Elite athletes embrace this skill as a crucial aspect of their preparation for important events. Having done all the groundwork – be it physical preparation or training - is simply not enough unless you have also developed the skill to mentally prepare for the challenge ahead. Recent studies continue to prove the strong link that exists between mental preparation and physical performance in sport, yet many athletes fail to embrace the advantages that good mental preparation can provide.
The skill of visualisation involves going through each step of an upcoming challenge in your head – you are effectively rehearsing your race in your head, you are watching a movie of you competing - and you are the star! It allows you to race your perfect race, to prepare for every possible eventuality in a positive and successful way. It is used to improve the quality of athletic movement, increase the power of concentration, and serves to reduce the pressures of competition on the athlete while building athletic confidence.
The more you practice this skill, the easier it becomes and the better you will become at your sport.
You need to find a quiet place to relax. Some people listen to quiet background music, the sounds of nature, use incense or a candle to help them relax. Lie on your back, rest your arms by your side and make yourself comfortable.
Count for 3 seconds as you inhale and 3 seconds as you exhale. Let your body relax and slowly sink into the floor as you concentrate on your breathing rhythm. Keep counting your breathing for at least 10 cycles of inhaling and exhaling.
Time to focus on warming up for your race. Feel how strong your body is and how prepared you are. Feel the water beneath you as you warm up, note the movement and strength, feel its coolness, feel the air around you. Look to your supporters, listen to them cheer, feel how comfortable and focused you are.
3. Your thinking
Maintain breathing deeply whilst you focus on developing confident and positive thoughts. You know you have trained hard, prepared yourself well. You love competing – this is what you train so hard to do. You know you will do well. Time to get rid of any negative thoughts and replace them with confident, positive ones. Don’t think “That parts hard, I’ll stuff it up,” instead think “Even when my body is tired, I’m going to overcome it. My body can do this because my mind has trained for it.”
4. Your Performance
Time to focus on your actual performance. As a canoeist /kayaker, imagine the course, the finishing beam, your supporters cheering, feel your arms powering forward, your boat gliding on top of the water, doing what you want it to do and appreciate your talent and potential. You know where the hard parts are, acknowledge them and then let your mind physically overcome them. Take the time to go through different sequences of possible events and notice how calm you are, knowing you can do it.
Picture the finish – you feel strong and competitive and have overcome the difficult parts. Celebrate – enjoy the moment! You have done the best you can – you finished well! No need to focus on very specific results (an exact time or score) as this allows you to adjust yourself to any external circumstance and still be competitive and enjoy the race.
6. Reflection and racing
You’ve trained your mind well – it knows what to do and does it automatically. You have rehearsed for a peak performance and your mind knows how to do it. When in a meditative state, your mind does not know the difference between reality and the imagined, so to your mind, you have executed the race. And now for the part you love – race - and allow yourself to repeat what your mind has rehearsed. It’s already programmed. Enjoy every second!
Visualisation is an exceptional training skill so no matter where you are you can rehearse your peak performance – you only need to find a place to relax! No need to carry bulky training equipment with you, visualization is the training skill to develop, as you can use it at any time of the day, at any venue and for any sport.
Note: this article is a general approach to visualisation as a preparation for your race. The photo with Will Forsythe above is a more specific depiction of visualisation at the course.