Developing Imagery skills
This page aims to help you develop your imagery
(visualisation) skills. We will look at the elements of imagery development and
the creation of scripts to assist in improving your imagery skills.
The five main categories of imagery have been identified as
- Motivational-specific (MS) - This involves seeing yourself
winning an event, receiving a trophy or medal and being congratulated by other
athletes. MS imagery may boost motivation and effort during training and
facilitate goal-setting, but is unlikely on its own to lead directly to
- Motivational general-mastery (MG-M) - This is based on seeing
yourself coping under challenging circumstances and mastering challenging
situations. It might include maintaining a positive focus while behind and
then coming back to win. MG-M imagery appears to be important in developing
expectations of success and self-confidence.
- Motivational general-arousal (MG-A) - This is imagery that
reflects feelings of relaxation, stress, anxiety or arousal to
sports competitions. There is good evidence to suggest that MG-A imagery can
influence heart rate - one index of arousal - and can be employed as a
- Cognitive specific (CS) - This involves seeing yourself perform
particular skills, such as a tennis serve, golf putt or triple-toe-loop in figure
skating. If learning and performance are the desired outcomes, evidence
suggests that CS imagery will be the most effective choice.
- Cognitive general (CG) - This involves images of strategy and
game plans related to a competitive event. Examples could include employing a
serve-and-volley strategy in tennis or a quick-break play in basketball.
Where do I start?
Imagery needs to be developed and
practised regularly. There are four elements to mental imagery - Relaxation,
Realism, Regularity and Reinforcement (The 4Rs) (Hale 1998).
A relaxed mind and body are essential to help you feel the movement patterns and experience any emotions generated.
It will help to use a relaxation technique before
Create imagery so realistic you believe you are executing
the skill. To obtain the most graphic representation possible, you must
incorporate definition, action, emotion, detail, and a positive result in
- Definition - Make the images as vivid as possible, include
- Action - Break down the image into small components and
visualise those components. (Sprinting - consider the movement of the arms, legs,
trunk, head, feet, hands, breathing etc.)
- Emotion - Try to include emotional feelings in your
images. Refresh your memory constantly by emphasising specific sensory
awareness (e.g. smells, the wind) during training
- Detail - Incorporate as many of your senses as
possible into your imagery, so the scene is as clear and realistic as real life
- Positive result - This is essential, "you only achieve
what you believe".
Spending between 3 and 5 minutes on imagery seems to be most
effective. It should be included in training and time outside of training
should be spent on imagery. (10-15 minutes a day)
The writing of imagery scripts will help you plan the content and
timing of your imagery training.
Creating a Script
Document the primary content of the skill to be imagined. Describe how the skill is performed and
include all components of the skill to be imagined or behaviours to be
emphasised ,e.g. elbows are driven back with hands relaxed.
Add the detailed movement patterns and kinesthetic feelings, e.g. the toe is dorsiflexed, and tightness felt in the muscles at the front of the shin.
Refine the script
Read it to yourself and try to imagine executing the skill. Do you feel as if you are
performng the skill correctly? If not, re-examine the
text to see if they accurately reflect the sensations
and movement patterns associated with the skill.
When you have a suitable script then record it and
use it as an aid for your imagery training.
Example - Squash Serve
Basic Story - Components: Body position, ball toss, impact,
ball flight, and landing in the back corner.
Adding detail - Seeing the racket in the hand, the black ball in the other hand,
seeing the position of the opponent, looking at the point on the face wall where
you will direct the serve.
- feeling the relaxed shoulders and hands
- feeling the racket grip in the hand
- seeing the back ball nestled on the fingers in the
- feeling the smooth release of the ball
- feeling the body weight shift, the knees bend
- feeling the power in the body
- feeling the racket head accelerate
- feeling the wrist snap and the sound of the racket making contact
with the ball
- watching the ball bounce off the face wall and land in the back corner of the opponent's side of the court making it impossible for the opponent to return
- feeling the exhilaration and pleasure
Refine the script - Rewrite the script until when you read
it, you feel as if you are executing the serve.
In designing your imagery program, apply the FITT principals, as
we do with physical training.
- F is for Frequency - Aim to incorporate imagery into
every day of your training schedule. For busy people, just before you sleep
could be a good time, and it helps if you are in a relaxed and tranquil
- I is for Intensity - Try to create an all-sensory
experience that is as vivid and clear as possible. Initially, practising in a
quiet environment can help to minimise distractions and facilitate clear
- T is for Time - Imagery should make significant demands on your
attention, so short (5-10 minutes) frequent quality sessions are preferable to
- T is for Type - Remember to decide on your desired
outcome and select the type of imagery to match it.
- HALE, B. (1998) Imagery Training. London: National Coaching Foundation
The following references provide additional information on this topic:
- MURPHY, S. M. (1990) Models of imagery in sport psychology: A review. Journal of Mental Imagery
- MURPHY, S. M. (1994) Imagery interventions in sport. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
- HALL, C et al. (1985) The measurement of imagery ability. Human Movement Science, 4 (2), p. 107-118
If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:
- MACKENZIE, B. (1997) Developing Imagery skills [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/imagery.htm [Accessed
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: