Just Imagine

BY Andrea Furst

Ever since Jack Nicklaus famously revealed, “I never hit a shot, even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head. It’s like a color movie.”

“First I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I see the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behaviour on landing.”

“Then there’s a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality. Only at the end of this short, private, Hollywood spectacular do I select a club and step up to the ball.”

Golfers all over the world have been engaging in visualisation in practice and competition.

The detail provided by Nicklaus demonstrates his ability to make the picture in his mind as real as possible. A realistic and representative imagery experience is the key for maximising the performance benefits of any imagery endeavour.

Imagery is often referred to as visualisation, mental rehearsal, or mental practice. There are slight differences between the terms, the main one being that visualisation utilises only the visual modality where as imagery aims to incorporate all of the senses – vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

Players differ in the image that they create in their mind’s eye. Some players report seeing themselves playing, as if they were a spectator or they were watching a video of themselves, (i.e., an external perspective). Other players report seeing the shots, holes, and rounds through their own eyes, as if they were actually performing the skills, (i.e., an internal perspective).

Additionally, there are a variety of aspects of your game that you can imagine. Imagery can be utilised to see successful performances (i.e., either rerun previous successes or seeing yourself successfully performing a new task) or you can focus on the key factors, which contribute to this success and develop strategies to enhance performance in similar situations in the future (i.e., improving consistency).

You can imagine every aspect of your technical game; swings, strokes, holes, and rounds, (e.g., driving off the first tee on your home course). You can imagine how you want to approach and react to shots, holes, and rounds, (e.g., your calm relaxed approach to the first tee). The types of images that you can practice are endless.

There are two key factors that are involved in engaging in effective imagery, control and vividness. Unlike dreaming, imagery is controlled. There is a conscious awareness of your effort to imagine. You are in control of the image and the image should always be positive. Vividness refers to the clarity of the image. The image should be very clear. To help with this clarity utilise all of your senses.

As the integration of psychological skills into golf performance becomes more practical, the strategies and techniques are evolving from informed research and practice. Recent research in golf would suggest that the form in which an imagery intervention is delivered can have a significant impact on its performance effectiveness. Imagery practice can include several strategies. Three options for putting are outlined below:

  • Writing scripts detailing the involvement of each sense of your desired images and reading these regularly then imagine the scene you have described. You can consult the imagery script if you find this useful. Aim to imagine feeling what you would actually feel and seeing what you would actually see while putting.
  • Produce taped recordings of a successfully holed putt or any shot for that matter – the recording would include the noise created by the putter striking the ball and the ball dropping into the hole. Using the exact time that elapsed between ball contact with the putter and the ball entering the hole. Audiotape provides an individualised source of auditory responses making the imagery experience more realistic and meaningful and producing greater auditory functional equivalence.
  • Video recording of successfully holing a putt. Film the putt from an internal perspective, with the camera positioned over your shoulder to enable you to see what you would see when actually performing the putt. You will receive a very strong source of relevant visual cues. The video will contain all visual cues relating to the individualised pre-putt routine. The specific time and content is made unique to you.

These types of imagery intervention can be used for other skills in golf. Often I will video players’ pre-shot routines, post-shot routines, and time between shots to provide optimal examples for them to use for mental rehearsal.

Overall, the ultimate goal is to create an imagery experience that is as vivid as that experienced from being presented with precisely the same visual, auditory, or other perceptual cues present in the actual situation. Video and audio recordings tend to maximise the effectiveness of imagery since they involve greater multisensory involvement of the player in generating the image content.

If you can actually see or hear the situation that you are trying to imagine, this will make your imagery experience more realistic and vivid.

Now, just imagine…..

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    About the Author: Andrea Furst

    Andrea Furst is a Sport Psychologist with a Masters of Sport and Exercise Psychology from the University of Queensland. Andrea runs her own sport psychology consultancy, Mental Notes Consulting, with headquarters in Brisbane and Singapore. Andrea is currently the sports psychologist for the QAS Golf, Tennis and Track and Field programs.

    Read all of Andrea's articles ยป

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