Create an Imagery Practice in 5 Steps

Today’s Topic: Create an Imagery Practice in 5 Steps

Hi everyone, Coach Taryn here.  I hope you’re all hanging in there!  If you’re one of the many athletes worried about losing your skills while you’re away from practice, I want to remind you about a very powerful tool – imagery.  I am going to break down how to create an imagery practice, step-by-step, so you can start feeling more confident about your return to sport.

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.

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 your senses – your sight, what you hear, what you smell, and what you feel.  

Why Imagery is Important

As an athlete, imagery allows you to build confidence by doing extra repetitions without taxing your body or putting extra strain on your body.  A lot of you are doing conditioning and drills at home, but many of you have reached out and said you’re still worried that it won’t be enough.  By using imagery, you can train those repetitions and train specific techniques in your mind without overdoing it or overtaxing your body. 

Your Personal 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 and can help with any skill you want to maintain while under quarantine.  

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, and doing those skills successfully.  You want them to be videos that show your skills very well executed.

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 skills.  That works, too. 

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 at home.  I think it can be really helpful to do an imagery practice both in and out of practice.  When off the floor, ice, wherever it is, 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 back, it’s the same thing.  You want to do multiple walkthroughs.

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.  This is 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 a jump, 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: At Home Imagery

If they’re at home, I’ll have them sit in their room and close their eyes and imagine themselves doing that double axle, back handspring, tuck (whatever it is) five to 10 times.  They are doing the setup and seeing that skill 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.  

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 or balk 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 it five to 10 times successfully.

Step 5: Attempting the Element

So there’s a couple of different ways this can look.  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.

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 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.  Remember that imagery is a practice and it’s something you can fine-tune as you progress through your skills.

I hope you find this helpful as you continue navigating your at-home training.  If you have questions, feel free to reach out.  We are offering free consultations.  Click here to sign up for a consult .

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