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The Power of Mental Imagery

My friend Paula (yes, that’s her real name, as she graciously granted me permission to use it) was described as a “hard-throwing right handed” pitcher back when she was on scholarship at Miami’s Barry University. She says that mental imagery was a key part of her pre-game routine.

Paula would engage multiple senses in order to prepare for competition. She would visualize walking out to the mound, imagine hearing her walk-out song (Ozzy Osborne’s Crazy Train), and think of how the ball’s seams would feel on her thumb and index finger as she prepared to throw a curve. She would see herself rotating the ball in her hand, and hiding it in her glove so that the other team’s players and coaches couldn’t pick up on the grip, and know what she was about to throw.

Even now, close to a decade later, whenever Paula hears the lyrics, “I’m going off the rails on a crazy train,” she is instantly transported back to the ball field, and feels as though she is prepping for a game. She also continues to swear by the power of mental imagery, and practices it prior to everyday workouts so that she can perform with intention and excellence.

There’s no question that mental imagery can benefit every level of athlete, in every sport. It’s practiced regularly by those at the highest levels, and there’s a growing body of research that indicates that when practice and mental imagery are combined, the likelihood of improved performance is much greater than practice alone.

So it’s clearly worth the effort. But how do you go about doing it?

Engage the senses.

Imagine yourself in the space where you want to perform well. It might be the gym, the pool, on the ice, or in a boxing ring.

What do you see?

What can you hear?

Is there a smell that’s always present? Maybe it’s a leather baseball glove, or the pungent odor of chlorine.

What do you feel? Perhaps it’s the knurling of the Olympic barbell, or the tightness of your shoes against your feet.

Continue to engage the senses as you imagine your optimal performance.

You can certainly go ahead and try mental imagery on your own. You can picture the scene from your own vantage point, or another perspective. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, and you might like to experiment with both approaches to see what works best for you. And if starting all of this seems like too much to create and explore on your own, you’re welcome to connect with me to develop a unique, detailed and specific mental imagery script.

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