Ask Judy

What You See Is What You Get


Judy Goss

Swimmers often mention to me that they use imagery or visualization but don't really feel that it helps them. It may not be that the imagery isn't helpful- it may just be the way it is being used. Imagery or visualization is creating or re-creating an image of yourself, a skill, a situation, or a scenario, and mentally running through what you would normally practise physically. A swimmer might create an image of swimming 100 metres freestyle. For the imagery to be effective, you need to remember the following 5 points.

  1. To make the image more realistic, it is necessary to use all of the senses. Often the image is primarily a visual image. While you need to see yourself swimming the race, you also need to hear the water splashing, your heart pounding; you want to taste the water in your mouth; you want to smell the chemicals in the water; you want to feel your shoulders break the surface of the water, your feet on the wall as you turn; you want to also be aware of the feel of the position of your arm and hand as you break the surface of the water for your pull and the extension through your fingertips as you reach for the wall. All the senses need to be a part of your image.

  2. Try to work on creating a vivid image that is clear, colourful, and realistic. The more vivid the image, the more effective it is likely to be.

  3. It is important to have control over the image. You need to be able to make the image do what you want it to do.

  4. The length of time it takes you to run the image is also important. If you are imaging yourself swimming 100 free in 59 seconds, then that is how long it should take you to run the image in your mind.

  5. Give your imagery time to work. Imagery needs to be practised just like physical skills. You might begin practising your imagery at home in your room before you go to sleep, where it is a nice quiet situation. But to transfer this to behind the blocks at Junior Nationals will be difficult. Start to practise your imagery in a quiet atmosphere and then move it up to different situations where there are more distractions. Your bedroom, the dinner table, in front of the T.V., on the bus or subway, in the hallways at school, at training, at a small competition, and then at a bigger competition. This will allow you to develop the ability to deal with distractions and a higher level of arousal. Again, imagery of physical skills needs to be practised just like physical skills.

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Judy Goss, Ph.D., is a Sport Psychology Consultant with the National Sport Centre-Toronto.