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Mental gym: The art of visualization

I cut left, cut right, nail a perfectly driven ball past the helpless keeper and watch it slam into the net. I can’t believe I scored the winning goal.

But the game hasn’t even started yet.

I saw the goal in my head while going through my pre-game visualization routine.

Visualization is a common tactic used in professional sports because of one simple concept – if you see it, you can do it.

The same idea also applies to non-athletic related instances as well. Students can benefit from visualizing success while taking a test or picturing themselves in a calming environment.

Sports psychologists believe visiting your “mental gym” at least once a day can greatly improve your skill solely by using your brain.

Professional athletes use visualization everyday to improve their craft. The United States Olympic team even hired a group of sports psychologists for the team to use to help with pre-competition visualization.

The NY Times’s reporter, Christopher Clarey spoke with some sports psychologists who work with Olympians in his story entitled, “Olympians Use Imagery as Mental Training,”

“The more an athlete can image the entire package, the better it’s going to be,” said Nicole Detling, a sports psychologist with the United States Olympic team.

Clarey followed athletes with pre-competition visualization rituals and enjoyed watching all of the ways they saw themselves winning their sport at the Sochi Olympics.

“Imagery has seldom been more in evidence than in Sochi, where the starting areas have been full of Olympians going through the motions, figuratively or literally,” wrote Clarey.

He said he witnessed skiers preparing for their events by squatting down in their usual skiing stance, leaning left and right and using their pretend poles to cut through the gates down the slope in their head.

When we visualize as a team before every game, our keeper will lay in a pose like she’s diving for the ball, while actually holding a ball. Field players swing their legs in a kicking motion and smile when their pretend shot hits the back of the net.

Injured athletes also use visualization. When injuries keep an athlete from physically competing, sports psychologists recommend the athletes mentally compete. They picture themselves going through drills with the rest of the team and doing everything they normally would if they were physically capable.

Oftentimes, when practiced, the player finds himself or herself having an easier transition into competition when he or she is healthy again.

Visualization is used by competitive athletes because studies have proven its success.

In a study conducted by Soviet sports scientists, the scientists explored the effects of mental training through visualization on four groups of world-class athletes prior to the 1980 Olympics.

Group 1 did 100 percent physical training to prepare for the Olympics. Group 2 did 75 percent physical training and 25 percent visualization. Group 3 did 50 percent physical training and 50 percent visualization. Finally, Group 4 did 25 percent physical training and 75 percent visualization.

The researchers found that Group 4, the group with the most visualization training, showed the most improvement out of all the other groups. As for the rest of the groups, Group 3 did better than Group 2, and Group 2 did better than Group 1.

While I do not recommend a Group 5 who does 0 percent physical training and 100 percent visualization, I still see the benefits of adding visualization to an athlete’s workout routine.

Some athletes will agree that mental preparation is just as important as physical because they have seen their visualization work within their own game. Non-athletes have also found success with visualization in their day-to-day lives.

And while the list of success stories continues to lengthen, you can add me to that list.

I ended up scoring the goal I envisioned later that night.

It took me about two years of visualizing that one play, but let me tell you, the real thing was much better than what I saw in my head.

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