|AREAS OF INTEREST: MENTAL IMAGERY, BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION, RELAXATION TRAINING, SPORT PSYCHOLOGY.
by: Tom Seabourne Ph. D
You spend several hours a week physically practicing your sport, but how much time do you spend in mental practice? Ask many top athletes and they will admit performing optimally is mostly mental. Your mind programs your body for peak performance. Your body responds quickly when your brain is focused. In times of stress it’s easy to forget that you are in control.
Body/mind training is most effective when you are relaxed. Relaxation does not mean taking it easy. Instead it describes access to a state of mind that allows you to focus. Relaxation and proper concentration helps you maintain control. Replace apprehension with tenacity; view training and competition as a challenge. There are a variety of methods to channel unwanted anxiety into explosive energy:
1. Recognize your symptoms of anxiety and ask yourself what could be so important to cause you to fret.
2. Understand that everyone gets butterflies.
3. Take a deep breath from your diaphragm and relax muscles that feel tense.
4. Visualize yourself appearing comfortably focused and prepared for your impending performance.
5. When your imagined performance begins, “see” everything going as planned.
6. Take a moment to imagine a glitch, but see yourself smiling, recovering fully and completely.
7. Be spontaneous. A flexible attitude will allow you to relax providing for a better performance.
8. Don’t focus so much on yourself. Other people don’t care as much about you as you do.
9. Empathize with the anxiety of your teammates. Help relieve their burden by relaxing.
10. Take control of yourself: Be brave.
Imagine Andre Agassi hitting a between the legs crosscourt passing shot. He can perform this incredible feat quite easily. But can we learn something from this? The answer is yes and no. Regardless of how many behind the back passing shots we watch, there will probably be little transfer of skill from the television to our own trick shot repertoire. However, the classic Pete Sampras serve, and Boris Becker diving volley, have a great deal to offer in the way of technical excellence. Visualize Steffi Graf executing a winning forehand. Simply by viewing her incredible speed, timing, and efficient technique, you might be inspired to train just a little bit harder, and subsequently improve your own speed, timing, and efficiency.
Tips on Mental Training
1. Whether you witness a perfect shot on television or in a tournament, make a mental picture of it.
2. Review it over and over in your mind’s eye.
3. Use as many of your senses as possible. Try to “feel” the shot as if you were actually performing it. “Hear” the sound of the strings brushing up against the back of the ball.
4. “Shadow box” the movement as you visualize it.
5. Practice both physically and mentally until your physical stroke approaches the perfection of your mental ideal. Use your SportCord to provide resistance and groove your stroke in slow motion. Recent research suggests that imagery is most effective when practiced with a vivid and controllable image. This is not surprising because imagery may enhance innervation of the proper nerve to muscle pathways. When performing imagery you may actually feel your muscles twitch as they respond to your mental machinations.
Fielding a Grounder with Imagery
1. Clear your mind.
2. Look down and slightly to your left side.
3. “Feel” your left arm descending to field a grounder.
4. Extend your arm and snag the imaginary ball.
5. Retrieve the ball with your right hand and throw it for an out.
Imagery will not give you the strength of Jose Canseco. However, studies show training and practice with imagery can improve your performance. Research that Bob Weinberg and I conducted at the University of North Texas demonstrated:
l. Relaxation and imagery combined was more beneficial than either relaxation or imagery alone.
2. Students who practiced relaxation and imagery ten minutes each day performed significantly better than those who were exposed to the technique moments prior to their performance.
3. When we individualized the mental techniques to the needs of the students, they performed better than a placebo control group.
4.Instructor-guided imagery was no more effective than self-guided imagery. Results showed no significant differences between the self-guided group and the instructor-guided group.
5. Individualizing cognitive techniques to the needs of the students significantly improved their performance.