your athletes turn visualization into an immersive experience, I created this free poster to help you keep these 4 core tenets in mind.

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Make Visualization an Immersive Experience

Incorporate visualization into the battle rhythms of your team. Show them how mental reps count for extra reps. Most importantly, encourage your athletes to use the four core tenets of high powered visualization. It will take some practice, but the more realistic, the better.

Question: Do you incorporate imagery into practices? What works for your athletes?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.


Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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