The Reason Many Athletes Use Visualization Before a Competition

To get positive results, you need to think positively. We often hear people repeat this phrase over and over without truly understanding the truth behind it. Just the mere thought of achieving something will not make it come true. However, thinking positively does make us feel relaxed, more confident, capable, and even at times invincible. The truth is that the power of the mind is something that we still do not fully understand, yet most of us have experienced its influence over our lives.

Having recurrent negative thoughts does affect our health. Similarly, positive thoughts help us maintain a healthier mind, thus, a healthier lifestyle. Knowing that thinking positively brings us closer to our goals, it is no surprise that many athletes use visualization to prepare before a competition. To understand better the potential of visualization for athletes, it is primordial to know more about this alternative practice.

Visualization and sports

Michael Phelps had his gear on, ready to jump into the water and compete for the win. His coach stands close, amazed by how calm and confident this young man looks. Phelps goes into the water and, after a couple of laps, he finishes first. He gets out of the water and, although jubilant for finishing first, does not appear surprised. His secret is that he had envisioned his win and felt optimistic about obtaining that victory. He had been practicing visualization for many years and often, if not always, achieved the previewed result.

Imagining possible scenarios is something that we do naturally. We do it every day to plan our day and prepare for different end results. However, imagining possible outcomes is not often beneficial to our mental health and in some cases, it leads to feelings of stress and anxiety. Visualization is a practice where one imagines a specific outcome to feel relaxed and in control. It is a conscious activity where one guides the brain to think something positive. It activates the brain and, over time, helps to reprogram the way we perceive things and the approach we take towards life.

Like Phelps, many recognized athletes use this practice to stay focused and to feel relaxed and confident. The way it works for many athletes is to think about the outcome they want. They also think of possible challenges that might arise and imagine how they would react and overcome them. These visualizations are always practiced during training and, the more they repeat them, the more the brain begins to recognize the images and absorb the information.

When the time to compete comes, they feel like everything is under control and that they are capable of obtaining those results. Thus, visualization has become widely accepted in the world of sports, with many coaches learning how to use it and many researchers doing studies to prove its functionality. Richard M. Suinn, the ex-president of the American Psychological Association, writes about the benefits of practicing Visual Motor Behavior Rehearsal, a popular visualization method for athletes. VMBR should be practiced from 45 to 60 minutes and might take up to four sessions to make changes to the athlete’s perception of his/her abilities.

These sessions consist of a series of steps: first the relaxation phase and then the visualization. Coaches should guide their athletes by providing a familiar scene being this a football field, a pool, or any other place where the athlete competes. Things like weather, sounds, and even smells can also be described to make the visualization feel real. As the sessions go, their brain will already be accustomed to these images and therefore, it will become a habit to get into that vision, making the process faster and more natural. Athletes who practice visualization, like golfer Jack Nicklaus, say there comes a time when they can feel the wind rush through their body and see the landscape change as if they were doing physical activity, even though they are still and with their eyes closed. In golf, golfers usually visualize their golf swings to analyze their movement. They also love to invest in walking golf bags because they find them durable and easy to use as they can store all the necessary pieces of equipment for the play.

Beyond sports

Visualization is a practice that anyone can benefit from. Coaches know that the mind is a powerful tool and thus, should be programmed to always expect the best result. It is even used by sports teams, and although the process is harder, the practice can even make the team feel more united. Visualization has many benefits to the mind that it should be used in other areas of life as well. It is especially important for people who have anxiety or other mental problems.

Learning to train the mind and be in control is not easy, yet it is extremely rewarding. Through visualization one can achieve mental peace, can increase their confidence, and become better at any activity. Now you know that when you want to get good results, imagine yourself getting them and the process will become easier.

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