Rushall, B. S. (1991). Imagery training in sports. Spring Valley, CA: Sports Science Associates and Belconnen, ACT, Australia: Australian Coaching Council.

A Learning-through-imagery Model

As a means of summarizing the published literature, the steps for using imagery processes for learning aspects of, as well as entire, physical and tactical skills are listed below in point form.

  1. Analyze the needs of the individual.
  2. Determine the target behavior to be taught.
  3. Determine the progression of teaching steps.
  4. Determine the transition of imagery speeds for each step.
  5. Educate the athlete about the procedure.
  6. Teach imagery according to appropriate procedures.
  7. Develop and teach covert positive reinforcement.
  8. Implement the steps and attend to:
  9. After the final step stretch the schedule of covert positive reinforcement.
  10. Evaluate real performance.
  11. Repeat the imagery features which are not consistently performed in real-life situations.
  12. Stretch the schedule of covert positive reinforcement for real-life performances.

The development of learning imagery sessions is helped by the use of structured preparation materials. Such a preparation sheet is included in Imagery Training in Sports.

There are a number of features on the sheet which are meant to cue the consideration of important factors associated with learning imagery. Each is briefly explained below. The detail of the entries should be sufficient to prompt the athlete to become involved in meaningful and complete imagery experiences. The level of image control and vividness that is sought should approach that of real-life experiences.

Content to be learned. The important technical features to be learned are listed in this section. They should include physical actions, self-talk features, and images. The order of items listed should be in concert with the desired learning progression that is to be used. Beginners will stress organizational and control factors while for individuals with established skills, both physical and tactical skill developments can be considered.

Feelings and senses. The feelings and sensory experiences associated with each item of content should be listed. The majority of descriptions will serve as outcomes for the content entries. For example, if an action is aimed at producing a more balanced stance then a feeling of stability should result. That feeling would be listed. In sports where other senses are stimulated, for example, board-sailing, motor-cross, and wrestling, all senses, including touch, smell, and hearing, should be listed.

Timing transitions. This requires the athlete to determine the number of trials and the duration of each trial for each imagined factor. The number of trials should be the minimum anticipated. The athlete should always be prepared to do more than has been planned if the quality of imagery is not acceptable after the anticipated number of repetitions. The time range alludes to the transition from slow-motion imagery speed to actual performance speed. The final set of repetitions should be equal to, or even in some cases faster than, the actual anticipated performance speed.

Reinforcers. Three types of reinforcing events should be planned. These events are to be used as CPR elements. It is preferable to have at least two entries included in each of the three sections so that a variety of reinforcers can be imagined throughout the imagery trials. "Self-statements" are expressions that the athlete is to say to him/herself to indicate that the imagery trial was done successfully. Many athletes prefer to describe the outcomes of an imagined trial as the consequence for successful imagery. However, self-congratulatory statements, such as "you did it", "that was great", and "well done", are also valuable forms of reaction. The "Significant others" entries should indicate images that involve the positive reactions of other persons to the successful performance that has been imagined. How a coach would react, what another athlete might say, and the reaction of a parent or sponsor are examples of the type of entry that could be included. "Group scenes" entries should describe the reaction of groups of others, for example, crowds cheering, award ceremonies, and excited greetings by groups of fans. Another alternative is to imagine the successful performance being done in relation to other athletes, for example, leading an event, obtaining a best score, and scoring a goal. For each of these events the imagination of positive self, social, and/or performance consequences is what is important.

Involvement criteria. This section requires the athlete to describe when the imagery will be completed. The main entry content should concern the criteria that indicate satisfactory control and vividness in the imagery. For many activities this will be the experience of movement feelings associated with the actions. If the imagery is of sufficient intensity, then overt movements and physiological reactions, such as heart rate changes, should occur. These are the clues that should be used by the coach to evaluate if imagery is being performed correctly. The athlete's entries here should include the projected physical responses. It would seem reasonable to expect the formal use of learning imagery to be terminated when the action is implemented successfully and consistently in the physical performance environment. If imagery sessions are to be repeated, then some indication of the intended repetitions should be entered.

Homework. This section records when imagery activities are to be performed after the formal imagery training session. Usually the coach is responsible for making recommendations for this activity.

This model and its supportive planning sheet are designed to direct imagery activities so that they will be maximally effective for use in teaching sporting skills and strategies.

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