Athletics - Olympics: Day 10

As we grow older, we tend to stop using our vivid imagination and focus primarily on developing our rational mind to deal with life’s challenges. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake! Although thinking rationally is very important, as adults, we should also spend time fostering our imagination because it can help us perform better in sports and at work.

As a matter of fact, a very effective way to “master your craft” is to practice a technique called imagery. Imagery is defined as the creation or re-creation of an image in your mind that represents a real experience. It’s different from a dream in that you are awake and fully conscious when forming an image in your mind.

Unlike visualization, which only incorporates the sense of sight into the image, someone using imagery will try to integrate as many senses as possible, including sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and kinesthetic sense. The more senses you can incorporate into your image, the more real it becomes, and the more effective it will be in improving your performance.

Imagery can improve the retention and acquisition of new skills and strategies as well as decrease pre-performance anxiety symptoms and enhance confidence and mental toughness (Cumming & Williams, 2013).

There are 5 different types of imagery that you can use. “Cognitive specific imagery” refers to imaging the execution of specific skills such as a free-throw in basketball. “Cognitive general imagery” involves imaging strategies or sequences of movements such as a “fast break”. “Motivational specific imagery” pertains to imaging the achievement of a goal such as winning the game’s most valuable player. “Motivational general-arousal” refers to using imagery to decrease anxiety or increase energy levels. “Motivational general-mastery” involves imaging oneself being confident and in control.

Below are the basic guidelines on how to properly use imagery:

  • Physical
    • Determine whether relaxation or increased arousal is helpful prior to imaging
    • Decide whether you want your eyes to be opened or closed when imaging
    • You should use relevant sporting equipment when imaging (e.g., having a hockey stick in your hands when imaging scoring a goal in ice hockey)
  • Environment
    • Your images should be as real or as close to the actual environment as possible
    • You should look at videos and/or pictures of the training and/or competition venue to become familiar with it
  • Task
    • Depending on the task, your imagery perspective may vary
      • If you perform skills that do not rely on form (e.g., football), then use an internal perspective (looking through your eyes)
      • If you perform skills that rely on form (e.g., gymnastics), then use an external perspective (looking from someone else’s point of view)
  • Timing
    • Timing of the image should be equal to that of your physical performance (e.g., if your race takes 2 minutes to complete, so too should your imagery)
    • Use slow-motion imagery when learning a new skill or strategy
  • Learning
    • Your images should evolve as you learn new skills and refine them (e.g., the content of your image, when you first learn how to throw a new Muay Thai kick, should be different from when you have mastered the skill)
  • Emotion
    • Attach meaning and/or emotions to your images (e.g., if you imagine winning a gold medal, then incorporate the feeling of excitement into your image)
  • Perspective
    • When imaging, consider both perspectives, internal and external

Basic imagery training:

  • Start with progression #1
  • When your images become sufficiently vivid and controllable, go to progression #2, and then progression #3
    • Progression #1
      • When falling asleep every night, visualize (sight only) a familiar place (e.g., your room) and try to manipulate objects present in the environment (e.g., move your bed to the other side of the room)
    • Progression #2
      • When falling asleep every night, imagine yourself (sight+kinesthetic) performing a simple skill or strategy
    • Progression #3
      • When falling asleep every night, imagine yourself (sight+kinesthetic) going through a top performance you had in the past

Once you feel comfortable with the 3 progressions outlined above, you will need to increase the complexity of your images, so the technique can become even more effective. Therefore, my next post will focus on how to create a detailed and personalized imagery script!

Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.


Crocker, P. R. E. (2015). Sport and exercise psychology: A Canadian perspective. Toronto: Pearson.

Cummings, T. J., & Williams, S. (2013). Introducing the revised applied model of deliberate imagery use for sport, dance, exercise, and rehabilitation. Movement and Sport Sciences, 82, 69-82.

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