Most athletes work extremely hard to reach the summit of their sport—devoting hours, days, weeks and months to training, and tailoring each practice to improve their athletic skills, conditioning, strength and, in team sports, chemistry. Yet many spend little or no time preparing for the pressure they will face at the summit itself, a championship environment. The result is anxiety, which causes athletes to fall short of their peak performance.
One proven technique to reduce athletic pressure is visualization. Visualization is a mental training exercise that can help athletes prepare for an important game or race. Through visualization, athletes get ready mentally and emotionally for the challenges they will face in a high pressure situation. The following are six steps to guide you through the proper technique for visualization.
Step 1 – Right Setting
If you have little or no experience, find a quiet and dark room. This will aid your ability to concentrate on the imagery your mind will create. After much practice, you will be able to block out all distractions and begin your visualization practice in any setting.
Step 2 – Relaxation
Find a place on the ground (a bed is acceptable) and lie flat on your back. Place your hands next to your sides and close your eyes. Once in the proper position, relax by breathing in a slow and rhythmic manner.
Step 3 – Competitive Environment
Once you are relaxed, let your mind draw the pictures for you. First, visualize the competitive environment in as much detail as possible, including the arena, your opponents, teammates, coaches, and fans. The goal is to use your senses to create a full mental image of the environment you expect to compete in.
Step 4 – First-Person Viewpoint
Once you can see the competitive environment, visualize it from a first-person point of view. Many athletes have a tendency to watch themselves when visualizing. A better technique is to view the competitive environment from your own individual perspective.
Step 5 – Emotions for Success
Before you even begin your visualization, try to feel the emotions you expect to feel in competition: the nervousness, butterflies in your stomach and cold hangs. But also feel confident, excited, and believing in yourself. Every athlete feels pressure in the biggest competition of his or her life. In this step, associate that pressure with a feeling of confidence that you will succeed.
Step 6 – Goal Achievement
Finally, having created a mindset for success, visualize yourself achieving your goal. If you are a swimmer, swim the entire race and out-touch all your opponents. If you are a goalie, stop every shot, no matter how difficult. End each visualization by envisioning the win.
Like any type of training, visualization only works if you practice. But that doesn’t mean you should visualize the same situation every time. Be creative. Practice visualizing different situations you will most likely encounter at major competitions. Creativity will lead you to continue practicing visualization, which will lead to better results in your athletic performance.
Check out more tips for positive mental visualization.