Visualization and Imagery

Elite athletes routinely use visualization techniques as part of training and competition. There are many stories of athletes who've used these techniques to cultivate not only a competitive edge, but also to create renewed mental awareness and a heightened sense of well-being and confidence. All of these factors have been shown to contribute to an athlete's (especially squash-players) success.

Visualization and/or imagery has been called guided imagery, mental rehearsal, mediation and a variety of other things. No matter the term, the basic techniques and concepts are the same. Generally speaking, visualization is the process of creating a mental image or intention of what they WANT to happen or feel.

An athlete can use this technique to 'intend' an outcome of a training session, game, match, or simply to rest in a relaxed feeling of calm and well-being. By imagining a scene, complete with images of a previous best performance or a future desired outcome, the athlete is instructed to simply 'step into' that feeling. While imagining these scenarios, the athlete should try to imagine the detail and the way it feels to perform in a desired way.

These scenarios can include any of the senses. They can be visual (images and pictures), kinesthetic (how the body feels), or auditory (the roar of the crowd). Using the mind, a squash-player can call up these images over and over, enhancing the skill through repetition or rehearsal similar to physical practice. With mental rehearsal, minds and bodies become trained to actually perform the skill imagined.

Research finds that both physical and psychological reactions in certain situations can be improved with visualization. Such repeated imagery can build both experience and confidence in an athlete's ability to perform certain skills under pressure, or in a variety of possible situations. The most effective visualization techniques result in a very vivid sporting experience in which the athlete has complete control over a successful performance and a belief in this new self-confidence and image.

Guided imagery, visualization, mental rehearsal or other such techniques can maximize the efficiency and effectiveness in both their training or competition. In a world where sporting performance and success is measured in seconds, most athletes will use every possible training technique at hand. Visualization may just be one way to gain that very slim margin.