Sports Visualizations and Imagery: See the Improvement

The purpose of this study was to examine the immediate effects of visualizations and imagery on sports performance in athletes.

This research paper provides insight on the background of why imagery works and how imagery can affect athlete directly to improve their sports performance instantly. With knowledge of whether sports imagery can immediately improve performance in athletes, sports training would be revolutionized. Athletes could learn how to advance their game to the next level with just their mind. Any athlete, trainer, or recreational player could elevate performance levels and gain an extra edge in the competition. A quasi experiment was conducted, in addition to study analyses and interviews of sports psychologists, to test whether immediate visualization practice of a combination of techniques of imagery could instantly improve an athlete’s performance.

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The data found showed how an athlete could improve due to immediate actions after performing cognitive specific imagery. The information will be presented through a website and power point directly targeted to athletes and trainers. Visualizations can also greatly affect an athlete mentally. Imagery practice allows an athlete to mentally learn. Athletes states of minds improve as they think more positive, have more confidence and composure, gain control their anxiety, and get a sense of being more mentally prepared. It can maintain mental capability of athletes while they are injured.

Imagery keeps them from losing any neural patterns chunked (Oakley). Injured players can keep up with the competition and keep their mind actively thinking about the sport and creating neural patterns which can be repeated, creating a non- physical practice. In this sense a player can be mentally preparing and enhancing themselves with just their thoughts. Additionally, Cognition has been proven to improve with imagery practice (Plessinger). Athletes acquire knowledge about the game and possible scenarios which might happen which could allow for one to gain more awareness with the senses and act quicker to changing situations.

The psychomotor skills in athletes, which is movement through the mind such as hand-eye coordination and other mental skills, are enhanced by visualizations. Visualizations produce a life-like circumstance allowing for the athlete to see and mimic how they could act in the same situation, thus immediately improving their performances. In a study completed by Jo Davies examining the instant cognitive benefits of imagery intervention on performance, female horse riders were tested. Throughout the study the participants rated their own self-efficacy before the study and then again after the study they rated themselves on their performance. There was a baseline of 6 sessions given and then each participant received 90 minutes of cognitive specific (CS) imagery intervention. Imagery script practices and log books were taken through each phase of the intervention.

After the study the results showed significant improvements in both self-efficacy and performance quality with the imagery intervention.This study analyzed the immediate effect of imagery practice on horse back riders and watched it overtime. The performances were better immediately after the imagery practice as well as over time (Davies). There are many effective visualization techniques which can be used. PETTLEP (Physical, Environment, Task, Time, Learning, Emotion, and Perspective) is an instrument developed in 2001 by Holmes and Collins based off psychology and neuroscience to give practitioners the best way to implement imagery training (Smith). This technique incorporates 7 key elements allowing for best possible imagery practice (Quinton).

IVI (Internal Visual Imagery) vs EVI (External Visual Imagery) vs KI (Kinesthetic Imagery) effects tend to be very close to almost the same (callow). IVI is defined as practicing imagery in a first person point of view or in ones own eyes, EVI is defined as practicing the imagery with viewing one’s self doing the actions from a third person point of view, and KI is defined as practicing imagery while using physical movements as well. While doing imagery one must be completely immersed for best results and must visually create an image in their brain of completing a motion internally, as well as externally and kinesthetically. Visualizing the body move or act through each view introduces new neural movements in the brain and allows for more of a simulation of the actual sport. An interview was taken with Dr. Tim Herzog who conducted an experiment in order to find out which types of imagery and mental practices improved the most in the imagery abilities in competitive sailors.

Dr. Herzog found that from testing internal visual imagery, external visual imagery, kinesthetic imagery, and video imagery that none in particular gave significant improvements over the others and concluded that other studies should see which combinations of these kinds of imageries work best. Dr. Herzog agrees mostly with Peter J Lang’s bio-informational theory of how imagery works by essentially the brain making an image as a conceptual network, which makes specific patterns and the brain creates a prototype for that specific expression (Herzog). There are both long term and short term effects of imagery. Short term techniques can be simple split second techniques which can immediately affect the action.

Something as simple as a tennis player imagining a serve in seconds before actually completing the serve can enhance the action (Plessinger). There are also long term techniques such as meditating for 30 minutes everyday, completely immersing one’s self in the activity, using sensory evaluation of a time of peak performance, and a visualization therapy by listening to someone run through an optimal performance that an athlete would want to see (Dahlkoetter). A quasi- experiment was created to test the instant effects of cognitive specific imagery and to test the all three types of imagery combined (IVI, EVE, and KI). 10 people were selected from a classroom separately. The group of ten was then split into two groups: the experimental group and the control group.

The experimental group first was instructed to throw a set of 6 of the same type of ball, one by one into the basket as best as they could with a consistent throwing form in each set. They were then asked to perform a visualization exercise where all three types of imagery practice were involved using the PETTLEP model. A script was read to each participant in a soothing voice as each practiced the imagery including IVI, EVI, and KI. The imagery practice allowed for complete concentration of the visualizations with the PETTLEP constants. Both sets of shots were then recorded.

The control group was asked to throw the balls into the basket the same as the experimental group for the first set but did not perform the imagery practice, while the experimental group participated in the visualizations. The processes of testing the experimental group with the cognitive specific imagery practices started with internal visual imagery, where the participant was specifically told to close their eyes and imagine themselves looking through their own perspective while seeing all in front of them. Then taking the ball and throwing it directly into the basket one by one until all 6 are thrown into the basket. Once they have completed the action external visual imagery was used and the participant was asked to do the same but as if looking through an outside perspective and seeing themselves complete the task. Once they had completed that kinesthetic imagery was used by telling the person to then open their eyes and pretend as if they are taking a ball and physically move their hand in the throwing motion, watching it go into the basket and feeling a sense of accomplishment each time it goes in.

Then the regular baseline test was run again. The whole time the PETTLEP model was incorporated by keeping the constants of: Physical, Environment, Task, Time, Learning, Emotion, and Perspective. The results of the data showed that for most cases the imagery practice improved the amount of balls made into the basket except for one case and there seemed to be no correlation in control group with improvements in the second set. The average amount of improvement for the experimental group from the first set of throws to the second was “1” more ball into the basket. The control group improved by “-.06” balls made into the basket from the first to second set of throws.

The imagery practice allowed for many of the participants to immediately improve their performance in the task. Visualization and imagery techniques have become a growing popular trend for athletes to elevate their performance to the next level. Usage of the proper visualization techniques can result in a performance improvement in athletes. The results of the experiment and other data found show that cognitive specific imagery can significantly and immediately improve the performance of an athletic task. Knowing how imagery can mentally improve aspects of an athlete’s game is a massive breakthrough. Injured athletes can keep up with the competition without having to move a muscle.

Athletes could ameliorate their performance wherever they are. Whether they are imagining a tennis serve immediately before they take it or just doing pre-game visualizations, athletes could be creating neural patterns and ingraining strategies and information into their brain. Visualization and Imagery practices are so directly related to the brain and neuron connections, it can change the way an athlete mentally thinks or physically moves in game. An athlete can be calming themselves down during a nerve racking game or play, getting a pumped and aggressive mind-set before a game, using creative new tactics with split second thinking, or even be taking the shot for the win when a neural pattern which was chunked during imagery practice gets replayed. The psychological aspects of visualizations can provide for an entire new age of sports training and create abilities in athletes to perform at the highest levels with instant performance increases due to imagery practice.

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