To the same extent that attending to the health needs of the body are the foundation of a good training regimen, mental focus, concentration and visualization are the keys to success. Most people are familiar with the saying that sports is 90% mental and 10% physical. Why is it then that so many athletes fail to give attention to mental training? That 90% figure should be pretty hard to overlook yet it often is. By studying trancendant athletes and sports stars, it becomes apparent that the common edge they have over competition indeed does begin mentally.
The Theory in Action
Jerry West, the NBA Logo, had such a penchant for hitting buzzer beaters he was nicknamed ‘Mr. Clutch’. In one memorable game in which his team was trailing the Knicks with a few seconds left in an NBA Finals game, West took an inbound pass and shot from 60 feet at the buzzer. Knicks guard Walt Clyde Frazier recalls thinking: “The man’s crazy. He looks determined. He thinks it’s really going in!”. Of course, it did go in, sending the crowd reeling and the game to overtime. One time, when asked about his ability to frequently hit the big shot, West revealed the root of that confidence Frazier witnessed. West explained that he had already made those shots time after time in his mind. Jerry West, like so many other legends the such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Phil Jackson, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and countless others, realized the power of visualization.
What is Visualization?
Visualization is known as guided imagery, meditation, and by many other names. A popular visualization for athletes is the mental rehearsal of sporting events while ‘intending’ a desired outcome. Amazingly, research has revealed that visualization can actually enhance performance to nearly the same extent as physical practice. A study conducted by Dr. Blaslotto at the University Of Chicago is an intriguing example.
The goal of Dr. Blaslotto‘s study was to determine the effects of visualization on sports performance. As a performance measure for this experiment, the researchers chose the free throw percentage of a group of basketball players. First, to establish a basis for the study, the current free-throw success rate of each of the subjects was tested and recorded. Three groups were then established, and the athletes were assigned to one of the groups at random. After 30 days of testing and retesting, the results were as follows:
The third group, who neither physically practiced or visualized shooting free-throws, showed no increase in percentage.
The first group which physically shot free-throws for an hour daily, collectively improved thier free-throw shooting by 24%.
The second group, which practiced daily by visualizing shooting and making free-throws, collectively improved thier free-throw shooting by a shocking 23% without having physically shot a basketball!
Another similiar study was done by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation exploring the effects of visualization on muscle strength. The results of that study also astonishingly revealed increases to muscle strength through visualization, further reinforcing the fact that mental training is actually as impactful a tool in performance enhancement as physical training.
How does Visualization work?
With each experience, a neural pathway is formed. Neural Pathways in short, are clusters of neurons in the brain that work together to create a memory or a learned behavior. Dr. Blaslotto explained, “As your brain conceives of an act, it generates impulses that prompt neurons to ‘perform’ the movement being imagined by transmitting those impulses from the brain to the muscles.” This in turn creates a habit, or neural pathway in the brain, programming your body’s actions as if you physically performed the activity….
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