Visualization in sports is a way for athletes and coaches to focus mental, emotional and physical energies of the athlete for improved performance.

“Dreaming means ‘rehearsing’ what you see, playing it over and over in your mind until it becomes as real to you as your life right now.” ~ Emmitt Smith

When you focus on effective steps to reach an outcome, the line between fact and fiction blurs. If you’re interested in results, you could not discount anything based on the preconceived notions of what may or may not work.

Ultimately, you need to find what works for you, which may be very different than what works for your sister or your brother-in-law or  your neighbor across the street.

So what are some of the facts? Many athletes use visualization techniques to enhance the performance. They claim that mental imagery increases their awareness, heightens their senses, and improves their confidence. Together these steps give them a competitive edge.

Does the visualization and imaging techniques work? It works for those who believe in them and use them. This could be simply a placebo effect. But it does not matter. You are focusing on what works. If it works, use it, if it doesn't, discard it and  find something else that works for you.

The problem with this trial and error, do-it-yourself method is that you cannot personally experience every possible solution to see if it works.

There must be an easier way to find solutions without giving up your personal responsibility to find things out for yourself. That easier way is first to find an instructor. If you cannot find an instructor learn how things may work. And then take it from there.

In creative visualization, you are focusing your attention on what drives every one of your physical activities. This is your brain activity. A part that with a few exception of martial arts and yoga is neglected the physical actions.

Most of the activities are a result of the connection between the synapses in your brain. Through the process of visualization, you are firing the interconnected synapses in your brain as if you are performing a physical activity.

From the point of view of neurology, your body cannot tell the difference between you imagining a golf swing or actually swinging a golf club. Even your muscles to some degree respond to your performing the action in your mind.

When in your mind you perform a series of actions that result in a particular outcome, you are training and connecting the nervous system in a way that leads to that outcome.

Physically this is the process of an exercise routine. You perform very specific exercises in a sequence that allows your agility, your stamina and your strength to improve. During physical activities, you are improving the connection between your nervous system and your muscles. Through mental imagery sessions related to exercise, you perform those same actions in your mind.

Sometimes mental imagery is even more effective than physical actions. One reason for higher effectiveness of mental  imagery is scattered attention. Many carry their work, their family life, their memories and their plans  with them to a training session.

Scattered attention prevents efficiency in making connections between your nerves in your muscles. In guided visualization sessions, you learn to be focused. This focus improves your ability to make better connections between your nerves in your muscles.

Don’t get me wrong. You can't just think your body thin, visualize yourself fast or imagine your muscles to be big without the corresponding physical actions. But without focus you have a much harder time getting bigger, getting trimmer were getting faster. If you are too scattered, you chances of success is  as low as winning a lottery ticket.

Sources

1- Brouziyne M, Molinaro C. "Mental imagery combined with physical practice of approach shots for golf beginners." Perceptual and Motor Skills. 2005 Aug;101(1):203-11.

2- Isaac, A. R. (1992). "Mental Practice- Does it Work in the Field?" The Sport Psychologist, 6, 192-198.

3- Martin, K.A., Hall, C. R. (1995). "Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Intrinsic Motivation." Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17(1), 54-69.