Sport Psychology: Visualize Difficult Situations

Sport Psychology: Visualize Difficult Situations

Dick Moss, Editor

An opponent false starts and your sprinter mopes back to the starting line muttering about how well he'd reacted to the gun. His next start is a disaster and he runs a personal worst for the season.

Your tennis player is warming up for her match, when it starts to rain. She continues her warmup, complaining about the conditions, and plays horribly.

These are examples of situations which can adversely affect the composure of athletes. But why should such situations result in poor performance? After all, the sprinter had to redo his start, but so did everybody else in the race. The weather was the same for the tennis player's opponents, yet it affected her more.

Simply put, these athletes allowed the situation to upset them more than it did their opponents. Once upset, they began to focus more on the problem than the task at hand.

The Solution
Fortunately, you can improve your athletes' ability to react positively to adverse competitive conditions using visualization and a cue phrase.

Have them visualize themselves in a difficult situation such as a rainstorm or walking back to the line after a false start. In the middle of the situation, they should visualize themselves smiling and saying a key phrase to themselves. For example, “No problem…relax.”

They should then feel themselves becoming relaxed and refocusing for the upcoming task—while seeing their opponents griping and complaining.

Finally they should see themselves successfully completing the task and experiencing a sense of satisfaction from overcoming the difficult conditions. They should practice this visualization and cue phrase frequently.

Become Relaxed First
Visualizing is more effective if your students can achieve a relaxed state using self-hypnosis or relaxation-induction techniques. If they aren't familiar with such techniques, simply have them lie on their back with eyes closed and hands on their stomach.

They then perform centered breathing, in which their stomach rises and falls with each breath (they can monitor this with their hands) and have them think the word “relax” on every exhalation. After about 10 exhalations, they will be feeling fairly relaxed and can begin their visualization.
Dick Moss (Editor), PE Update.

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