How to visualise athlete style

What is imagery?

Visualisation is forming mental images, using all five senses, to practice or rehearse a situation. It can help increase your confidence by getting you to “see” yourself being successful. This can be;

  • Internal: seeing things through your own eyes
  • External: seeing through someone else’s eyes

How does it work?

Imagery and real movements both use the same structures in the central nervous system, so from your brain’s point of view, whether you’re imagining doing something, or actually doing it, doesn’t make much of a difference.

Movement requires so much more than just physical action. It includes: the decision to move made in the brain, which then travels through the nervous system to motor neurons attached to muscle. So, by practicing imagery, you are practicing most of the skill.

It means that you can replicate training/ from an imagined experience and improve self-efficacy (your belief in your ability to be able to execute a task successfully).

Visualisation can be used in three different ways;

  1. Motivate: feel more positive about an upcoming performance
  2. Arouse: psych yourself up, or relax yourself
  3. Rehearse: consider the thought processes that make up a performance

Source: NAMI

How do athletes use it?

Use all the senses to imagine every detail about the scenario

Hear: fans shouting, helicopters overhead, the race radio in the ear
See: fans, riders, colours of all the jerseys, road ahead
Feel: the bike beneath your feet, legs feeling energised
Smell: sweat, hot tarmac, dust, electrolytes, menthol

Former pro-rider Shannon Malseed, tells us more. Shannon has competed and won at the highest level, becoming Australian national road champion in 2018. Since retirement she has become a human development coach, so is very well-placed to give more insight:

“My biggest memory is visualising winning Nationals constantly.”

“I was living in Ballarat where the Nationals are held, and I was training on the course a lot and every single time I was in the race in my mind. And off the bike I would visualise different scenarios, winning it in different ways. Always sped up, not in real time. I’d think about key points, like up the climb visualising someone attacking and following the wheel.”

Source: Cycling Tips

“Now I visualise to bring myself into a state of fulfilment and trust.”

“The impact of visualisation is massive. For example, you can visualise a bleak future, where you’ve lost everything and that makes you feel shit. But on the opposite end you can choose to visualise your life as abundant in all areas: career, finances, relationships.

“In cycling for me that was being on a great team, well supported by everyone and therefore happy. You can visualise yourself smiling and feeling that fulfilment and that you’re in a really great space. All those hormones coming in, you feel good. Rather than stress hormones which make you feel terrible. And if that’s going on for a long time it can manifest as injury. On the other end of the scale it can lead to good health.”

How can I use it?

Use the PETTLEP model:

  • Physical: replicate the position you will be in e.g. standing up to give a presentation
  • Environment: if possible be in the place where your task will take place 
  • Task: imagine the task in as much detail as possible
  • Timing: make the imagined experience take as long as the real experience 
  • Learning: imagine yourself with skills you have, keep it to your current abilities
  • Emotion: think about how you will feel 
  • Perspective: choose internal or external imagery

Essentially, the more depth you give to your imagery, the better. 

If you are interested in delving into this topic more, check out Shannon’s website!