How to Think About Your Game: get the most out of your daydream
by Jake Sivinski, SPINw intern
Here at SPINw one of the our most trusted tools for bettering an athlete’s mental game is the use of positive mental visualization. Visualization is essentially thinking about and going over plays, skills, and the bliss of victory in your head. It is something that most of us do everyday. As an athlete our minds are frequently preoccupied with with thoughts of sport. While some may call this a daydream, we see it as an opportunity to get a competitive edge. Numerous scientific studies have contributed to the understanding that visualization helps people learn new skills and stay motivated. Much of this is due to the fact that as people with real world responsibilities, we do not always have time to physically practice. In these scenarios mental practice through visualization is the best we can do. As well, visualization gives us a chance to explore different aspects of our game we have not discovered yet, or it lets us feel the glory of scoring that goal we have always wanted to.
While visualization is a great tool, there is a lot we need to understand before we can truly unlock its potential. The first thing to learn is that there are two main types of imagery created through visualization. The first is external imagery which places the viewer outside of their body and allows them to see the situation from third person. The second type of imagery is kinesthetic imagery which places the viewer inside their body and is mostly related to how and activity feels rather than what it looks like to an observer. Both of the types have their benefits, however which one is more effective for a particular individual requires some investigation.
The first important thing to take into account is a person’s learning preferences. Essentially are you a visual or kinesthetic learner? The distinction is simple, a visual learner learns by watching, and a kinesthetic learner learns by doing. Recent research shows that this preference in learning style may play a role in deciding which type of imagery is more effective. Visual learners do best with with visual imagery and kinesthetic learners do best with kinesthetic imagery. While this may not come as a surprise, it is an important thing to take into account when one is visualizing their sport.
Another factor that one needs to take into account when thinking about whether to use internal or external imagery is the task at hand research has shown a great deal of differences in the tasks that lend themselves to either of the types of imagery. For example one study has shown that visual imagery is more effective in learning tasks that require representation of size and shape, where kinesthetic imagery is more effective at tasks that require fine motor skills or time limits. Another important aspect which is especially important to the world of athletics is whether or not a skill is open or closed. An open motor skill is one where the environment can have a great impact on the performance of the sport. Open motor skills usually take place in a highly unstable environment in which one cannot choose when to stop or start to the action. These includes sports like soccer or basketball and usually have better outcomes if a person uses kinesthetic imagery in order to try to map out the environment and coordinate actions with others and constraints in the environment . On the other hand, closed motor skills take place in a stationary environment in which one has greater control over when and how to start the action. Sports that use closed motor skills such as swimming or gold usually have better outcomes if a person uses visual imagery due to the necessity of the form required to do each action successfully.
I hope after reading this you have learned a little bit about how to best use visualization as a tool to success in sport. That being said there is is still a lot to learn about how to maximize your visualization potential. In the coming weeks look for more updates for skills and tricks about how to get the most out of your daydreams!