By Dr. Keith Wilson
Louganis did, in fact, complete one of the more remarkable recoveries in Olympic history. He was able to dive again (the next dive was highest score of any dive in prelims for any diver) in a few minutes and finish the prelims. He was able to come back the next day and conquer the fears brought on by the disaster of hitting his head on the springboard. He was again able to win the gold medal in springboard diving.
There are many reasons Louganis was able to overcome this obstacle of his head injury. One of the tools he credits is his ability to visualize his performance and create belief that he can dive at a high level of performance every time he is on the springboard. This visualization skill allowed him to forget the disaster of the past dive and focus on his ability to dive at the level he had trained for.
The skill of visualization is probably taught in every Sport Psychology book or course. Yet it is a skill that most athletes do not continue to use because they haven't learned to operationalize this skill in their performance.
Dr. Robert Nideffer helps us to understand some of the problems which athletes encounter with the skill of visualization. The biggest issue is to design a visualization process that fits the performance goal the athlete is trying to achieve. Nideffer's visualization continuum is:
LEARNING VS MAINTAINING VS IMPROVING
Nideffer's first objective is to evaluate the reason for the visualization exercise. He believes there are three options: 1) Learn a new skill, 2) Maintain one's training in the skill or 3) To improve one's performance in the skill. Visualization can be used in each of these three areas. Visualization can help the athlete learn a new skill by having a picture created in her mind of a new skill to be learned. This new picture will help inform the athlete's mind/body connection as she practices the skill in order to further master the skill.
Visualization can also be used to maintain a skill that has been well learned. This allows the athlete to continually rehearse the skill or routine so that it can be performed under pressure. The advantage the mental rehearsal process brings to training is it allows the athlete to build belief in her skill without adding to the physical stress of the body.
Visualization can also very effectively help to improve performance. Mental rehearsal allows the athlete to speed up their skill improvement because they can rehearse the new skill many times and not add to the physical exhaustion of the body. Since the ultimate goal of the athlete is to automate the performance of the skill, this level of mental rehearsal continues to push the athlete to that goal.
Nideffer also believes that for visualization to be most effective it must be internal and kinesthetic. If the athlete visualizes herself from the outside doing a skill, she is not actively engaged in the skill. This outside perspective is most helpful when learning a new skill but is not very effective in the maintaining or the improving phase of visualization.
In order for the visualization to be effective in improving the skill, it needs to be internal. The athlete needs to be able to see, feel, smell, and hear the actions of the athletic skill and the environment as well. One has to turn on all of the senses in order to make this visualization most effective. This is the part of visualization where most beginners begin to lose faith in visualization. They are not able to feel their muscle groups move in the scene, they can not hear the action on the courts, they cannot see the action through their own eyes. Consequently, the visualization does not connect to on court performance.
However, to tell an athlete "just get internal to the scene" is just like telling an athlete to swim faster without giving specific instructions which will help her swim faster. It is hard to add the kinesthetic experience to visualization if it does not come naturally. The importance of visualization being kinesthetic cannot be overstated. This kinesthetic dimension enables the visualization to utilize the muscle groups and thought patterns necessary to help build the mental and physical skills into an automated performance pattern.
However, Performance Hypnosis offers one hypnotic skill which is designed to help the athlete become more internal to the performance visualization. Performance Hypnosis can accentuate this skill. Achieving a trance state through Performance Hypnosis can easily be demonstrated. The athlete knows there has been a change in the way her body is reacting. She can see it and feel it. This experience helps to build belief that what the player is visualizing is helping to create a change in her mind/body connection. (See the article, "Performance Hypnosis: A Key to the Zone" which is on this website.)
One effective hypnotic tool that is used to enhance this kinesthetic mind/body connection is called the "Kinesthic Primer." To illustrate it for the athlete, write it on the white board in a format like this:
When the athlete first sees this on the teaching board it will not make sense to her. It is best to demonstrate the skill to enhance the learning process. State that the exercise consists of two hypnotic components: 1) Decreasing number count and 2) Connection to the kinesthetic mind/body connections. Suggest that the athlete sit in a comfortable position and begin to focus on the three kinesthetic elements.
The facilitator would begin to note the kinesthetic cues, inviting the athlete to "come along." An example is as follows:
Five things I see (names 5 things in environment that are seen - examples are given):
I see the ------(table)
I see the ------(lamp)
I see the ------(chair)
I see the ------(my shoe)
I see the ------(tissue box)
Note: Tell the athlete that during this exercise they may experience a slight confusion. For example, they may lose track of the items counted. If so, tell them to enjoy the pleasant sensation of self-induced trance. They may simply continue the round, wherever they decide to begin again.
Five things I hear (names 5 things in environment that are heard - examples are given):
I hear the -----(traffic)
I hear the -----(air conditioning)
I hear the -----(music)
I hear the -----(traffic)
I hear the -----(music)
Note: It is acceptable to repeat kinesthetic cues - if only three sounds that can be heard then they can be named again.
Five things I feel (names 5 things in environment that the body is experiencing -examples are given):
I feel the -----(vibration of my voice)
I feel my -----(hands touching each other)
I feel my -----(feet touching the floor)
I feel my -----(arms resting on the armrests of the chair)
I feel my -----(toes inside my shoes)
Note: This element refers to physical sensation rather than feelings. This is not meant to notice anxiety/arousal levels or temperature of the physical surroundings (hot, cold, etc.)
Now move to a round of 4. Naming 4 things in each of the categories.
4 things I see (names 4 things in environment that are seen)
4 things I hear (names 4 things in environment that are heard)
4 things I feel (names 4 things in environment that the body is experiencing)
This progression continues until the athlete has completed the round of 1.
This hypnotic exercise accomplishes at least four things: 1) it helps the athlete become more focused upon their mind/body connection, 2) it slows down the breathing, 3) it helps the athlete to block out other distractions, and 4) it enhances the athlete's ability to visualize and feel bodily sensations while in a trance state.
Advanced Kinesthetic Primer
This author is the performance consultant to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Women's Tennis Team. The UTEP women's tennis team faces several unique performance challenges. The biggest challenge, when teaching mental performance skills, is that six of the seven female athletes on the 1999-2000 team are from Eastern European or Scandinavian countries. English is not their native language. Consequently, teaching visualization skills is more difficult because the instructor's directions (in English) are often being translated by the athlete into their own native tongues. This extra step diminishes the power of the experience. The Performance Hypnosis tool "Kinesthetic Primer" can help to overcome this language barrier.
After demonstrating this tool, the next step of the "Kinesthetic Primer" is to have the athlete do this exercise alone or without external assistance. This enables the athlete to do it in her own language. The repetition and sound of one's voice can deepen the trance. Using the native language to heighten the kinesthetic experience of the athlete strengthens the mind/body connection.
When the athlete is very proficient with this skill it can be done silently as well. While it is not optimal to do it silently, there are times when the silent experience is helpful. One may be in a stressful situation with people around and it is not possible to do it out loud. If one has practiced this skill well then it is possible to benefit from doing it silently. People around one will not know what process the athlete has used to become more centered.
This is a building block tool for use with the more extensive Performance Hypnotic visualization skills. By enhancing the kinesthetic mind/body connection, the athlete can improve their visualization powers. This is further illustrated by the last step in this skill acquisition. One needs to be able to take this kinesthetic skill to the competitive environment.
Following is an example of the way this visualization exercise is done with the UTEP Women's Tennis team. (This example is shortened to accommodate space of this article):
1. Use a quick induction to get into a trance state.
2. Begin to focus upon the sights of the tennis court.
a. See the court and notice the color.
b. Notice the lines and the net
c. See where your opponent is standing
d. Notice what she is wearing
e. Notice the racquet in your hand
f. See the tennis balls and notice their color.
g. CONTINUE THIS SECTION UNTIL THE ATHLETE IS COMFORTABLE WITH THE VISUAL SENSE
3. Begin to focus upon the sounds of the court
a. Hear the sound of the people around the outside of the court
b. Hear the sound of your opponent moving on the court
c. Hear the sound you bouncing the ball
d. Hear the sound of the ball hitting the racquet
e. Hear the sound of the ball flying over the net
f. Hear the sound of the ball moving past your opponent
g. CONTINUE THIS SECTION UNTIL THE ATHLETE IS COMFORTABLE WITH THE HEARING SENSE.
4. Begin to focus upon the sensations of the court.
a. Notice the texture of the court
b. Notice the tightness level of your feet in your shoes
c. Notice the feel of the ball in your hand
d. Notice the feel of the racquet in your hand.
e. Notice the power of the ball hitting the racquet
f. Notice the feeling of running for the ball
g. CONTINUE THIS SECTION UNTIL THE ATHLETE IS COMFORTABLE WITH THE SENSATIONS SENSE
5. Bring the athlete back to the here and now by counting from 1-10. While counting, pause along the way to highlight the skill they have been practicing. Highlight the confidence they bring into the present by focusing upon their kinesthetic visualization experience.
Performance visualization is more powerful and useful to the athlete when it can be an internal and kinesthetic experience. The use of the hypnotic skill "Kinesthetic Primer" will help most athletes acquire the building block necessary to move visualization into a powerful kinesthetic athletic experience.
Dr. Keith Wilson is a psychotherapist and performance consultant in El Paso, Texas. He works with local sports teams and individuals. He is certified in clinical hypnosis by the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis. Dr. Wilson can be reached by e-mail at Dr.Keith@soccer.com
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