Imagery has been used for many purposes, including: skill and strategy acquisition; skill maintenance or attention/ pain control.
Imagery is a basic cognitive function and is associated with long term changes in a performer’s behaviour.
Players recall movement experiences from memory or create a mental picture of new experiences, generating the associated muscular contractions but at a much lower intensity. Muscles may twitch but won’t create the movement.
Imagery can be visual; auditory; kinesthetic or emotional.
Ideally imagery should involve as many senses as possible.
Achieving a relaxed state of attention facilitates the use of all the senses during imagery.
Attaching emotions and feelings to an image assists future recall.
Factors the performer should concentrate on to successfully use mental rehearsal:
- The exact details of the movement in question;
- The exact details of a successful outcome;
- The ‘feel’ of the movement;
- Visualising the exact equipment used;
- Visualising the environment;
- Recapturing the emotions of being involved;
- Mental rehearsal should be practised frequently because it is a skill itself;
- Mental rehearsal should be used alongside physical practise;
- The use of appropriate relaxation techniques prior to the use of mental rehearsal could help the quality of mental rehearsal.
Imagery can both increase and decrease arousal. Imagery helps to improve concentration; reduce anxiety; develop confidence and control emotions.
To reduce arousal, imagine a previous poor response to a negative situation and then replay with more positive behaviour.
As players are in a more relaxed state at this point they can concentrate and practise the task for when the actual situation arises.
Another method is for the player to imagine a place (e.g.beach) where they feel totally relaxed.
Internal Imagery: You see and feel what you would see or feel if you were executing the skill yourself.
External Imagery: You see yourself as others would see you, like watching a video of yourself.
Little kinesthesis attached to the image. Internal imagery is slightly better but performers choose what works for them and sometimes interchange.
For effective imagery the performer and coach should ensure that:
- Performers’ present image skills are evaluated;
- Imagery is practised regularly and built into the routine;
- As many senses as possible are used;
- Image is controlled by the performer;
- Imagery is carried out in an appropriate setting;
- The performer believes it can work;
- The performer does not have unrealistic expectations;
- The performer builds up the levels and use of imagery over a period of time;
- The performer imagines both carrying out the movement and the end result;
- Images should not be overly long, the same time as the real action;
- The performer practises using the image in realistic situations.