This month, the focus is on imagery, a mental skill fundamental to high performance. Not only is it a powerful tool that improves potential, but also it is fun. By one estimate, 99.9 percent of Olympic athletes draw upon this skill to enhance their performance. While imagery has many uses — too many to explore in this column — the focus here will be on the use of imagery to assist athletes in reaching their peak performance.
Imagery is a proven technique that enhances performance by helping athletes control their thoughts and images. While living in Aspen, Colo., I became fascinated with the split hundredths of a second that separates a ski racer from earning a medal or not. While weather or course conditions might favor one competitor over another, I was intrigued with the mental factors that could benefit racers, allowing them to reach the podium.
At this time, I discovered a study that measured ski racers’ muscles while performing imagery. The study revealed that elite skiers activated their muscles at similar levels while performing imagery in a psychologist’s office as they did on the race course. Athletes skilled in this technique fire their muscles as an effective rehearsal. With the advent of new technology and the development of brain scans, we can now see changes, such as enhanced blood flow, resulting from imagery exercises.