Being unfocused, nervous and distracted can lead to poor performance. But a good pre-performance routine, one that includes visualizing success through sports imagery, can help you alleviate those jitters by eliminating distractions and helping you focus on task-relevant cues.
The pre-performance imagery routine consists of three parts: preparation, focusing and execution.
Begin with a physical cue to focus your attention and a few deep breaths to relax your body. For example, a power lifter attempting a Deadlift may have his teammate slap his back three times to get him hyped for the lift. The lifter then takes two deep breaths and approaches the bar.
In this phase, you become mentally engaged with the task at hand. Take another deep breath, then visualize yourself performing the necessary movements leading to a successful performance. For example, a pitcher getting ready for the wind-up may lock his gaze on the catcher's mitt, visualizing throwing a curve ball that will make the batter swing and miss.
Think or say a verbal cue and then perform the task. For example, a basketball player attempting a free throw might say, "It's all net," then take the shot.
Putting it All Together
The way you use sports imagery depends on the type of sport. In closed-skill sports—like golf, track, gymnastics, etc.—the athlete usually has more control over how the event will take place. In open-skill sports—like football, baseball and soccer—the environment is less predictable, and the athlete usually reacts to what is happening during competition.
Let's walk through the process in both closed- and open-skill sports.
Closed Skill: Golf
Preparation: The golfer steps up to the ball, gets his feet lined up and set, about 2 to 3 feet from where he will be swinging, then takes three practice swings.
Focusing: The golfer closes his eyes and takes two deep breaths, then visualizes hitting a perfect shot and the ball hitting the green. Repeat this phase twice.
Execution: The golfer opens his eyes, says, "long shot," steps up to the ball and executes.
Open Skill: Football (Running Back)
Preparation: As the team huddles, the running back calms his breathing and gets focused.
Focusing: As he sets up in his stance before the break, the running back visualizes himself going through the necessary gap. After penetrating the defensive line, he is in open field. He comes across a tackler and eludes him with a cut move. He finally crosses the goal line for a touchdown.
Execution: Prior to the snap, the running back says, "get six." The ball is snapped and the play begins.
Bell, R. J., Finch, W. H., & Whitaker, Z. (2010). "Duration of Pre-Performance Routines of Divers and Performance Outcomes." Sport Journal, 13(4), 1-7.
Swainston, S., Gentner, N., Biber, D., Czech, D. R., Joyner, B., & Easton, L. E. (2012). "The Effect of PETTLEP Imagery in a Pre-Shot Routine on Full Swing Golf Shot Accuracy: A Single Subject Design." International Journal Of Golf Science, 1(2), 140-163.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock