Mental training for sports and the ability to leverage imagery to enhance cognitive outcomes in sports and sports rehab is a practice that’s been leveraged by athletes for decades. What separates good from great when between top level athletes like Olympians and professionals?
Here is a video of me talking about this in 2014, still completely agree with myself today. I just think I’m better at talking on the camera now.
There are 2 billion athletes globablly that play sports eitehr amature or professional. How many can you name? How many can you classify as lengend?
At this tier of competition, they are all genetic specimens.
They stack up pound for pound with each other.
They train with the best coaches and facilities on the planet.
They have everything at their disposal to be absolute monsters.
BUT what is that one thing the legends excel at over any other competitor?
THEIR MENTAL STRENGTH
Just like we train our muscles hard in the gym, and our skills required for competition, we should be training our mind.
Moment of digression…
I remember when I read a book called “The Way of the SEAL” by Mark Devine, (this is not an affiliate link) I was stoked to learn how these elite human beings (Navy SEALS) operated at such a high level. Where being one step behind meant life or death.
When I was reading the book I was expecting it to be all about their drills, and training (which a lot of it was) but to my surprise they spent much of the book going over Mental training for sports and preparation they had to go through just to pass BUDS and then to be able to operate in such high stakes on actual missions.
I thought to myself, “If this is what the SEALS are doing, it’s something we should be doing”. From then on it actually shaped me going to school for behavioral psychology so I could learn more about these topics, and tools so I could use them in my life as well.
One of the best tools that I ever learned was the tool and skill of Imagery.
What is imagery?
Imagery is a form of simulation. Much like a real sensory experience (seeing, feeling, and hearing) but instead of real time, this all occurs in your mind.
We all do this, whether we think about it or not (pun intended).
How many of you have rehearsed your interview for a job in your head?
Or asking someone out on a date?
Or maybe your dad is about to kick your ass for taking his car without permission? No? Was that just my childhood?
You get the point; we tend to go over situations in our heads prior to them even happening. The kicker is this actually has a huge influence on events/performance will go and has been scientifically evaluated.
So why not use this to our benefit in life and in sport?
Too Keep it simple imagery in form of practice should focus on:
- Visual Sense: What you would see, and how things would look in that situation.
- Auditory sense: Hearing any sounds present in the situation.
- Tactile Sense: How things would feel in the situation.
- Olfactory sense: how things could possibly smell in the situation.
- Emotions: Try to attach your emotions to the entire visualization as well.
For more on Imagery click HERE
The case of going for a PR in a competition
In most cases people won’t think too much about their PR till a couple days beforehand. They don’t put much thought into the nerves that will come the night prior, or the morning of, and the crowd of people who came to watch.
How will they celebrate if they make the lift?
How will they react to missing their second attempt?
Oh, how could I forget… What music will the venue be playing?!
These are all variables that can be used during imagery/visualization in their mind many days in advance.
By rehearsing the meet/PR in their mind (again, Mental training for sports) over and over again they can get the mental reps not only in the lift, but how they will emotionally react to certain situations. Failure to do this leads to an unknown affect in the actual competition.
This can get as specific as possible, and I encourage you to make it as detailed as possible.
Actually, think about how the bar will feel in your hands, what attempts you will take, think about how awesome it will feel to PR, channel all the hard work that’s been put into this attempt.
Rehearse the lift commands by the judge (lord knows how many times we have missed lifts/reps due to our mind going blank not listening to the judging commands). Easy fixes by proper imagery.
On the flip side…
You miss a lift; how will you handle this? Will you let the disappointment consume your mind and start shutting you down emotionally?
OR, will you let this fire you up and learn from your mistakes and come back out swinging for another attempt.
Changing your mindset and emotions quickly could just be what it takes to turn what someone would consider a negative situation into an awesome opportunity.
Hopefully you are buying into this by now and visualizing your next victory at competition, or your next PR in training. Maybe even to keep it simple just visualize your training session you will hit later this week.
The more you practice this, the better you will become. It will also become a habit. Many of you are doing it already, but maybe just need to focus on the positives a little more instead of negative imagery.
I also suggest not doing it prior to bed (from personal experience I get myself worked up and then can’t sleep) but maybe as you are driving to the gym on the way there just start mentally planning your sessions out, or a week our from competition rehearse it in your head over and over again.
Along the same lines of Imagery is Positive Self-Talk.
How many of you have seen someone talking to themselves prior to a big lift? This is a simple form of self-talk and hopefully positive self-talk. Getting themselves hyped prior to the lift for confidence.
Try some positive self-talk to yourself when you are going for some heavy sets in training. Start off with visualizing but in your head or even verbally tell yourself YOU ARE THE MAN/WOMAN! Say you are going to CRUSH IT! No matter how wacky you may sound these little bits of positive talk will help you build confidence and can be the little detail that separates you from making a lift or failing it.
I know for me personally, I have spent more time than I would like to admit with negative self-talk.
Saying things like…
“I’m not good enough”
“this weight is too heavy”
“I didn’t work hard enough”
“I’m too tired”
Blah, blah, blah!
These are all just negative words that we need to eradicate from our minds, and replace with positive ones.
My Personal Anecdote
I’ve been a competitor almost my entire life. I’ve seen/done a lot in my competitive career thus far too. I’ve completely Sh*t the bed and missed multiple lifts, and I’ve also smashed some awesome PR’s. What I have also seen is others who are absolutely killing it in competition have a hick up, and it completely ruin them for the rest of the competition.
This could have been a very different outcome if they had kept composure, and gotten back on the horse and after it. Which all stems from Mental training for sports and preparation and visualization. This website is all about making you become the best version of yourself in/out of the gym and I believe we need to be putting as much mental training in as we do physical.