Did you know that you can train your mind just like you can train your body? Athletes go to practice, spend time in the gym, and drill their bodies to ensure that they are ready for success in competition.
There are exercises you can do for your mind to further set you up for success in competition. Do you want to push your body harder? Do you get pre-competition anxiety? Do you want to increase your confidence? Training your mind as well as your body can help with all of these things. The practice of training your mind is called mental visualization. As an athlete, your mind is just as important as your body. Mental blocks, nerves, and a lack of confidence can slow down any successful athlete's career. Through the practice of mental visualization, you can eliminate all of these setbacks and take your athletic career to the next level.
From amateur athletes to professional and Olympic athletes, many successful athletes use mental visualization when training and preparing for competition. The US Olympic team brings sports psychologists to the Olympics to work with the athletes and teach them how to use mental visualization for success. However, you don't have to be an Olympic athlete, and you don't have to have a sports psychologist to practice visualization. There are things you can do on your own to make your mind stronger.
You Can Visualize At Any Time
You can visualize before going to bed, while brushing your teeth, before practice, while walking, etc. The more you visualize, the more successful you will be in training your brain to believe in your desired outcome. Try to practice visualizing every day. Make it a habit in your day and decide on the number of times you will repeat this visualization. The more you repeat the scenario in your head, the easier it will be for you to picture it and to believe it.
The next important part of visualization is that you need to visualize the perfect scenario. If you're new to visualizing, don't try to visualize a whole game or routine right off the bat. Just break it down into small parts. Whether it be making every single shot, you take in your mind, hitting every ball with perfect form, or performing a perfect routine. It has to be perfect every time. The second that your brain starts seeing anything less than perfect is when you need to stop the visualization and start again from the beginning. For example, if you are a gymnast visualizing your beam routine and performing a skill, you fall off the beam during your visualization. You need to stop the visualization and start over from the beginning of the routine. Don't accept anything less than perfection in your mind so that you can build that confidence for when you compete.
There are a couple of different techniques for visualization.
- Speak words out loud that narrate the scenario you are visualizing. This will link the words to the actions.
- Attach mental ques and words to each action your body makes. This will break each action down and give you something to focus on while performing other than nerves or anxiety. For example, if you are taking a basketball shot, you can narrate your actions, "dribble, dribble, jump, stretch, release".
- Move your body as you are visualizing. Tense the muscles you are using or move your arms and legs with the movements. Adding body movements makes the visualization feel even more real. This can create muscle memory and add confidence that your body will know what to do despite the adrenaline you feel while performing.
Instead of visualizing long sequences, you can visualize small parts of the whole. Once again, this is especially important if you are new to this practice. Focus on perfecting small pieces of the whole. For example, if you visualize a race, instead of visualizing the whole race, focus on the finish. Focus on the technique you will use when finishing the race and visualize winning the race. After you visualize the finish, you can picture other parts of the race, such as the start. The more little parts you perfect in your mind, the more perfect, the larger picture will become. The more you visualize this perfect outcome, the easier it will be to perform with confidence and precision.
One last piece of advice is to make these visualizations as detailed as possible. Visualize the venue, the ball or mat, the uniform, the audience. Visualize from both first-person and third-person perspectives. Imagine how it feels to do the skill, then imagine you are watching yourself do the skill. This may seem hard at first, but it really will become easier the more you practice.
By visualizing, you are conditioning your brain for successful outcomes. You are eliminating the unknowns of competition and preparing yourself for any scenarios. You are building your confidence as an athlete, and you are creating a strong mind and a strong body. Whether you are an amateur or a professional, mental visualization is a tool everyone should use to take their athletics to the next level.