Our imagination holds remarkable power. If fact, it has often been said that the brain does not distinguish between reality and the vividly imagined. Translated, this means that we get almost as much learning value from a vividly imagined practice as we get from doing it.
This insight into our imagination actually goes a bit deeper. Research shows that when we envision hitting a baseball, we are not just doing a mental exercise. There are micro-movements in the muscles that correspond to the act of hitting a baseball. In other words, there is both a mental and a physical learning that is happening.
Consider the potential of this gem! The mind can imagine any event or situation and accelerate learning or insight through simple mental repetition or practice. We can do these mental rehearsals sitting in the car, lying in bed or waiting in line. Using visualization, we now have a remarkable tool for accelerating mastery and improving confidence. Almost every high performing athlete has talked about using their imagination to build confidence and skill, and this advantage is available to everyone—for free!
Sports psychologist secret to visualization:
Stepping-out to learn This “stepping out” method is remarkably deceptive, as it offers significant advantages in learning and coping to those who master it. Here’s what you do: You simply ask your son or daughter to imagine “seeing themselves,” as if watching a video of their own practice session. An alternative description is to ask them to see themselves through the eyes of a bird or fly on the wall, as they imagine practicing their sport.
From this “observer” perspective, certain emotions are reduced and other learning lessons are enhanced. This skill is useful in many situations, but today we will discuss its application to athletic improvement.
Dr Cale’s 3-step model to better performance
Let’s assume your son or daughter is working hard to improve in a specific sport. In other words, they are motivated. They are willing to practice, but simply can’t be on the field continuously. So, what can you do to help your son or daughter, without creating a pressure cooker feeling at home by constantly squeezing in time to practice?
You can teach your young athlete to mentally practice his or her sport at home, using only five minutes per day, through visualization. Follow these three steps for success:
1. First, teach the “step-out” approach, where they imagine watching themselves practice for just five minutes. In those five minutes, a child can practice hitting a baseball, or stopping a goal, or even shooting a free throw hundreds of times.
2. Next, after mastery of step one over a couple weeks, introduce getting better gradually. Ask your evolving athletes to see daily improvement, and be an “observer” watching themselves getting better daily. Continue this for another few weeks, until your son or daughter can repeatedly observe a very high level of performance. In other words, they see themselves as very successful and much improved. Remember, so far, each visualization exercise is in the “step-out” approach.
3. Now, split each mental rehearsal session into two halves. In the first part, stick with the “step out” method described in step one. In the second half, have them step back into their body and imagine the practice through their own eyes. From this view, they will feel their emotions much more strongly and experience a deeper level of muscle learning and confidence.
For athletic performances, the “step out” sessions teach motivation, skill and a sense of objective learning. Confidence and competence both expand. Yet, we add more when we have them step back into the practice session and experience their enhanced competency from inside their body, not out. Of course, over time, they can then practice this imagery for actual game time, or moments of competition, rather than just practice.
This “step out,” then “step in” approach seems to amplify learning. Give it a try for those young athletes seeking to improve their skills while they are caught inside for a few more weeks before warmer weather. The results may amaze everyone.
Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit www.TerrificParenting.com.