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7 Highly Successful Uses of Imagery in Sports


Uses of imagery in sports: An overview

The use of imagery in sports has been well documented in virtually every athletic endeavor known to man to improve physical and psychological skills, including  to enhance  concentration, develop confidence, control emotional responses, acquire and develop sport skills and strategies and in dealing with pain and injury.

Use of Imagery to Improve Concentration:

You can visualize what you would like to do and how you would like to react in certain situations. You can then prevent your mind from wandering and stay focused on the athletic experience involved. As you visualize yourself in situations where you would usually lose concentration such as missing an easy shot in basketball or dropping a pass in football, you can imagine yourself being composed and focused on the very next play.


Building Confidence Through the Use of Imagery:

The use of imagery has been used to build confidence in many athletic events and experiences. For example, if you have had trouble batting with two strikes, you may see yourself hitting the ball successfully through the use of imagery. You would then practice this skill over and over until you felt more confident when you were in the actual circumstance. Seeing yourself performing well in your mind makes you feel much more able and confident that you can perform under adverse circumstances. In a study performed by Moritz, Hall, Martin and Valdocz in 1996, it was found that athletes with high levels of confidence actually have different image content than athletes with low confidence levels. Highly confident athletes use more mastery imagery in which they would imagine themselves focused during a challenging situation and arousal imagery in which they would imagine the excitement associated with the event resulting in better ability with kinesthetic and visual imagery.

Controlling Emotional Responses:

You can also use visualization in situations which have caused you problems in the past, such as choking under pressure and reacting angrily to adverse calls by officials. If you can visualize a picture in your mind of you dealing with these events in a more positive way, taking a deep breath (and focusing on your breathing as you concentrate on the task at hand) you may begin to develop a much higher level of control over your emotional responses. Many successful coaches use imagery for relaxation before important games and when players have a tendency to become too "pumped up" and play out-of-control. Studies have found that arousal imagery may produce higher levels of anxiety in some circumstances (Vadocz, Hall, and Moritz, 1997). The anxiety associated with various competitive situations can be both facilitative or debilitating.  If an athlete is having trouble getting "up" for a competition he/she may want to use arousal imagery whereas athletes who find anxiety to be a problem may find that arousal imagery may make it worse.

Use of Imagery to Acquire and Practice Sports Skills:

One of the best-known uses of imagery has been to  practice and develop a particular sport skill. For example, when athletes  perform a free throw, hit a curveball or go through a routine on the balance beam in their minds prior to actually attempting the skills, they may find the visualization to significantly facilitate the acquisition of those skills. Then they are much more able to subsequently use visualization to fine-tune those skills, pinpoint weaknesses and then visualize correcting them. The coach may have his athletes imagine the proper execution of a movement while they wait in line prior to actually attempting the new skill or activity. An aerobics instructor for example may have her students imagine a sequence of steps as they listen to the music prior to physically attempting the steps.

This visual practice can take the form of a preview or a review. A preview would involve looking forward to and visualizing what to do in an upcoming competition. A review would obviously be a review in their mind of how they performed and how they can improve their performance in the future.

Adapted from Foundation of Sport and Exercise Psychology by Robert S. Weinberg and Daniel Gould

By  Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist

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