It's a brisk morning, you feel the cool, damp breeze as it passes by you. You hear the other athletes talking amongst themselves and you find a quiet zone to finalize your mental preparations. You see, hear, and smell the crowd as it gathers around you and the other competitors. You make brief eye contact with your fellow competitors, just enough to acknowledge them. You look at the clock: it's 5 minutes until the start of your competition. You take a deep breath, stretch, jog and repeat your affirmations "I am strong", "I am prepared"s, "I will do my utmost". Then you assume your position on the start line, court, field, etc. You feel energized and a little nervous; an electric feeling is traveling down your limbs, however, you take a deep breath and steady yourself gazing purposefully forward. The competition has now started and now you are in motion. You are a model of control executing your moves, breathing easily and looking ahead of you and at your teammates. You hear the crowd, you smell the foliage, you see the field or course. You use your skills and training effectively, going smoothly through every step, every movement you so carefully learned and exercised through consistent training.
This vignette is an example of a visualization that can be done before competing from a couch, desk, bed or your typical training venue. Visualizations are intended to guide the athlete step-by-step through his or her given activity, incorporating these scenarios into the neural circuits of the brain, working through the entire context of the competition: performance, sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, emotions and sensations.
This process can activate several different brain regions such as the cortex, amygdala, and limbic system-all play a role in emotion and/or memory. By going through each of these sensations, different regions of the brain are activated and the information can be stored in memory. The more an athlete visualizes successful execution during competition or training, the greater the incorporation into the mental processes, increasing potential of a successful session. Just like in physical training, mental training takes repetition as well.
Good visualizations are as detailed and realistic as possible, and can include the following considerations:
- The athlete's goal for the event
- The athlete's role or position played
- Specific things the athlete wishes to incorporate, such as: focusing, breathing, using good form and technique, keeping anger under control, etc.
- Preparation and training
- Emotions and thoughts (can use the mental training log as a aid)
- Going through various scenarios, including the ideal performance to adversities, such as weather or taunting from others.
- What the athlete does as a warm-up routine through post-competition.
The athlete can include any multitude of things in a visualization, but it is important to incorporate thinking in the here-and-now and use as many of the senses as possible (smell of the grass, seeing the whole field, listening to the coach's instructions). Also, these mentalizations should always focus on the positive and what one realistically can achieve. The idea is create an experience as "real" as possible in relation to competition. Once actually competing, the athlete can then gain an advantage after practicing being present and working methodically through their objective.
Porter, K. (2003). The Mental Athlete.