Mental Imagery

Utilizing Mental Imagery

Written by Taylor Greenwood, our Sports Psychology Intern

One of the most widely used and most effective sports psychology techniques is the practice of mental imagery. Whether an athlete practices imagery before training or before a competition, this technique has been proven effective for elevating an athlete’s game, by improving confidence and motivation.

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The human mind is a powerful tool; one that can often be tricked into thinking an individual is experiencing a real life situation when in fact it is not. This trick is what ultimately allows mental imagery to enhance the performance of athletes. In fact, Dr. John Perry, author of Sports Psychology: A Complete Introduction, states that imagery that mirrors a life like situation allows an athlete to practice a skill without needing to participate in the skill itself (Perry, 220).

First and foremost, it is important to know that imagery is not simply the imagining of a still situation; imagery is the mental play back of a situation in its entirety from start to finish, including the movements.  From there, there are a few ways an athlete can utilize mental imagery for their specific situation. An internal mental imagery perspective is beneficial when an athlete wishes to imagine their situation through their own eyes while an external mental imagery perspective is beneficial when an athlete wishes to imagine their situation as though they are looking through the eyes of another individual watching themselves. Dr. Perry states that the internal mental imagery perspective is effective at connecting an individual’s thoughts and feelings- i.e. getting in the right mood for the skill- while the external mental imagery perspective is effective for a strategic, technical outcome- i.e. wanting to hone in on the technical aspect of the skill (Perry, 221).

Taking those two perspectives into account, there are a few key factors to include in order to make your mental imagery most effective:

·       Physical movement

·       Environmental specifics

·       Task undertaken

·       Timing of movement

·       Learning of the movement

·       Emotion association with the movement

·       Perspective of the individual


When engaging in imagery, you want to make sure that you are in the position that replicates the position you are trying to imaging. For example, if you are wanting to imagine yourself completing a lift, you want to be standing in the upright position, similar to how you would be standing in the lift itself. In addition to the position, you want to aim to have your environment during the imagery match your imagery real life situation. With the example used above, imagining yourself lifting while in your bedroom would not be as effective as imagining yourself lifting while in the gym. Next, your mental imagery practice should be fairly equal in length to the length of your actual situation. You should imagine your entire lift in its entirety; ideally the same length it would take to actually complete the lift. Look to add emotions similar to those you would feel while partaking in your real life situation as well. For example, if you feel energized before a lift, try and replicate that feeling. Finally, determine which perspective you wish to use for your mental imagery: either the internal or external perspective.

 By putting together all the above information and practicing mental imagery frequently, you may find your game elevated in the form of an increased confidence and motivation. Give mental imagery a try and if you have any questions on any of the above components, don’t hesitate to ask!

Perry, John. “Psychological Skills Training.” Sports Psychology: A Complete Introduction. 22 March 2016. 220-225. Print.