How to Use Imagery and Self-Hypnosis for Sports

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Research shows that it may be possible to improve sports performance and even speed up healing by using specific mental skills and techniques, including imagery and self-hypnosis.

Imagery, sometimes called guided imagery, visualization, mental rehearsal or self-hypnosis, refers to specific techniques often used by psychologists to help individuals visualize or mentally rehearse a desired event. It involves using all of the senses to create an imagined experience that feels real. By using all your senses you create a very real experience of the desired outcome.

How to Use Imagery

The first time you try imagery, it's helpful to have a skilled facilitator or practitioner walk you through the process. This is referred to as guided imagery. You can also use CDs or tapes, or record your own script to use as your guide. After you are comfortable with the technique, it's easy to practice these techniques on your own.

  1. Sit in a comfortable place where you won't be interrupted.
  2. Relax your body and take several long, slow breaths.
  3. Close your eyes and create a vivid and convincing image. This image can be one you've previously experienced or one you simply desire.
  4. If you become distracted or find you are thinking about something else, simply acknowledge it and let it go.
  5. Focus on your breathing if you lose the image.
  6. Maintain a positive attitude.
  7. Imagine the sights, sounds, tastes, feelings and even smells of the experience.
  8. Take note of as much detail of the scene as possible. What are you wearing, who is there, what are you hearing, and how do you feel?
  9. If your imagery session is not going the way you want it to, simply open your eyes and start over with your breathing.
  10. Always end an imagery session with a positive image.

By creating the most vivid image and by using all of your senses you can create a very powerful image. If you are guiding yourself through the process ask yourself specific questions: What do you see? What do you hear? What do you taste? What do you feel? Or what do you smell? The key is to take time creating that image the first time so you can then snapshot it in your mind and go back to it whenever you need to.

Imagery and Sports

Athletes have many opportunities to try sports hypnosis using the various imagery or self-hypnosis techniques. From injury recovery to improved sports performance, these techniques are showing promise as a standard part of an athlete's training program.

Athletes in different sports may use these techniques in various ways. For example, a football player can imagine certain plays and how playing them out will feel. An endurance athlete may imagine themselves crossing the finish line. An elite track runner may work on images of breaking the tape and finishing first.

This imagined practice can not only decrease performance anxiety but also increase one's self confidence in their sport. If you can imagine yourself doing it, it's like you've already done it and succeeded. So on the day of the race or the big game, it doesn't feel like the first time. The experience feels familiar and you can move through it with greater confidence.

Sports Imagery and Meditation Books to Try

  • Sport Visualization for the Elite Athlete: Build Mental Imagery Skills to Enhance Athletic Performance by Bill Bodri
  • Imagery in Sport, by Tony Morris
  • Self-Healing With Guided Imagery from Dr. Andrew Weil.
  • The Soul Of Healing Meditations from Deepak Chopra and Adam Plack.
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  • Driediger, Molly ; Hall, Craig ; Callow, Nichola, Imagery use by injured athletes: a qualitative analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, March, 2006.
  • Evans, Lynne; Hare, Rebecca; and Mullen, Richard, Imagery Use During Rehabilitation from Injury, Journal of Imagery Research in Sport and Physical Activity, Vol. 1. 2006.
  • Ievleva and Orlick, Mental Links to Enhanced Healing: An Exploratory Study, TSP, 5(1), March 1991.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.