Mental fitness being as important as physical training is now a matter of fact which all sportspeople should become aware of, irrespective of their discipline and ranking.
Tennis champion Boris Becker knew it, which is why he stated that any match he lost was firstly “lost in his mind” and then on court. Over the years, sports psychology has developed various approaches targeting mental training as a tool to achieve winning performances and to work out failure in a proactive way.
A very popular approach is based on visualization techniques. Before finding out what they are and the effects they produce, let’s spend a few words on relaxation, which is the actual starting point!
The importance of relaxation for sportspeople
All athletes need to learn how to relax in order to achieve greater self-control and thus be more effective in managing their body, thoughts and emotions in synergy. In addition to the above, athletes should also develop the ability to relax in any and all conditions so that they can evoke what is known as the “centred condition” whenever they need to, including in highly demanding situations.
Shortly speaking, relaxing is not a practice in contrast with the idea of giving one’s best. It is actually the opposite: a clear and relaxed mind helps athletes take out their most explosive resources, keeping concentration and a sound balance between relaxation and responsiveness.
Visualization techniques: what they are and their effects
Visualization in sport is based on a simple assumption: our mind cannot perceive any difference between an experience we have actually lived and one we have imagined. This is why the images we create in our minds give rise to the same psycho-physical reactions as real events.
Curiosity: you may not be aware that we resort to visualization more frequently than you may expect. What do you think of when you carry out the steps of a food recipe? You think of mental images that help you develop, change and build actions to hit the target you have set out for!
In the sport context, visualization techniques focus on the target and help the athlete hit it both at mental and physical level. When you visualize ideal movements and actions, your mind creates a neural track which gets stronger over time and through repetition. In other words, practical execution of movements/actions becomes more natural because our mind is used to repeating them.
Visualization techniques are more effective when they are multi-sensory, i.e. they involve all senses. Imagination should be a “thought of the entire body”: this activity requires perseverance, commitment and discipline in order to have beneficial effects.