Make Mental Imagery Your Weapon of Confidence

Make Mental Imagery Your Weapon of Confidence

Learn how University of Louisville swimming Olympian Joao de Lucca sharpened his warrior mindset with mental imagery and practicing visualization to improve and become a faster swimmer and better racer.

May 22, 2017 by Maclin Simpson
Make Mental Imagery Your Weapon of Confidence
​By: Chip Augustus

Olympic gold medalist ​Scott Hamilton once claimed, "under pressure you can perform fifteen percent better or worse." Whether we like to admit it or not, our mind is the most significant factor to catalyzing or inhibiting a premier performance when the lights shine the brightest. Our mental skills play a critical role in allowing us to achieve our goals regardless of the pressure of the situation.

Mental imagery (visualization) is a powerful skill that can be beneficial to practice weeks in advance as preparation for competition. It can also be an invaluable weapon to employ in the minutes leading up to your performance. Soccer legend ​Pelé was known to spend 30 minutes before every game laying down with a towel over his head, mentally rehearsing his different skills and various game scenarios. How can you refine this skill, like many of the greats have, to become a weapon of confidence?  Today we will talk with ​Joao de Lucca, two-time Olympian and three-time NCAA champion, about how mental imagery has impacted his swimming career.  

Beyond anecdotal evidence from top athletes, mental imagery is also supported by scientific research. Studies show that successful mental imagery activates our motor cortex and sensorimotor cortex the same way that physically performing that task would. Research through the years continues to show that imagery can improve performance via increased confidence and focus as well as improve our ability to control anxiety.

As Joao highlights, mental imagery can significantly help with honing an individual's sense of preparation, confidence, and control.  It can aid in feeling cool and calm despite enormous pressure.  Mental imagery can also catalyze the development of new skills or fine-tune one's race strategy.  Because mental imagery requires focus and concentration over a period of time, dedicating time to imagery often implicitly helps improve our attention capabilities.

De Lucca typically goes through the imagery process once a week throughout his training season, which helps prepare him for the increase of imagery use during taper time.  Often times, swimmers or coaches might put off imagery until right before their big meet. Just like any other skill, successful mental imagery requires focused effort and consistent repetition. Putting in the time throughout the season can sharpen your mental imagery skills, giving you an invaluable weapon come championship season.  

Keys to developing mental imagery skills

- Imagery beginners should try to first refine their skills in a distraction-free zone.  

- Once they feel confident with their ability to concentrate on their imagery, moving to an environment similar to where they will perform can increase the effectiveness of the skill.  

- As Joao pointed out, begin the process by focusing on your breathing. Following a pattern such as inhaling for two seconds, holding for two, and exhaling for four seconds, can have a calming impact and help you clear your mind to focus on your body

- Use your imagination -- include as much vivid detail as possible. The more senses activated, the better. Simulating an emotional response (i.e. excitement as you finish the race) can help invoke the true real-life experience.  

- Incorporate positive self-talk and pre-race rituals. Have a mantra? Make sure to include it.

- Lucidly experience the key components of your race; this provides a great opportunity to work on your execution/strategy.   

- Acknowledge that you will have lots of slip-ups along the way. Controlling our thoughts and directing our attention to the imagery is a process. If you lose focus, accept it and start over.  

- Having trouble? Write out a script of a past experience of success. Make an audio recording of the script, giving you a guided imagery scenario you can follow.  

Make sure you get the most of both your physical and mental abilities. Consistent mental imagery practice has a plethora of benefits, enabling you to be as prepared as possible for an optimal performance. So utilize your mind, the way Joao and many other athletic legends have, and make mental imagery your weapon of confidence.

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