Thursday, October 22, 2009

Visualization in Sports Breeds Success

"Considering the stage, this was the best game I've played. It's something you visualize before the game. I saw myself making shots and those shots went in in the second half."

--Derrick Byars, 2006-2007 SEC Player of the Year from Vanderbilt University, who scored 27 points and made five 3-point shots to lead his team to an NCAA basketball tournament double overtime upset of 3rd-seeded Washington State in 2007.


A few years ago on television, a close-up shot of former world motor racing champion Damon Hill showed him in his Formula 1 car as his head swayed from side to side. The most interesting thing about this shot was that Hill was sitting in a stationary car, waiting to exit the garage in an attempt to qualify for the race.

Like many other championship athletes, he was using his time leading up to a performance to mentally rehearse and imagine steering the correct racing line through each corner.


Throughout the major league baseball postseason, television cameras have caught Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies in a trancelike state before his at-bats. He sits in the dugout with his head down, eyes closed, hands resting on the knob of his bat and visualizes what he's going to do at the plate.

"I think that's his way of focusing and basically getting ready," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think that he's thinking about his at-bat and things that he has going for him and how he wants to feel and everything when he gets up there.

"Visualization is part of hitting. You can do it once you walk up to the plate and you can step out and look around, things like that, and kind of gather your thoughts, or you can sit in the dugout there, too, and kind of visualize things and really concentrate on what you want to do. It depends on the person and how he feels."

Howard is visualizing results and getting them. No one has driven in more runs this major league postseason than Howard. He set a major league record Sunday by driving in a run for the seventh consecutive game in one postseason. After a home run in his first at-bat in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night to extend that streak, he had 14 runs batted in this postseason, more than he had in 17 playoff games the past two years. After Monday’s 5-4 victory for the Phillies, Howard was batting .379 with seven runs scored and two homers in eight postseason games.

“He goes to his quiet place,” the Phillies’ hitting coach, Milt Thompson, said. “When he’s there, he’s ready to hit.”

Thompson said Howard had been using visualization techniques all season, as a way to focus on the present, to enjoy the moment. When players see him meditating on the bench, they know not to interrupt.

“I’ve noticed it,” Manager Charlie Manuel, who is an advocate of positive thinking, said. “I haven’t talked to him about it because it’s something I think — that’s his own thing.”

Howard is in a zone, but it is simply the continuation of his impressive regular season, in which he had 45 home runs, with 141 runs batted in.


To augment the hours and hours of time spent honing fundamental skills and developing peak physical readiness, world-class elite performers from all kinds of sports complete many practice throws, catches, swings, laps of the track, lengths of the pool or throws of the javelin in their minds before major competitions.

Training your mental skills can also make a better athlete and winner out of you. We encourage more businesspeople and professionals to use and develop their imagery skills and to advise them on how to use these skills to maximum effect.

Creating, or recreating, an all-sensory experience can have profound effects on physical performance and psychological functioning. However, recent research evidence suggests that to achieve maximum benefits athletes and coaches should select the content of their images very carefully.

Imagery can be applied in many different ways to aid sports performers, and is one of the most regularly used tools of sport psychologists. It should be the tool of all executive coaches as well.

What performance psychology has to teach us about imagery

Scientific research strongly supports the use of imagery in sports and business as an adjunct to physical practice.

· Elite athletes and coaches use imagery regularly. Do you really think world-class performers would devote time to a technique that didn't aid their performances?

· Case studies of the use of imagery programs tailored to individual needs have demonstrated some dramatic performance improvements.

· Most importantly, a number of controlled scientific studies have shown that imagery can significantly benefit the learning and performance of a variety of sports skills.

Excerpts from the Associated Press (October 22, 2009) and New York Times (October 20, 2009).
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