Practice makes perfect, or at least that’s what everyone says. Elite athletes spend hours on their chosen sport, trying to achieve a perfect slap shot in hockey, or a precise curve ball in baseball. Sports practice is about staying in shape of course, but it’s also about being mentally aware of each movement, and imagining how each maneuver will happen exactly as it should.
Olympic athletes have used mental and kinetic imagery for years. Competition at that level is intense and those going for medals know they have to get it exactly right. () High level coaches will tell their Olympic clients that imagery, a kind of mental rehearsal, is just as important as keeping the body in top shape.
New research by Phillip Post, at New Mexico State University shows that there is a link between imagery, motor learning and improved performance in sports. Post is an associate professor in the Kinesiology and Dance Department at NMSU’s College of Education and has been looking into the effect imagery can have on sports performance as well as cognitive learning. Recently, Post presented his research at an international conference at Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua. which partners with NMSU on matters of technology and innovation.
In a press release about this research, Post say, “Specifically, I presented research, mostly research that I conducted, on the efficacy of using imagery to enhance learning or motor performance of well-rehearsed tasks. The research presented suggests that imagery might be effective for enhancing learner’s skill acquisition of tasks that contain greater cognitive elements, such as tasks that require decision making or remembering a sequence or pattern, as opposed to motor elements, or tasks that require correct skill execution, like a soccer kick. However, with more experienced performers imagery appears to be effective on a range of tasks, including both motor and cognitive. In addition to this research I discussed imagery theories and how to best apply the mental skill.”
Post is looking at two areas of imagery and sports performance. One area involves individuals attempting to acquire new skills and the other concerns situations where a skill is already known, but can be improved.
Post is timing participants with a string of light bulbs that turn on in succession as a ping pong paddle is swung. This allows very accurate recording of participant response. Post has three groups of study participants in the lab, one group learns the skill with physical practice, another group uses imagery and the third group does both. He hopes that once his research is complete and more trials have been completed his work can be applied to other situations like patients recovering from strokes or those with Parkinson’s disease. Check out the video below to see more on this work and how imagery for increased sports performance works.