Back in the 1990’s I was introduced to visualization. We were at the national team training camp in Indianapolis. It was one of the first times we all got together under one roof to train. We learned conditioning drills, stretching techniques, a choreographed warmup, information on nutrition, and the very first steps of sports psychology.
For our sports psychology lesson we were taught how important it was to mentally imagine ourselves hit our routines. We were told that in order to be a champion, we had to see ourselves going through the motions of nailing our skills and our routines.
They had the gymnasts lay on our backs in a quiet room. We were to close our eyes and relax our body. The psychologist had us imagine our beam routine. He asked us to go through our routine from beginning to end and imagine us performing it perfectly.
When he told us to begin the room got very quiet and the gymnasts were very still. I started to imagine my routine and at first I was off to a good start. But then I got to my first skill and I saw myself fall off the beam. I thought it was strange that I saw myself fall so I started over. This time I tried even harder to imagine myself performing perfectly. Again I saw myself fall. Why was I seeing myself fall? Was everyone else able to imagine themselves hit and I was the only one who couldn’t? Surly I couldn’t be the only one imagining falls, so I peaked out of the corner of my eyes and looked around the room. Everyone else seemed to be going through the moves of their routines. They all seemed completely engrossed in the mental imagery lesson. But not me.
I closed my eyes again and tried from the beginning again. This time I was able to make it through my first big trick, but then I saw myself falling on my full-turn. I started my routine over again. This time I hit my big trick and my full-turn, but fell on my leap series. It seemed like no matter what skill I saw myself hit I then would see myself fall on different skill. Needless to say I did not make it through an entire routine.
When our session was over the psychologist asked us if we had any questions or concerns about visualization. I was not going to be the one to raise my hand and tell the entire national team that I was so mentally weak that I could not imagine myself hitting my routine. So I kept my mouth shut.
Unfortunately for me I could never imagine myself completely hitting a routine with my eyes shut. And it wasn’t until last year that it occurred to me that I was not alone.
Just like we all have different learning styles, we all have different visualizations styles as well. My visualization style works best when I use two or more techniques together. My visualization styles are kinesthetic and verbal. That means if I wanted to imagine myself hitting my routines then I would need to stand up and physically go through the motions of my routines while saying my mental cues.
All of the years of trying to close my eyes and imagine myself hitting my routines didn’t work because that was not my learning style. And instead of realizing that was not my learning style, I thought my problem was that I was mentally weak.
The most important thing with visualization and mental imagery is that one way doesn’t work for everyone. If one way is not working for you then change your technique. As long as you can see it, here it, or feel it then you can definitely do it.