It's All About the Visuals

Visualization, imagery and self-talk are critical tools for any athlete to excel in sport, or in life. It's amazing how powerful our minds can be and how big of a role they play. You can be as physical prepared as possible; you've trained hard, ate well, recovered better, but if you lack the mental strength and skill to visualize your success or have confidence in your abilities, then those physical traits can only take you so far.

This semester in my masters I have a Psychology of Coaching class. I've taken sport psychology classes before, but I seem to be a little more invested in this one. It could be because when I took my last sport psych class, I was in the thick of my athletic career and I was scared to admit that it was my mind stopping me from truly succeeding. It is definitely different taking the class now and having more of an "outsider" perspective.

After being home for Spring Break, I was telling my mom about the classes I was taking and mentioned Sport Psyc being one of them. "Oh Alena, I've been teaching you and your brothers these things since you were toddlers." she said, and yes, she is absolutely right. From a very young age, I can remember my mom talking about "visualizing" the ball going through the net, or giving myself cue words in different situations on the court. It wasn't until I was in class going through all the material when I realized that I had heard this all before (thanks Mom).

Here are two of my favourite Sport Psychology concepts and how I apply them in sport and in life ...

(1) Visualization/ Imagery 

Being able to 'see' yourself succeeding in a certain moment in time or with a certain movement is a great skill to have. Visualizing yourself performing a task helps create an image in your mind that, with practice, will aid in the actual execution of that skill.

Let's try an exercise ...

  • Close your eyes
  • Picture yourself in your sport or your job
  • Picture yourself completing a task
  • Open your eyes

Question: when you were visualizing, were you watching yourself like you would if you were watching something on TV? Or were you watching through your lens?

It's all about perspective. If you are using imagery as a tool, make sure to put yourself in the exact position and environment as you would be in the game or task. The more detailed (smell, colours, etc.), the more vivid the image will be!

(2) Self-Talk

It's important to note that self-talk can be both positive and negative. I always think of it as "being my own best friend" and using the little voice inside my head to cue and encourage me. I fought for a long time with negative self-talk, but developed tricks to snap myself out of it. You can use the rubber band trick - every time you have a negative thought, you snap the band against your skin to 'snap' yourself out of the negative thoughts, or maybe you just have a STOP cue for yourself. Whatever works best for you.

There are so many different theories, concepts, and applications to sport psychology and it takes some trial-and-error to figure out which ones will help you perform at your best - but definitely worth the patience!

What are your favourite tactics to get your head in the game? Comment below!