From the BarryS Coaching Training Library

Visualization – A Critical Aspect of Improved Training and Racing

by Barry Stokes & Mike Jotautas

Many elite athletes routinely use visualization techniques as part of preparation for their training and racing. At BarryS Coaching there are many stories from our athletes who have used these techniques to gain not only a competitive edge, but also to create renewed mental awareness, a heightened sense of well-being, confidence and increased ability to relax. All of these factors have been shown to contribute to an athlete's performance success.

Visualization has many names: guided imagery, mental rehearsal, mediation -- no matter the term, the basic techniques and concepts are the same. Generally speaking, visualization is the process of creating a mental image of what you want to happen, how you want to feel and aid your ability to focus and relax.

An athlete can use this technique to move toward an intended outcome for a race, training session, or to simply achieve a relaxed feeling of calm and well-being. By visualizing a scene – training or race – including images of a previous best performance or a future desired outcome, we ask the athlete to simply ‘step into' the successful feeling. While visualizing these scenarios, the athlete imagines detail, such as the way it feels to perform to their desired level of success.

Successful visualization will include any or all of the senses. They can be visual (images and pictures), physical (how the body feels), or auditory (the roar of the crowd). The athlete uses his mind to call up these images over and over, enhancing the successful use of his skill through repetition and rehearsal, just like the physical training the athlete already does. The goal for mental rehearsal and visualization is to further train the body to successfully perform physical skills at a level far better than only physical training can achieve. Perfect visualization of a skill will help in perfect physical execution of the skill.

Research is finding that both physical and psychological reactions in certain situations can be improved with visualization. Repeated imagery using visualization can build both experience and confidence in one’s ability to execute certain skills under pressure. The most effective visualization techniques result in a technicolor experience; one in which the athlete has complete control over a successful performance and total belief in herself.

Guided imagery, visualization, mental rehearsal techniques can put the finishing touches on the efficiency and effectiveness of training. Visualization might be one way to gain an advantage on your competition. Rick Pitino once said that by the time a game was played there was nothing in the game left to happen which would surprise him, no situation which would leave him necessarily making an unrehearsed decision – why? He had visualized the game in every possible situation and outcome. How many times would you imagine the U. S. Special Forces men and women rehearsed the attack on Bin Laden? Physical and mental preparation led to a successful mission.

In my past career as an Orthopaedic Medical Device Distributor, I encouraged my sales team to visualize successful sales presentations, stand in front of a mirror and rehearse (aloud) their presentations. As a result of this focused rehearsal, my team was pretty darn successful. Before race day, our team of athletes begins doing “mental gymnastics”, visualizing race rehearsals weeks, even months prior to their “A” goal race. We ask the athletes to post course maps in frequented places in their homes; following each 15 minute Visualization Session (VS) they mark the map with the day’s VS jumping off point & write any key notes on the map. These notes serve later as a daily diary for the athlete’s review at a later date and time.

How often would one do a VS? How long does each VS last? How much detail should be included in each VS? Where would one do their VS? Are VS valuable & useful prior to key BT workouts? How will VS help the athlete on race day? What are the athletes trigger words? Contact BarryS Coaching team of coaches for more information on Visualization Techniques for Athletes.

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Safe training and successful racing –

Coaches Barry & Mike


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