Visualization: Follow up on the Masters Golf Tournament
Following up on something from the Master’s that applies to all athletes. I’ve made some comments about this the use of imagery and visualization in other posts, but the comment by Bubba Watson is particularly important.
Bubba got off the course at the Masters and said “I just got into the trees, saw a crazy shot in my head, and now I’m wearing the Green Jacket”.
So let’s look at what this means to an athlete. The ability to imagine success is critical to performance and imagining or visualizing the right picture is important as well. It is not good enough to conjure up unrealistic pictures in your mind, nor is it helpful to have a perspective that will not be of value.
I’ve been asked many times what the difference between using your imagination and fantasy is when using this process. The answer I generally give goes like this. It is one thing to imagine jumping to catch a pass or dunk a basketball when it is within your abilities, it is another thing to believe you are Superman and believe you can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Visualization is a developed skill using solid goal setting criteria to use your mind to in many cases problem solve a solution.
Perspective is important. I’ve studied elite athletes at the United States Olympic Training Center, college athletes and dancers and found that their perspective using imagery changes depending on your level of accomplishment. Higher level performers, when they are learning a new activity, view themselves performing as on video. When they imagine a well learned skill it is through their own eyes, seeing what they would during performance. This perspective has been referred to as external vs. internal imagery. Lower level athletes and dancers reversed this tendency. Our analysis also showed that when we taught athletes to use visualization as elite performers did, their skills improved faster than groups that imaged as lower level performers. I have been using this method training athletes for over two decades very successfully. It is not a random event. It is not what seems right to you. If you want success, do as experts do.
So what does this have to do with Bubba Watson and his great shot at the Masters Golf Tournament? EVERYTHING! Bubba saw the shot in his mind. He pictured for him a realistic outcome based on past performance. He likely viewed it from both perspectives. External and internal.
The consequences were emotional control, confidence, and the motor ability to put the shot together. What he saw in his mind allowed him to unconsciously find the right swing plan to hit the shot. What we do imagine or visualize has a direct effect on our motor neurons and our performance. If you want to experiment, just visualize failure doing a task. If you are really trying this most of the time you will not do well. Try shooting on goal. Imagine a ball or puck going way left or right and then fire away without changing the image. As you practice doing this successfully you will perform better. In an active sport like hockey, basketball or soccer using imagery rehearsal with relaxation is very effective in learning new skills as well as honing things you already are great at. Keep perspective in mind and you will become a better player. The next post I’ll talk about emotional control and imagery.