“When I train, one of the things I concentrate on is creating a mental picture of how best deliver the ball to a teammate, preferably leaving him alone in front of the rival goalkeeper. So what I do, always before a game, always, every night and every day, is try and think up things, imagine plays, which no one else will have thought of, and to do so always bearing in mind the particular strength of each team-mate to whom I am passing the ball” (…) Ronaldinho, football player.
Visualization, also referred to as imagery, is one of the most popular tools of sport psychology. It consists in creating or recreating an experience mentally. Ideally, athletes create a clear image and are able to control it. All senses could be employed, so it is not just the sounds or sights being elicited, but touch, smell, and taste, can also be used. When we practice visualization we are reinforcing the memory of the muscular and nervous systems about the movements required for a specific technique.
Doing visualization exercises is another way to enhance training, and the more we practice the stronger that circuit about that skills it gets between the brain and the relevant parts of the body, and that skill will be perceived as more fluid.
There are two visualization perspectives that can be taken: either us being the protagonists, or seeing ourselves like we were a third person. Some athletes have preference for one perspective over another, or they choose a perspective depending on the skill they are training.
We can use visualization to train some physical or psychological aspects like the following:
Physical training, to practice:
-A specific skill, like for instance imagining the perfect tennis pass, or to train a game strategy.
-In places where we have never been, to prepare for competitions.
-If we cannot do the exercises physically, if for instance we are injured.
Mental training, to motivate ourselves:
-For a specific result, e.g., completing a marathon.
-About a challenge, for instance imagining that we have self-confidence just before starting a race.
Mental training, to relax:
-After the training, visualisation could be used to relax. The best time to do this type is after exercise when the muscles are tired.
It is normal to find difficult to do visualization if we are not used to. It could be hard to create, control the image, or make it vivid. Nevertheless, visualization is just like any other skill, so to get better at it we need to practice.