Coach’s Log, Entry 7: Visualising and Skill Development
April 15, 2022
Believe it or not, and it matters if you believe it, visualising or imagining yourself doing an exercise has a similar impact on your brain as when you physically perform it.
Neuroscience has shown through brain imaging technologies that the same parts of the brain activate when we think about a physical movement as when we do that movement.
In fact, as Jim Lohr says in his Scientific American article, “visualizing movement changes how our brain networks are organized, creating more connections among different regions. It stimulates brain regions involved in rehearsal of movement, such as the putamen located in the forebrain, priming the brain and body for action so that we move more effectively.”
You can read the entire article here.
This notion may seem counter-intuitive; how could it be that just thinking about something has the same effect as doing? But let’s be honest, it is not exactly the same; it is similar. You cannot achieve competence in anything by merely thinking about it. And even when we use visualisation techniques, the thinking is deliberate and methodical.
Take a look at elite athletes in training or before a their turn in competition. These athletes sometimes appear to be performing a dance, and often with their eyes closed to be fully engaged in the act of visualising their routines.
How to visualise properly
When you visualise a skill or a routine, you should do your best to engage the body by imitating parts of the skill.
If you imagine yourself doing a tumbling pass, for example, you should move your arms in the same way you would when you perform the pass.
It’s important to note that the parts that require correction will be evident in your visualisation and will afford you a different opportunity to modify your movements.
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I’ll clarify that this isn’t an endorsement of misconceptions like the famous Secret, which implies that the simple act of thinking about something can manifest that something into reality.
No, action is always required to make something happen, especially to achieve challenging goals.
The act of visualisation is involved and engaging. You must focus on the details of the movement and pay attention to how those details feel to understand your skills better.
Again, visualisation isn’t a replacement for physical movement; it is a tool to enhance your training that can and should be used frequently.
Thank you for reading.
— Coach José