See it, feel it, achieve it!

Nicole Louw focused before running in the 600m USN Classic Shoot Out. Photo by Backtrack Sports

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of BackTrack or EC Active.

See it, feel it, achieve it!

How often do you find yourself replaying an event in your mind in which you either made a mistake, experienced defeat, or missed an opportunity? Have you ever thought further than the negative event to recreate a positive outcome? Often occurring in a misguided fashion and without any awareness, athletes engage in one of the most frequently used mental exercises: visualisation (aka imagery). If mental energy can be rightly applied and directed, imagine what the athlete is capable of achieving.

To ultimately fulfil your true potential as a sports person, taking control of your imagination and using it to facilitate your performance can cause you to reap great rewards. Visualisation is much more than idle daydreaming. It involves either generating or recreating successful mental images of performing a specific skill or tactical ploy in a specific setting. So basically, it is imagining an experience you would want to experience in reality. Let’s consider it as a mental warm-up for the body.

If you are a visual person, it is easy for you to close your eyes and see pictures in your mind. But, if you’re one of those people whom once you’ve closed your eyes, you find it hard to create or see pictures clearly, then that’s ok too. Just imagine your success in the manner that works for you. You could, for example, talk yourself through the successful performance in your mind. Alternatively, you could also focus more on the feeling of the right movements and emotions that you believe will create your successful performance. Are you getting the picture here? (pun intended). Keep in mind that; the more vividly and clearly you can create mental experiences, and the more accurately you can control the imagined movements, the more likely you will be able to transform these mental experiences into improved performance.

Studies have shown that visualisation forms a mental blueprint for sport skills and tactical ploys. The neural impulses that are sent from the brain to the muscular system during visualisation are stored in our memory as if the movements have actually occurred. Accompanied with physical practice, athletes can progress more rapidly than with physical practice alone. Though valuable, visualisation is a skill in itself and performance will not automatically improve after one active visualisation session. Improvement will therefore be a by-product of putting in the effort and committing to set times of mental practice.

The 6 Steps below can assist you in experiencing visualisation more effectively:

Step 1

Identify what skill, performance or tactical ploy you wish to imagine successfully. The more specific and detailed you can be, the better.

Step 2

Find a spot free from distraction and get into a comfortable position.

Step 3

Take a moment to close your eyes (optionally) and breathe a little deeper and slower than normal (until you feel ready to start visualizing). This triggers a relaxation response and opens the mind up for what is to follow.

Step 4

Direct your thinking and focus to successfully performing that which you identified in Step 1. You can either view yourself performing (Step 1) as if you are watching yourself on a video clip, or viewing what is happening as though you are actually there performing it. Pay attention to how well you can control your imagined movements.

Step 5

Create mental experiences that are as vivid and “real” as possible. Try and incorporate as many sensations as you can. For example, what does the stadium look like? the sound of the starters gun or cheers from the crowd, the feeling of your spikes making contact with the tartan or take off board, how your legs and arms feel during explosive movements, but also how it feels when you still have 2 laps to go in the 5000m, the rate of your breathing, or the weight of the discus. Especially important, try to recreate that winning feeling. You have to believe what you are mentally creating.

Step 6

Reflect on your mental experience. What could you do or feel more easily? What was more challenging to do? How can you improve your visualisation experience next time?

Using the mind, the athlete can bring up these successful images through repetition and rehearsal, much like physical practice. Visualisation not only prepares the body for what the mind wishes to achieve, it also has the effect of enhancing the athlete’s confidence to perform certain skills or tactical ploys under pressure and in a variety of situations. Remember that if you can see it, you can create it; if you can feel it, you can perform it; and if you can imagine it, you can achieve it!


Written by Courtney Sasha du Plessis