How to Start an Imagery Practice | Q&A with Coach Taryn

Today’s Topic: How to Start an Imagery Practice

Hi everyone.  I’m coach Taryn.  Today I’m going to talk about how to use or how to start an imagery practice.  I’m going to talk about this specifically for figure skaters, but know that everything I say today can be applied to or transferred into any other sport you might be participating in or that your son or daughter might be participating in.

Imagery vs. Visualization

I like to use the term imagery, but you may have also heard people talk about visualization. They’re really the same thing.  I prefer using the term imagery because it allows us to think about all of our senses.  Visualization mostly refers to what you’re seeing through your eyes.

I think so much of when you’re training your mind to imagine the performance on a particular element or a routine that you want to have, you want to incorporate all of the senses – your sight, what you hear, what you smell, and what you feel.  All of those things are really important.  That’s why I like to use the word imagery, but just know that as I’m talking, those two things really the same thing.

Why Imagery is Important

I’d like to give you a little bit of background for the reason why I think imagery is such an important part of training.  As an athlete, it allows you to build confidence by doing extra repetitions without taxing your body or putting the extra strain on your body, especially when you’re learning something new.

If you’re a figure skater out there learning to do a double axel and you haven’t quite mastered that yet, your body is going to take a lot of falls and you know it’s going to be potentially painful if you’re doing a lot of repetitions.

Training Without Overworking Yourself

By using imagery, you can train those repetitions and train specific techniques in your mind without overdoing it or overtaxing your body.  Also, you can only spend a certain amount of time or hours on the ice each day, so visualization and imagery allow you to have extra repetition or extra practice when you don’t have as many hours to spend on the ice.  This is also helpful when you are potentially injured and off the ice for a period of time.  I also think it’s helpful even when you’re actively training.

Your Personal Imagery Practice

What I’m going to talk about today is how to start an imagery practice.  You will be able to use this on a day to day basis to help build your confidence in your ability.  If you’re seeing yourself doing that element over and over and over again in your mind, you’re going to become more confident in your ability to actually do it because you’ve seen yourself do it.

Imagery practice can be done for an element that you are still working to master and build consistency on, or an element that you have and are able to do but want to build confidence on.  One idea behind imagery practice is to be able to tell yourself, “Hey, I can do this anytime I get out there.”

Steps for Creating an Imagery Practice

I’m going to talk through a couple of steps for creating a practice that helps make imagery a little bit more accessible.  These steps help to make it a little bit more effective when you’re doing it.

Step 1: Watch Videos

You’re going to start by watching videos of yourself doing certain skills.  I’m going to use the example for figure skaters have a double axle.  I encourage athletes to start collecting some videos of themselves landing double axles successfully.  You want them to be videos that show a really well executed double axle.

If it’s something you’re still working towards, maybe you don’t have a video of yourself executing it successfully and want you to find videos of other people executing successful and confident looking double axles.  That works, too.  Collect some of those videos and maybe store them on your phone where you can easily access them.

Start by watching those videos.  Maybe pick one in particular and watch it through a couple of times, really getting an idea of what you are seeing, what you are hearing, and start internalizing what that would feel like to be out there doing that double axle.

Step 2: Walking Through it in Your Mind

By watching it, you’re getting that picture ingrained in your mind.  Once it’s in your mind, you can do imagery practice off the ice.  I think it can be really helpful to do an imagery practice both on and off the ice.  When off the ice, you can walk through that element on the floor.  By walking through it, you’re getting the feeling in your body of what it feels like to do that element and if you’re on the ice, again, the same thing.

You can do a walkthrough on the ice of that double axle.  Maybe you’re focusing on what you saw in that video and translating that quickness, that timing, or that check in your shoulders.  Everything that you’re seeing you’re using in the walkthrough.  You might do that walk through maybe 10 times.  Once you’ve done that, walk through again, whether you’re off the ice or on the ice.

Step 3: Focus Words

Next, you are going to decide on your focus words or where your mind needs to be.  That is probably going to be based on what you watched in your video.  Maybe it’s a nice spring into the air, maybe it’s a tight air position, or maybe what you saw was a lot of attack.  You might have heard me talk about focus in my last live video.  It’s something I work on a lot with athletes to get their mind honed in on what they need to focus on to make that element happen successfully.

What I do is I have an athlete come up with three focus words.  For my jump example above, the three words would be spring, attack, and tight. Those would be maybe the focus words I’d have an athlete go into that jump with.  Once those focus words are identified, I might have that athlete then take a moment to use some imagery and imagine themselves doing that double axle.  Whether they’re on the ice or off the ice, this can still be done.

Step 4: Off the Ice Imagery

Off the ice, I might have an athlete sit down in a quiet spot on a bench.  If they’re at home, I’ll have them sit in their room and close their eyes and imagine themselves doing that double axle five to 10 times.  They are skating around, doing the setup, and seeing that double axle executed successfully five to 10 times in their mind.  They do this while bringing into their imagination what they saw in that video and those focus words.  They’re seeing that attack, seeing that spring, seeing that tightness when they watch in their mind.

Making Mistakes

It’s important to know that when you do imagery, you might make a mistake in your mind.  That’s normal.  We’re human, right?  If you make a mistake, if you fall on the one that you’re watching your mind, you’re going to get back up and you’re going to repeat it in your mind.  Repeat it until you’ve seen yourself do five to 10 successfully attempted double axles.

Here’s where it differs whether you’re on the ice off the ice.  If an athlete is on the ice, I would actually have them go and attempt that element a couple of times, but to go and attempt that double axle.  If the athlete is off the ice and is going through this process, I would then have them actually go back to the walkthrough.

Step 5: Attempting the Element

If the athlete is comfortable doing a double axle on the floor, I would actually have them do the double axle on the floor rather than just a walkthrough.  So there’s a couple of different ways this can look different.  And again, if you’re a gymnast, if you’re a diver, if you are a tennis player, if you’re a runner, you can do a very similar type of process.

Imagine certain aspects of your sport, whether it’s a certain skill, whether it’s the getting off the block or the start or the turn, if you’re a swimmer and you’re in the water.  There are a couple of different ways that this can be altered and shifted into different sports, but still applicable no matter what sport you’re doing.

Review the Steps

Going back through those steps, first I would have the athlete watch a video of either themselves or somebody else executing that skill, a double axel for example.

Next, I would have them complete walkthroughs either on the ice or on the floor of the double axle, about five to 10 times walking through it, getting the feeling in their body.

Then I would have the athlete identify or sit down and kind of take a moment and think about what are their focus words for that element.  Using the double axel example again, those words might be spring, attack, and tight.

Once you’ve identified those focus words or your athlete has identified those focus words than I would have them do the imagery – bringing together what they’ve seen in that video, what they felt when they did that walkthrough, what they thought about in their mind, where their mind needs to be, and actually imagine themselves completing five to 10 successful double axles in their mind.  Usually with eyes closed is best, but I know for some people they like to do imagery with their eyes open, so imagining themselves and imagining it to using a similar setup as they normally would on the ice.  I think that’s really important because then you’re building that consistency.

Once you’ve imagined yourself doing about five to 10 successful double axles, then you’re going to actually do the element or attempt the element on the ice or do double axles on the floor or go back to the walkthrough if that’s where you’re at in terms of your progression of doing this particular element.

Imagery For All Elements

Know that imagery doesn’t have to just be for an element that you’re trying to master, but I suggest with the figure skaters that I work with, that they do this with all of their jumps.  Let’s say at a figure skater is working on trying to get a consistent double axle, but they have all of their other doubles consistent.  Well, I would have them on a daily basis or multiple times out of the week, carve out a 10-minute chunk of time where they could go through this process with each of the jumps that are in their short program or each of the jumps that are in their long program.  Just like you do your off ice training and you do your daily stretching or strength training or cardio running, or your run-throughs of your program on the ice each day.

You could have an imagery practice that you do every day and you spend about 10 to 15 minutes going through this five-step process with each of the jump elements that are in your short program or your long program, and again, if I translate this to another sport and I’ll use gymnastics, this could be done with each tumbling pass in a floor routine or each element or each of the specific elements on a balance beam routine or each of your vaults.

This is transferable to all sports, not just figure skating.  I’m just using that as an example because that’s where my main area of interest is.  Also, I know that I want to be able to offer something to the figure skaters out there who are watching.

Many Uses for Imagery

Imagery has so many uses.  Building confidence, doing extra repetition, and really fine tuning where your mind needs to be and where your body needs to be in order to be able to do that element.  The more you actually imagine yourself doing these elements, the more you’re creating those signals or strengthening those signals from your brain to your muscles, to your nerves, and your neurons in your body that all act when you do that double axle on the ice.  All those messages and signals that go through your body from your brain, all the way down to your feet.  Those are activated in the same way when you’re imagining the element as they would be when you’re actually doing the element.

Creating & Fine Tuning Imagery Practice

Imagery is a really effective tool or strategy that you can put into your toolbox and use on a daily or weekly basis as part of your training.  If this is something you want to learn more about, I love talking about imagery with athletes.  If it’s something that you want to fine-tune or work on or really work towards having your own individualized imagery practice, feel free to set up a phone consultation with me.


I offer a 20-minute free phone consultation and I’d be happy to chat with you a little bit more about how we could work on that for you or your athlete.  Click here so we can start scheduling some individual sessions and do some work with that.

That’s something I think is such a valuable part of training that often gets forgotten or not necessarily thought about.   Again, just remember that imagery is a practice.  It’s something that you’re going to have to do over and over again.  You will become better and better and better at it, just like you will with the elements that you’re actually doing on the ice.  So take this five-step process, give it a shot, and see how it works for you.

I look forward to hearing from some of you soon.  Have a good day.

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