Imagery is the vivid imagery or video created in the imagination. Either it is remembering back to a past experience or creating a new imagery of a performance could help the athlete create a vivid muscle memory related to what is imagined.
Why use imagery?
The purpose of imagery is to make the individual more prepared for a competitive situation and to make he/her gain more attention control. Furthermore the attention control is gained through visual rehearsal and muscle memory. Researchers has found that athletes uses imagery mostly pre- performance and during the competition. Therefore it is thought that athletes utilises imagery to enhance performance rather than increase skill. It is therefore considered that imagery will be prevalent in the pre competition phase, which can help the athlete increase self-confidence and feel more in control of her stress and arousal level.
How does it work?
Imagery techniques could help the athlete focus on specific tasks to increase the feelings of confidence and control, thus avoid giving the stress and arousal level too much attention. PETTLEP (i.e., Physical, Environment, Task, Timing, Learning, Emotion, and Perspective) is a model mainly focusing at the seven elements; physical refers to the physical nature of the imagery, such as the physical sensation of sitting on a horse that is about to take of a jumping, and feeling the power in the legs as the horse is about to land. The environmental elements refer to where the imagery is carried out (e.g. in the stable, arena or at home). The timing of the imagery is seen as the nature of the round in the arena, however we also discussed the possibility of slow motion, fast and real timing. Learning included the update and re-evaluation of skills of the imagery when the athlete’s abilities becomes more atomised. The next element is emotion, which refers to the athlete’s affective and emotional response in regard of the imagery situation (e.g. joy, happiness, anxiety, excitement, anger etc.). The last element is related to perspective, which refers to first person, also known as internal visual imagery, and from a third person perspective which is the external visual imagery (e.g. video perspective).
Practice makes good
Learning a new skill like PETTLEP requires time, effort and dedication. Researchers has discussed how to introduce imagery to younger athletes through introducing fewer elements in the beginning (e.g., task, environment, and physical) for then through slowly and systematically introducing more complex elements as the imagery intervention progressed (e.g. timing and emotions). The idea behind this imagery intervention is that when the athlete feels comfortable with utilising PETTLEP she can slowly start to implement the method in her pre-performance routine at competitions, which can be an effective tool in order to increase the athlete's feelings of self-control, which can reduce the level of perceived stress and arousal level.
Time, dedication and effort
To begin with it is important to practice at least 10 minutes of imagery/listening to a self-made audiotape in a quiet room. Utilising as many possible senses to make the imagery from a first person perspective as realistic as possible (e.g. visual, kinaesthetic, olfactory, audio and tactile. It is also a good alternative to utilise video from previous performances to get visual feedback from a third person perspective.
The athlete should stand in the correct stance, wearing the same clothes, and holding any implements that would be used during performance.
If possible, the athlete should complete the imagery in the same environment where the performance or task will take place. Where this is not possible, videos, photographs, or a similar environment can be used as a substitute, e.g., a rugby player standing on grass in his or her back garden.
The task being imaged should be identical in nature to the task actually being performed, and this should be altered as the skill level of the athlete changes.
The imagery should be completed in ‘real time’ and should take the same length of time to complete as physically performing the task.
As the athlete becomes proficient and autonomous at the task, the imagery should be updated in order to reflect this and remain equivalent to the physical level of the athlete.
Any emotions associated with performance should be incorporated into the imagery. This can be aided by the use of stimulus and response training.
The imagery should usually be completed from an internal perspective (i.e., through the athlete’s own eyes). This can be controlled by the use of a video to aid the imagery. However, external imagery may be useful for some form-based tasks and personal preference should also be taken into account.