There is some confusion concerning Imagery and Visualisation and we need to
deal with this to start with. It is only in recent years that more emphasise has
been placed on the mental side of tennis together with other sports, even though
tennis is 65% mental once you have got past the learning of techniques, tactics etc.
Visualisation has been used for some time in certain sports but this is only part
of the equation and only refers to the practice of mental rehearsal with the
emphasis on the visual sense, to imagine a sport situation.
Tennis players use visualisation on a daily basis when getting ready for the
serve, whilst doing their preliminary routines they are visualising in their minds
where they are going to place the serve. This can be very powerful and should
not be overlooked as a help to your serving practice.
As an experiment, the Boston Celtic Basketball team split into two sections. One
section spent the time practicing their free-throw shots from the line, the other half
sat on the bench and in their mind visualised doing the free-throws. They all then
took a quantity of free-throws and those who had sat and visualised out scored
those who has actually practiced.
Imagery is best described as a method of using all the senses to create or re-create
an experience in the mind.
Imagery can be used to encourage you to see your successful performances –
either in a re-run of previous events or successfully performing a new task. It
helps you to focus on the key points that contribute to those successes and to
develop ways to enhance these performances in future events.
Mental imagery techniques are critical tools in an elite performers training and it
is believed that upto 90% of Olympic athletes regularly use these imagery
rehearsals as part of their training.
Imagery is very versatile and to put it into perspective, whereas using visualisation in placing your serve where you want it to go, with
imagery you would go through the complete serve routine in your mind. i.e. right from the setting up of the correct stance through the
turning and coiling of the body, the bending of the knees, correct movement of the racket to hitting the ball and a secure follow through.
You would see and feel the whole movement in your minds eye and in your body.
Your mind controls all of your body movements.
You should use two distinct types of imagery in your tennis training.
The first is external imagery and we are all familiar with this, even though it is only now being used more within the game. You will most
likely understand this, and it is the taking of a video of your body executing a particular skill. When I show players a video of them
performing a particular skill i.e. the serve or groundstroke, they are surprised that what they are doing often does not conform to what
they believe they are doing. This is particularly so with the serve, being the most difficult shot to execute to a specific design. Get your
coach or a friend to video one of your shots and then analyse each segment in comparison to how you believed you were performing.
The second is internal imagery, that we have discussed earlier, you would picture a visual image as if you were looking through your own eyes
and at the same time feeling the muscular contractions and movement sensations that occur during actual movement.
In mental skills training a performer needs to develop the following qualities:
· Coimmitment (the will to win, toughness)
· Control of emotions ( anxiety, anger, frustration)
· Concentration (focus)
· Confidence ( positive attitude, self-belief)
Sports performance is influenced by mental factors and competition is often won by the person who:
· handles pressure better
· is totally committed to a tough training regime
· maintains concentration in spite of distractions
· remains confident in the face of setbacks.
In the four C’s mentioned above, imagery is an important part of each quality.
To be effective, in the same way as any other skill, imagery needs to be developed and practised regularly and certain principles need to be
followed. It will help to think of the 4 R’s – relaxation, realism, regularity and reinforcement.
Relaxation – Have a relaxed mind and body so that you can become involved in the imagery exercises, feel your body moving and experience
the emotions. You should only be concentrating on one thought at a time. Banish any other thoughts and cares you might have. Practice
relaxation technique before training, like correct breathing
Realism – create images so realistic that you believe you are actually doing the skill. Practice the skill in your mind, as you would want to
execute it, i.e. perfect. For the imagery to be the most realistic you should include clarity, vividness, emotion, control and a positive outcome.
Regularity – practice every day, this should be part of your overall training in just the same way as your physical skills. Research indicates that
it is necessary to spend three to five minutes of uninterrupted imagery on each of the scene being practiced.