Be Your Best With The Use Of Guided Imagery

Adding a mental training regimen to physical and sport specific training can greatly increase confidence, consistency, ability and success in your teen, pre-teen or young adult athlete. Success in sports is often determined by inches and mental training could be the key to that edge you need.

Consider that mental focus, concentration and visualization are the keys to success in any endeavor, and sports in particular. Most people are familiar with the saying that winning in a particular sport is 90% mental and 10% physical. Why is it then that so many athletes fail to give attention to mental training? That 90% figure should be pretty hard to overlook yet it often is. By studying transcendent athletes and sports stars, it becomes apparent that the common edge they have over competition indeed does begin mentally.

True Life Examples

Jerry West, the NBA Logo, had such a penchant for hitting buzzer beaters he was nicknamed ‘Mr. Clutch’. In one memorable game in which his team was trailing the Knicks with a few seconds left in an NBA Finals game, West took an inbound pass and shot from 60 feet at the buzzer. Knicks guard Walt Clyde Frazier recalls thinking: “The man’s crazy. He looks determined. He thinks it’s really going in!”. Of course, it did go in, sending the crowd reeling and the game to overtime. One time, when asked about his ability to frequently hit the big shot, West revealed the root of that confidence Frazier witnessed. West explained that he had already made those shots time after time in his mind. Jerry West, like so many other legends the such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, , Phil Jackson, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and countless others, realized the power of visualization.

What is Guided Imagery?

Guided Imagery, is also known as visualization, meditation, and by many other names. A popular guided imagery for athletes is the mental rehearsal of sporting events while ‘intending’ a desired outcome. Amazingly, research has revealed that guided imagery can actually enhance performance to nearly the same extent as physical practice. A study conducted by Dr. Blaslotto at the University Of Chicago is an intriguing example.

The goal of Dr. Blaslotto‘s study was to determine the effects of guided imagery on sports performance. As a performance measure for this experiment, the researchers chose the free throw percentage of a group of basketball players. First, to establish a basis for the study, the current free-throw success rate of each of the subjects was tested and recorded. Three groups were then established, and the athletes were assigned to one of the groups at random. After 30 days of testing and retesting, the results were as follows:

The third group, who neither physically practiced or used guided imagery to visualize shooting free-throws, showed no increase in percentage.

The first group which physically shot free-throws for an hour daily, collectively improved their free-throw shooting by 24%.

The second group, which practiced daily by do a guided imagery session of visualizing shooting and making free-throws, collectively improved their free-throw shooting by a shocking 23% without having physically shot a basketball!

Another similar study was done by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation exploring the effects of guided imagery on muscle strength.  The results of that study also astonishingly revealed increases to muscle strength through through the use of guided imagery, further reinforcing the fact that mental training is actually as impactful a tool in sports performance enhancement as physical training.

How does Guided Imagery work?

With each experience, a neural pathway is formed. Neural Pathways, in short, are clusters of neurons in the brain that work together to create a memory or a learned behavior. Dr. Blaslotto explained, “As your brain conceives of an act, it generates impulses that prompt neurons to ‘perform’ the movement being imagined by transmitting those impulses from the brain to the muscles.” This in turn creates a habit, or neural pathway in the brain, programming your body’s actions as if you physically performed the activity.

We learn to walk, ride a bicycle, roller blade, ski, surf, etc., in the exact same way.  I like to call this process muscle memory.


Come see how guided imagery can improve your teen, pre-teen or young adult athlete’s game.  Call Coach Mickey – 714.743.5612 or TXT.  For more in depth information on the many uses and benefits of guided imagery, please visit Dr. Mickey's website on guided imagery;


The Most Recent Research on

The Effects of Mental Imagery on Athletic Performance

Annie Plessinger

Vanderbilt University

Psychology Department


     During the 60’s and 70’s, the studies conducted on mental imagery were rather inconsistent due to different confounds such as lack of subjects and reliable controls.  In addition, researchers used a variety of skills because they were not exactly sure what the subjects should do when they engage in mental practice. Hence, some were more likely than others to work with mental practice which varied the results.  However, now there is sufficient reliable evidence that suggests imagery rehearsal can sometimes improve motor performance in a variety of sports.  Feltz and Landers conducted a meta-analytic to examine 60 studies in which mental practice was compared to control conditions. Their analysis yielded 146 effect sizes with the overall average effect size of 48 positing that mental imagery practice "influences performance more than no practice," but consistently less effective than physical practice. On average, the effect sizes were larger with the studies which used cognitive tasks.  Overall, the cognitive rehearsal conditions showed a
better performance, about 1/2 of a standard deviation unit.  (Paivio, 22-29)
     In 1992, Anne Isaac conducted a study which examined the influence of mental practice on sports skills.  While most of the previous studies on this topic showed positive effects of mental rehearsal, they were not performed in actual field context using subjects who learned actual sport skills rather than just novel motor tasks.  Isaac eliminated this problem in her experiment.  She also tested the hypothesis of whether people who have better images and control over their images result in better performances.  Isaac tested 78 subjects and classified them as novice or experienced trampolinists.  Then she further divided the two groups into an experimental and control group.  She also classified the subjects as either high or low imagers based on initial skill level.  Both groups were trained in three skills over a six week period.  In order to prevent confounds, the imagery group was unknown to the experimenter until afterwards.  The experimental group physically practiced the skill for 2-1/2 minutes, which was then followed by 5 minutes of mental practice.  Lastly, an additional 2-1/2 minutes of physical practicefollowed the mental practice.  Meanwhile, the control group physically worked on the skill for 2-1/2 minutes, which was then followed by 5 minutes of a session trying a mental task of an abstract nature, such as math problems, puzzles, and deleting vowels.  Then, 2-1/2 more minutes were spent physically working on the skill again.  The outcome of the experiment was as followed:  there existed a significant difference in the improvement of the high and low imagers.  In both novice and experimental groups where the initial skill ability was similar, the high imagery groups showed significantly more improvement than the low imagery group. Furthermore, there was a significant difference between the experimenter and control groups.  Not surprisingly, the experimental group hadsignificantly more improvement than the control group.  This study posits that despite the level of skill (beginner or experienced) visual imagery proves effective. (Isaac, 192-198).
     In a recent experiment conducted by Roure et al, they foundsix specific autonomic nervous system (ANS) responses that correlated with mental rehearsal, thereby improvingsports performance.  The subjects were placed into an imagery group and a control group.  The task measured in each group was based on their ability to pass an opponent’s serve to a given teammate, in the sport of volleyball.  The experimenters measuredthe variations of the ANS during the motor skill and during the mental rehearsing sessions.  The ANS parameters tested included: skin potential and resistance, skin temperature and heat clearance, instantaneous heart rate, and respiratory frequency.  The results of the test revealed a strong correlation between the response in the actual physical tasks (both pre- and post-test volleyball) and during the mental imagery sessions.  There existed a difference in the skills between the imagery and the control group, the
former being the better.  In addition, no clear difference was present between the pre- and post- tests in the control group.  This study showed that mental imagery induces a specific pattern of autonomic response.  These include: decreased amplitude, shorter duration and negative skin potentials when compared to the control group.  As a consequence of the ANS, the imagery group was associated with better performance.  In light of this experiment, Roure suggested that metal imagery may help in the construction of schema which can be reproduced, without thinking, in actual practice (Roure, 99-108).
     Not only does mental imagery seem to enhance athletic performance, but it has been shown to enhance intrinsic motivation as well.  A study in 1995 tested who would spend more time practicing a golf putting task and who would result in having higher self efficacy.  Thirty nine beginner golfers were grouped into an imagery or control group.  For 3 sessions, both groups were taught how to hit golf balls.  The imagery group practiced in an imagery training session designed for this specific golf skill.  As a result, the imagery group spent significantly more time practicing the golf putting task than the control group.  In addition, the subjects in the imagery group had more realistic self-expectation, set higher goals to achieve, and adhered more to their training programs outside the experimental setting (Martin, 54-69).
 Since all of the studies mentioned have focused on adult subjects, I wanted to see if mental imagery had the same effect on children.  I found a study which examined the effects of mental imagery on performance enhancement with 7-10 year old children.  In this experiment, table tennis players were dividedinto three groups.  The results indicated that the children who used mental imagery had significant improvement in the accuracy and quality of their shots compared with the control group. This study shows that mental imagery training for children can be beneficial.  This could be a perfect opportunity to learn mental skills at an early age which can ultimately give them greater control over their own destiny.  However, this is only one particular study, and more studies on children do need to be conducted (Orlick, 230-241).

Theories of Imagery Rehearsal Mechanisms

    Sports psychologists have attempted to understand the exact mechanisms that cause mental imagery to work.  Numerous theories exist, but sports psychology lacks a single theory which completely explains the effectiveness of mental imagery.  The earliest theory was proposed by Carpenter in 1894 called the psychoneuromuscular theory.  This theory maintains that imagery rehearsal duplicates the actual motor pattern that is being rehearsed.  His view is that the motor patterns which are generated during imagery practice are the same as those used for physical practice.
     Another prominent theory is the symbolic learning theory.  This differs from the previous theory that instead of imagery working due to muscle activation, mental imagery works from the opportunity to practice the symbolic elements of a motor task.  Therefore, it is assumed that the learning obtained from imagery relates to cognitive learning.
     A third theory, called the arousal/activation theory, connotes that by practicing imagery, one will obtain a level of arousalthat is optimal for the specific performance. The arousal functions as a way of "priming" the muscles which result in a lowering of the sensory threshold of the performer to facilitate performance.
     Peter Lang came up with an information-processing model of imagery which presumes that an image is a functionally organized, definite set of propositions stored by the brain.  It is not simply a stimulus in a person’s head to which one responds. This image has two main types of statements:  response propositions and stimulus propositions.  The latter describes the content of the scenario to be imagined.  Response propositions, on the other hand, describe the imager’s response to that scenario.  Lang further states that an image contains a motor program which holds instructions for the imager on how to respond to the image.  Hence, the image is a template for overt responding.  So modifying either overt behavior or vivid imagery will result in a change in the other (Suinn, 492-506).
     Another popular theory is Suinn’s visual motor behavior rehearsal (VMBR) modelwhich posits that imagery should be a holistic process that includes a compete reintegration of experience.  This includes visual, auditory, tactile, emotional, and kinesthetic cues.  He has demonstrated that physiological responses can result from athlete’s usage of mental imagery.  Suinn’s method is one of the few which has solid evidence to support its effectiveness.
     A more recent model, which also places importance on psychophysiology, goes even further by including a specific meaning for an image.  This model is know as Ahsen’s Triple Code Model of imagery (ISM).  According to Ahsen there are three fundamental parts to an image.  The first part is that the image itself must be a centrally arousing sensation so it is more like the real world.  It has all the attributions of a sensation, the only difference is that it is internal.  This image provides the imager with so much realism that it can enable him or her to interact with the image as if it were the real world.  Secondly, there exists a somatic response. Therefore, the very act of imaging results in psychophysiological changes in the body.   Finally, the third part of the image is the actual meaning of the image.  Every image has a significant meaning and that specific meaning can imply something different to each individual.  Since every person has a unique background and upbringing, the actual internal image can be quite different for each individual, even thoughthe set of imagery instructions are the same (Murphy, 153-172).


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Isaac, A. R. (1992). Mental Practice- Does it Work in the Field? The Sport Psychologist,
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Martin, K.A., Hall, C. R.  (1995).  Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Intrinsic
 Motivation Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17(1), 54-69.

Murphy, S. (1990). Models of Imagery in Sport Psychology: A Review.  Journal of
 Mental Imagery, 14 (3&4), 153-172.

Orlick, T., Zitzelsberger, L., LI-Wei, Z., & Qi-wei, M. (1992). The Effect of
 Mental-Imagery Training on Performance Enhancement With 7-10-Year-Old
 Children. The Sports Psychologist, 6, 230-241.

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Porter, K., Foster, J.  Visual Athletics. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Publishers, 1990.

Roure, R., et al. (1998). Autonomic Nervous System Responses Correlate with Mental
 Rehearsal in Volleyball Training. Journal of Applied Physiology, 78(2), 99-108.

Suinn, R. Psychological Techniques for Individual Performance. New York, New York:
 Macmillan, 1990. p 492-506.