I came across an interesting quote by Annika Sorenstam the other day "I close my eyes and see the shot. It's a way of seeing the result before you do it. I visualise the end result."
Later the same day I was mulling over the quote and wondering how I could use it for my blog, when I suddenly remembered an experiment that was carried out by a psychology professor, working with a university basketball team. He wanted to be able to measure the ability of the players to see how they could improve their penalty throwing statistics. He devised an experiment that split the team into 3 groups. The first group were asked to practise for two hours a week instead of their usual one. The second group were asked to practise with more intense focus for an hour each week. The final group were told to refrain from any physical practice, but instead to simply sit and imagine shooting hoops, by throwing the perfect shot every time.
A month later the professor gathered the team together to review their progress. The results proved to be interesting, the group who had practiced for two hours instead of one, showed no improvement at all. The group who had practiced for an hour with intense focus, showed only a slight improvement. However, the group who had simply visualised throwing the perfect penalty shots had the greatest improvement.
Visualisation techniques are proven to work in a wide variety of sports to great effect. I'm sure many of you have seen at the winter Olympics, skiers and bobsleigh competitors standing at the top of the run visualising their route to the bottom. Their techniques are so well rehearsed, that their muscles twitch and their bodies move as if they are actually doing the run for real. I remember training as a performance coach and one of the ladies on my course was an elite swimmer who could visualise her laps of the pool to within a fraction of a second of the actual swim time.
When visualisation techniques are performed correctly, our minds are unable to differentiate between a live event and an imaginary one. But sadly not many amateur players capitalise on this aspect.
With the cold and wet weather setting in for some of us, not being able to get out and play shouldn't stop you from developing your skills. Taking 10-15 minutes each day to visualise yourself hitting perfect shots; seeing yourself as if through a camera lens, and from many different angles with a perfect swing is all that it takes. Just like those basketball players, visualising the perfect swing would prove to be highly beneficial to your game.
Why wouldn't you take a few minutes in the comfort of your home or office to develop your skills? It requires minimum effort, no equipment is required and you're not limited by experience, age or physical ability. The more time and effort put into the game off the course, in developing mental powers of focus and mindfulness, will result in the greatest improvement to your actual playing experience.
So how do I perfect my visualisation technique?
According to a leading performance psychologist. Dr Michael Gervais, who has worked with numerous professional athletes and teams, “The most effective imagery involves all five senses.” You should become so immersed in a mental image that it seems as if it is actually happening. The more details you have, the more real it will seem. This in turn will increase performance as the brain starts to develop neural connections that result from the repeated visual image along with enhancing motivation that increases the likelihood of taking an action toward your goal.
Let me give you an example to make this come alive;
If you think about wanting a piece of chocolate cake but immediately dismiss the thought, you quickly forget about it. However, if you think about a piece of chocolate cake, close your eyes and spend a few minutes really imagining the details such as the creamy frosting, the warm moist texture in your mouth, the familiar smell of chocolate and how wonderful it would taste, Savouring the image until your mouth starts to water, will increase your drive to go and get a piece of chocolate cake - I wonder how many of you are now thinking I need a chocolate cake (lol)?
This will trigger your brain's natural problem-solving process to kick in, to help you develop a plan on how to obtain what you want. You might start to thinking about popping to local corner shop or stopping by at your favourite bakery on the way home from work to buy that chocolate cake. The best way to create detail and enhance the quality of your simulation is to picture and describe it using all of your senses. Keep adding in more detail until the process starts to feel as real as if you were actually experiencing it.
Adding emotional intensity will also increase your desire to achieve what you want. Since emotion is a type of sensory-based representation in the brain. You will know from my previous blogs that every emotion is preceded by a thought, so when you feel something deeply, you have achieved a level of belief associated with it. You generally don't feel very upset by something that you know is absolutely unreal or untrue. That's why we can watch upsetting fictional events on TV and in a film but not become overly traumatised by it. However, the more real or true you believe something to be, the more emotional impact it has on you. To really enhance a simulation you want to create as much detail around it as you can so that you begin to feel the experience of it as if it were real.
Once you have begun to feel it, you have crossed the threshold that leads to action. One strategy that increases the emotional intensity of a visual simulation is to listen to music that matches the emotional intensity you are seeking as you are visualising your simulated future experience. It always works for me to push through a potential barrier and succeed. Like anything in life though, this will not happen unless you do the repetitions. The more you expose your brain to visualisation techniques the stronger it will become.
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