Ask the G4 Athlete: Why Visualize?

12 November 2013
Mental Edge
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Ask the G4 Athlete: Why Visualize?

Why do athletes mention that they visualized the game beforehand? Does it help you in the game to be thinking about what you are going to do before you get there? Mackenzie

Great question, Mackenzie. Visualization, or imagery, is a vital part of performing well — especially after you’ve had an injury.

Where Video Games Improve the Real Thing

As an example, look at the growth of video games over the years. Seemingly, anyone under the age of 35 has grown up with visually complex games spanning multiple genres. Whether an action shooter game or a football game, an entire generation has been actively playing these games.

For this reason, organizations from the military to athletic programs in the NCAA use video games as simulators for practice. These games are entirely virtual, and yet they allow the user to practice, to train, and to become a better player. If these organizations see the value of imagery in their training regimens, there must be some value to the mental component of your game.

So does visualization work?

Bring Your Mind into the Equation

The big idea behind imagery is bringing your mind into the equation — it gets your muscles ready to perform the same task. In injury rehab, this is a critical first phase called the neuro-reeducation stage. It’s a stage where the nerves running from your brain to your muscles are organizing and becoming more efficient in their pathway.

From a training perspective, studies indicate the visualization process brings measurable results — imagining lifting weights will actually improve your strength in those specific tasks when you actually lift weights.

In fact, athletes may see an enhancement in strength when performing imaged repetitions during rest periods in their physical training.

Much to Gain

So to answer your question, Mackenzie, there is quite a lot to gain from visualization. Of course, we need to be mindful of the barriers in this tactic. Visualization is not a substitute for training in preparation for the next game; it’s an enhancement. It’s like adding salt to your meal. The food is required to keep you alive and healthy; the salt adds flavor to make it a better meal, but you wouldn’t want to consume a salt diet!

While these studies certainly indicate a tangible effect from visualization, it is most applicable to injury rehabilitation scenarios where the athlete hasn’t been able to practice.

Nevertheless, visualization is an important aspect of your athletic work, no matter your scenario. Whether you are getting ready for the big game or your are working your way back from an ankle sprain, Mackenzie, take some time to run some images through your head. It helps to focus at the task at hand! See it! Make it happen!