Mental Imagery/Visualisation
Mental imagery, or visualisation, involves the athlete imagining themselves in an environment performing a specific activity using all of their senses (sight, hear, feel and smell). The images should have the athlete performing successfully and feeling satisfied with their performance. Visualisation is proving to be an understandably popular mechanism with elite athletes eager for marginal gains. The use of imagery primes their muscles to perform correct technique and to execute appropriate actions in competition, but it also conditions their mind to think clearly about how they will react to certain pressures, situations and problems. Consider it a ‘mental warm-up.’ When combined with __relaxation__ it is useful in:

  • the promotion of rest, recovery and recuperation
  • the removal of stress related reactions e.g. muscular tension
  • establishing a physical and mental state which has an increased receptivity to positive mental imagery
  • establishing an appropriate level of physical and mental arousal prior to competition


Mental Imagery can be used to:

  • Familiarise the athlete with a competition site, a race course, a complex play pattern or routine etc.
  • Motivate the athlete by recalling images of their goals for that session, or of success in a past competition or beating a competitor in competition
  • Perfect skills or skill sequences the athlete is learning or refining
  • Reduce negative thoughts by focusing on positive outcomes
  • Refocus the athlete when the need arises e.g. if performance is feeling sluggish, __imagery__ of a previous best performance or previous best event focus can help get things back on track
  • See success where theathlete sees themselves performing skills correctly and the desired outcomes
  • Set the stage for performance with a complete mental run through of the key elements of their performance to set the athlete's desired pre-competition feelings and focus.

How to apply mental imagery?
  • This method is used regularly by many of the world’s best tennis players. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray both use imagery to prepare for games. Djokovic was taught to visualise his shots to the accompaniment of classical music by his first coach.
  • Murray has even been known to __make several visits to a deserted Centre Court__ in advance of Wimbledon in order to mentally acclimatise to the environment. “I have sat on Centre Court with no one there and thought a bit about the court, the matches I have played there,” Murray said. “I want to make sure I feel as good as possible so I have a good tournament.”

When should mental imagery be used?

To become proficient in the use of imagery you have to use it ever day: on your way to training, during training and after training. In every training session, before you execute any skill or combination of skills, first do it in imagery. See, feel, and experience yourself moving through the actions in your mind, as you would like them actually to unfold. In the competition situation use imagery before the start of the event and see yourself performing successfully/winning.Golfer Jack Nicklaus used mental imagery for every shot. In describing how he imagines his performance, he wrote:

  • "I never hit a shot even in practice without having a sharp in-focus picture of it in my head. It's like a colour movie. First, I "see" the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I "see" the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behaviour on landing. Then there's a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality and only at the end of this short private Hollywood spectacular do I select a club and step up to the ball."
Suggested Techniques to Use.1 The "Quick Set" routinePsychologist Jeff Simons developed a routine that would allow an athlete to achieve an appropriate mental arousal in the last 30 seconds before a competition. The "Quick Set" routine, which involves physical, emotional and focus cues, can also be used as a means of refocusing quickly following a distraction.An example of this "Quick set" routine for a sprinter could be:

  • Close your eyes, clear your mind and maintain deep rhythmical breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth (physical cue)
  • Imagine a previous race win, see yourself crossing the line in first place and recreate those emotional feelings of success (emotional cue)
  • Return your focus to the sprint start, think of blasting off on the 'B' of the bang with the appropriate limb action (focus cue) but from the vantage point of someone standing on the finishing line, and commentate on the race as it develops. Watch as you get closer.... stand there as the image gets bigger.... comment on the sweat and how that runner is breathing... keep looking as the image gets so big you can look right into her eye.
2 Visualisation Script
Remove Pre Competition Nerves Close your eyes and take a deep breath Picture a day when you were going to a competition

Prepare for the Action

Achieve a Successful Outcome

Use this website for ideas to complete the script above__ benefits of mental imagery have been outlined and I have found that when an athlete is in a fully __relaxed state__, they are particularly receptive to mental imagery. The next stage is the creation of scripts to help in __developing and apply mental imagery skills__.

5 Breath Technique

This exercise can be performed while you are standing up, lying down or sitting upright. You should inhale slowly, deeply and evenly through your nose, and exhale gently through your mouth.

  • Take a deep breath and allow your face and neck to relax as you breathe out
  • Take a second deep breath and allow your shoulders and arms to relax as you breathe out
  • Take a third deep breath and allow your chest, stomach and back to relax as you breathe out
  • Take a fourth deep breath and allow your legs and feet to relax as you breathe out
  • Take a fifth deep breath and allow your whole body to relax as you breathe out
  • Continue to breathe deeply for as long as you need to, and each time you breathe out say the word 'relax' in your mind's ear

Benson’s Relaxation Response

Benson's technique is a form of meditation that can be used to attain quite a deep sense of relaxation and can be ideal for staying calm in between rounds of a competition. It can be mastered with just a few weeks' practice and comprises of seven easy steps:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position and adopt a relaxed posture
  2. Pick a short focus word that has significant meaning for you and that you associate with relaxation (e.g. relax, smooth, calm, easy, float, etc.)
  3. Slowly close your eyes
  4. Relax all the muscles in your body
  5. Breathe smoothly and naturally, repeating the focus word
  6. Be passive so that if other thoughts enter your mind, dismiss them with, 'Oh well' and calmly return to the focus word - do not concern yourself with how the process is going
  7. Continue this for 10 to 15 minutes as required.

Positive Self-talk
Positive self-talk involves the athlete endorsing their own ability or progress by literally talking to him or herself. This is often common in tennis because if they play a bad shot or loose the point they will positive self talk to help them win the next point. This is often common in British tennis player, Andy Murray as you can see him muttering to himself after a lost point or a ineffective shot, of course many players across the sporting world do this as well and for some players you can see the negativity of the self-chatter. This involves the athlete being able to take into account where they are up to with their ability, and being able to progress by talking to themselves to help figure out where to go next. Speaking aloud will commit you (the athlete) to the task and is effective in raising confidence. However, positive self-talk is only of value if performers are of a high standard and are experienced.