The Power of Visualisation: Why we should all be like kids
If you watch sports, you will most likely have already seen a Moto GP, Formula 1 or downhill skier on the start line with their eyes shut, motioning with their hands, looking like a conductor at the orchestra.
What are they doing?
Just like the conductor, they know their piece by heart, and they are playing the entire course in their mind. Every turn, every corner, every straight and every piece of information that will help them get to the finish line as quickly as possible
Visualisation for them is an integral part of their performance, their success and their failure.
Visualisation is also used in other sports, for example, in Triathlon visualising gives me a sense of confidence in the task at hand. Not only does it enable me to have a feeling of “déjà-vu” on race day but it also improves my muscle memory which makes every movement more controlled and less hectic on the day.
Here is how I go about it.
In triathlon (Swim, Bike, Run), you have what are called “transitions”, these are the key moments where you go from one discipline to another and it happens in a place called “the bike park” or “transition area”. Prior to the race, you set up all your essentials for both the bike (bike, helmet, glasses, bib, shoes) and the run (shoes, hat, nutrition).
In the lead up to the race I always take the time to set up my equipment well in advance of the start so that I have time to visualise and rehearse my transitions. Once everything is set up, I walk out of the transition zone and re-enter it from the same entry where I’ll arrive from the swim. Now, I walk the route to my bike and switch my mind into ‘race mode’
Close your eyes. (Don’t actually close your eyes because you won’t be able to read, but imagine following these steps).
In front of you – a bike, a helmet sat atop the handlebars and on the floor a belt with your bib attached.
Right foot in through the belt, left foot follows, hands to the ground and pull the belt up to your hips. Ok.
Next, the helmet. You slip on the glasses, which you’d left sat open and ready inside your helmet. Ok. Then grab the helmet by the straps which you left hanging over the edges and wrap it over the top of your head. Fingers on the clips ready to close the strap as quickly as possible under your chin. Done, Ok.
Now the bike. Right hand on the saddle, left hand on the handlebars. Lift the saddle, 180o turn and off you go. Time to ride!
As easy as it may seem, many experienced triathletes can get it wrong, forgeting their bib, struggling to close their helmet or stumbling with the bike as they pull it off the rack. In this context, visualisation is of paramount importance to me so that I feel confident in executing the small details that will give me an advantage on my competitors.
Having taken a look at how visualisation helps me (and by extension, other athletes in various sports) to improve their performance through improved control and confidence, how can visualisation help sports fans improve at their chosen sport?
I’ve never really understood why an adult would wear a football jersey with the name of a professional player on their back. I guess adults do it to support a team, support an athlete and to have a sense of belonging to a cause. How it helps anyone I’m not really sure. But that is my opinion.
For children however I think it is completely different and buying a jersey with their idol’s name and number on the back has a true meaning and impact. Kids unlike adults have a superpower – imagination.
When I lived in Barcelona, I wore a FC Barcelona Thierry Henry jersey when I played after school. Not because I wanted Henry to perform better on the weekends, but because when I wore his jersey, I felt like his skills would be transferred through his jersey into my feet. When I was on the pitch I was no longer myself, I was Thierry Henry.
When I was with my older brothers, I would play goalkeeper. Here, Henry’s jersey was useless. Instead, I would wear Mickaël Landreau’s FC Nantes jersey (if you don’t know him: Youtube search – Landreau vs. Ronaldinho). I was longer myself, I was Landreau. And I would definitely feel much stronger, more skillful and more confident against my older brothers kicking the ball at me with all their might.
Without being conscious of it, children have the ability to visualise, giving them the capacity to be better players and athletes. This imagination also serves their motivation as it pushes them to imitate their idols and work hard to achieve their goals and dreams.
So, next time you are faced with a big race or a big match, try and channel your inner child and visualise yourself achieving what you set out to achieve. You might find this helps you to reduce your stress, improve your confidence and execute correctly on the day.