The topic of visualisation has come up in the gym several times over the last few months.
So it’s about time I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and wrote a wee blog post about the subject from my perspective.
Now to start with, I’m not a sports psychologist. If I was I’d be highly qualified to talk about the subject.
Nor am I a “life coach” So you can breathe easy.
So what about visualisation?
My first introduction to it was probably watching the Olympic games as a kid and seeing Linford Christie staring intensely down the 100m track. Eyes bulging Stock still Everyone else bouncing around beside him, shaking, moving about. And Linford, like a rock, eyes glued on the finishing line as if nothing else existed.
He was literally running the race in his mind.
I couldn’t find an image of him at the start line, but this is the same intense expression he held as they lined up
I was also introduced to the concept by my karate instructor, Jack Parker. Now a lot of my coaching to this day is heavily influenced by Jack, but his view on training the mind bears repeating.
He would tell us, “Practice all the time, everywhere. Even if you’re sat on the toilet you can be running through your kata in your head!”
He’d tell us to work on single techniques in the bathroom mirror while brushing our teeth. To imagine ourselves doing kata while we sat on the bus. To spend any spare moment thinking about our karate, visualising it.
For years I’ve wanted to experience Ba Gua. As fortunate as I’ve been to travel the world and meet incredible martial arts practitioners as I went, Ba Gua always eluded me. This is my first experience of circle walking with Mr @philgreenfield This was in the morning before the final day of his 4 day Zero Balance course kicked off. You can tell a lot about a person by their willingness to share information and spend time simply playing. And as much as I really enjoyed the course, this was the cherry on the cake. Thanks mate. #wgfamily #zerobalancing #bagua #whitebeltforever
A post shared by Dave Hedges (@dave_hedges) on Oct 31, 2016 at 12:35pm PDT
And we did.
And we got good.
So good, a particular group stopped inviting us to their competitions……
What Jack taught us, almost 30 years ago, was exactly what the sports psychology experts are teaching now. What the “life coaches” have hijacked.
What Linford Christie knew.
What the old school martial artists always knew in their solo practice.
What the golfer or snooker player taking a few practice swings before the important shot.
In the movie Cool Runnings, we see Derice and his crew visualise the track and the turns over and over again, commiting it to memory, dialing in the weight shift they need for each turn.
You have seen Cool Runnings right?
So what’s the point here?
The point is our brain is barely understood, but we do know that it runs the show. Studies have shown that people who visualise themselves practicing a skill they already have basic competence in show almost the same improvement as their peers who physically practice the skill.
Part of the main difference between the top level performers and the second tier, is the ability to focus and “deliberately practice” Time is limited for actual physical practice, so time is made up with imaginary practice, or visualisation.
This book is a must read on deliberate practice:
Just like when we watch someone we are emotionally invested perform we may find ourselves firing muscles as if it’s us out there doing the business.
This is a result us using what are called Mirror Neurons. We mirror what we see.
We fire the same neurons as the person performing. And if we fire the neurons, we cause a thickening of the myelin sheath, the insulation that speeds up the signal speed through that neuron.
Visualisation is basically watching ourselves in action. Running the scenario, the situation, the technique, the tactic though our head as if we actually doing for real. Over and over again. Gradually mylenating the neurons, gradually making that mental map smoother, faster and more effecient.
It’s a powerful tool.
If in doubt, watch some kids playing a made up game and see how involved they get in it. That’s real visualisation right there. It’s shame as we grow up we start to think of it as a silly kids game.
Unless, like me, you had an open minded martial arts teacher unafraid to draw from any source that helped his students improve.
Or you are working with a modern sports psychologist.