Many coaches use visualization tools when teaching routines or preparing for a competition, and there’s a good reason. Effective visualization is not just about picturing yourself doing your routine. There are so many ways to visualize and the benefits go way beyond reviewing choreography.
Are you visualizing and teaching it correctly? Are you getting everything you can out of it? There are many different benefits and types of imagery and visualization. Let’s look at some of the tools you can use as a coach and why they work.
What is Visualization?
Visualization (also called imagery) involves creating or re-creating an experience in your mind. It’s the process of creatively generating an image intended to enhance performance, motivation, or mood.
Visualization is effective because it involves almost all of your senses: vision, auditory, olfactory, and tactile/kinesthetic. Of course, it also involves mood and emotions.
10 Benefits of Effective Visualization Tools
You may already be using visualization before competitions to practice your full routine. That’s one great uses of imagery, but there are so many benefits of imagery including:
Learning and practicing new skill
Developing plans & strategies
Improved concentration and attention
Goal Setting and achievement
Improve mood and emotional state
When have you used imagery as a coach? Maybe for one or two of the above reasons? Think about how you can incorporate visualization tools into your everyday practice. Need to boost everyone’s mood or get people motivated? Visualization can help! Want to help your dancers achieve their goals? Visualize what it will feel like to get there! Need your teenage athletes to have better attention and concentration skills? Practice visualization skills to train them to stay focused and in control without distraction. The possibilities are endless!
When do you use imagery?
You’ve probably seen the teams who huddle in a circle and hold hands with their heads bowed listening to the music. I assume many of them are visualizing their routine. That’s one great use of imagery, but you don’t have to wait until competition or wait until you have a complete routine to benefit from visualization tools.
You can also visualize:
Before, during, and after practice
Outside of practice in your own time
Before and after competition
During injury rehab
Why Do Athletes Use Imagery?
There are two main functions of imagery: To improve Motivation and Cognition
When you want to improve motivation on your team, visualization is one powerful tool in your coaches’ toolbox. You can do it during the hard practices leading up to your first competition, or when you’re afraid they may burn out and you notice motivation is fading.
For example, you can have your team visualize specific goals and goal-oriented behaviors like winning a specific event or accomplishing a specific skill. If practices are getting intense and difficult, take a 5-minute break and ask your athletes to close their eyes and visualize what it will be like when they accomplish their goals. (Picture a perfect landing of the skill that’s been plaguing them, or picture running up to receive the trophy they’ve been dreaming about.)
Visualization is also motivational when used to help boost confidence. You can use visualization to get psyched up or to picture yourself performing at your personal peek.
Alternately, visualization is a great tool for cognitive skills.
You can visualize a perfect performance of a specific skill, or whole routines. Visualization allows an athlete to increase body awareness and boost confidence in a skill, making a successful skill attempt more likely.
How Do You Visualize?
There are two perspectives you can take when visualizing, internal or external. Internal is when you are inside yourself, seeing what you normally see. You feel yourself execute the skill, you can focus on the kinesthetic sense of performing the skill, and you experience it from your own point of view.
You can also take an external perspective, which is like watching yourself in a movie.
Which is better? Well, it depends. Most research supports a stronger neurological connection with an internal perspective. However, if an athlete naturally takes an external perspective and struggles to hold on to visualization from an internal perspective, forcing it won’t help. If external visualization comes naturally to you or your athletes, stick with it.
Stay In Control and Make it Clear
Visualization tools work best if you ensure the image is both vivid and you maintain control. When you ask your athletes to sit down and visualize a skill like a toe-touch, for example, you want that image to be as clear as possible. You want it to be very realistic, so be as detailed as possible. What are you wearing? Where are you? What do you see? What do you hear? All the way down to where the beads of sweat are on your forehead.
The more vivid the picture, the better it will work. That means visualization takes a little time. Even something as simple as a toe-touch visual doesn’t happen right away. Take a minute to set the stage before you visualize and it will be much more effective. Then if you’re visualizing a single skill, you can hold on the visual for a minute and picture that perfect toe-touch five times in a row.
Secondly, visualizations have to be in your control. This takes practice and some people struggle to really be in charge of what they are seeing. This is where concentration comes in. You have to be able to hold on to the image and not let anything negative happen in the image. If you’re not careful and not in control, your visualization of the routine might take a wrong turn and you end up imagining something going wrong. You want to make sure you are in control of the timing and sequence of your visualization.
How Does Visualization Work?
There is more than one theory to explain why imagery works to improve performance and confidence. One theory called the Symbolic Learning Theory explains that imagery enhances performance because it allows individuals to anticipate and rehearse their responses to specific environments and stimuli they will encounter. It helps the athlete understand the movement patterns and allows for a rehearsal of skills. Athletes are also able to identify key cues in the environment and potential problems they might come across.
Another view is the Psychological Skills explanation. Imagery works because it improves many other mental skills. Visualization tools are more than just picturing a skill, but they work because they influences things like confidence, motivation, concentration and goal setting.
It Works Because It Changes Your Brain
Bottom line, we know that visualization has a neurological reason for its success. When you imagine a skill or a routine, the neural pathways that are activated are the same neural pathways involved in actually performing the skill. Visualization is actually using the same neural pathways, making them more efficient and automatic, and easier to utilize during an actual physical performance. So when you imagine a skill, the effect on the brain is the same as performing the skill!
What Visualization Tool Will You Use?
Thinking about all 10 benefits of visualization, I hope you can pick at least 3 new ways to incorporate effective visualization into practice or competition. Teach your athletes about internal and external perspectives. Help them practice with one skill visualization or a motivational image so they get the hang of being in control of a vivid image.
What else would you like to learn about in regards to visualization? Let me know!