Head coach Tony Fagelman talks imagary and visualisation

Head coach Tony Fagelman talks imagary and visualisation

Date: Saturday 2nd May 2020 at Whittlesford


In order to provide you with practice opportunities whilst we remain in lockdown and then post lockdown as training slowly restarts and we get back to a level of training that we all undertook, here are some exercises that will help you.

Its important to note, that once you have mastered these techniques, that they are not just for use while we are missing our sport, but also for use when in training.

Imagery and visualisation are key components of successful training, that in turn leads to successful competition activity. If you can master these skills, not only will you return to training in a much better physical and mental state, you will be prepared for the activities that you will undertake.

It is well documented that seeing is believing, in fact in this day and age of everyone having access to instant video, sometimes providing proof of an event occurring is the only way that people believe it actually happened. But as we all know this is not the whole story. Today, its possible to fake imagery on video to such an extend that you cant tell the real events from the made up ones.

So, what can we rely on? Our own senses are key to a reliance on truth, but also a gateway to success.

By visualising ourselves undertake an action, we can understand that action, analyse that action and ultimately improve that action. Imagery is a mental technique that allows us to programme our own minds to respond optimally to the activity we want to undertake. We can undertake practice of a skill or skills in our head and these can lead to managing that skill or skills physically when we undertake it on the trampoline.

Using imagery effectively provides you with a mental tool to see and believe that you can undertake the activity successfully. This provides you with a focus as to how to go about accomplishing the skill and in turn improves your own confidence in accomplishing the skill.

However, although evidence supports the effectiveness of imagery in sport, it is only through controlled and systematic practice that it will become effective. So just like physical training, imagery and visualisation takes time, patience and practice to get it right.

There are three key aspects that a successful practitioner of imagery must attain:

  1. creation or recreation of a memory of an event or action
  2. use of all the senses to experience the event or action
  3. being able to recall the image at any time or place to aid successful physical execution

So, what can we do to help you gain these skills? I want you to undertake the following exercises and slowly, together we will build up the skills and focus to allow this to become 2nd nature for all of you.

There are two aspects to imagery that I want you to use

  1. External view
  2. Internal view

External View:

With this, you have to imagine that you are looking from outside your body at yourself performing an action. Maybe you are imagining yourself as a coach, or as a judge, or maybe just a fellow gymnast. You may be imagining what it would look like if the skill was captured on the training cameras at the gym, if that helps you more

Internal view:

With this, you have to imagine what you are seeing as you prepare and then perform the skill or action. This involves not only vision, but sound, touch, maybe even taste and smells. You have to imagine everything that is around you as you undertake the skill and how it affects your body as you perform.

With both views you will experience effects on the senses. The internal view will have a far greater muscularity effect, if you achieve a good level of imagery and immersion in the senses, you will feel your muscles contract and relax as they would if you were doing the skill(s), not maybe to the same level as physically undertaking the activity, but there will be some effect.

What is happening when we do this?

Imagery is creating a mental blue-print of the skill and by using this, we can ingrain or strengthen that blueprint to make your skills automatic. How many times has your coach told you practice makes perfect. Well, this is only partly true, practice makes permanent, so if you are doing the skill incorrectly then practicing it, will only reinforce the imperfection. Therefore, if you can visualise yourself doing the skill correctly, then that will aid in your physical performance and lead to perfect execution

To do this properly takes time, so all the exercises given here build on each other. Over time, you will improve your visualisation skills and if you are successful, you will be able to recreate your imagery as and when you need it to allow you to execute the physical skill or skills as required. See yourself getting on the trampoline, preparing to compete, visualise yourself doing the routine, completing each move successfully, with excellent form, ending the routine exactly, turning to salute the judges and hearing the applause from the audience. This is the outcome of successfully training the skill of Imagery.

Basic Training:

Development of vivid images, control of those images and engagement of self-awareness

Exercise 1:

Select a close friend or family member, imagine them sitting in a chair in front of you. Try to get a sharp an image as possible of that friend, what are they wearing, what colour are their eyes, think about the body features, what are they doing with their hands. Have you got that picture? Now, have them start talking to you, try to hear their voice, imagine all the facial expressions and their mannerisms as they talk. Have them stand up and walk towards you to get close. See them from inside your body. How do you feel about them, what emotions are you feeling towards them, recreate those emotions of friendship, respect, admiration etc.

Exercise 2:

Imagine yourself in the centre. The place is empty, quiet, there is just you there. You are stood on your favourite trampoline. Look all around you, see everything, notice everything. Pick out the details on the walls, the trampoline, the ceiling, the floor. What can you smell? What are the colours and shapes you can see? What can you feel on your feet? Can you feel the bed through your toes, the slight depression you are making? Now, having visualised that image. Fill the centre with the gymnasts and coaches from your usual session. Imagine you are just about to have a go at perfecting a move you know you can do, but are looking to improve it. From inside your body, see your coach, they may be stood on the side, or be on the floor with the mat ready. See the other gymnasts on the other beds, all working away at their skills. You look round and your friends are watching you, willing you to do well and perform the skill to the very best of your abilities. Recreate the feeling you have felt every time you are about to perform a skill you have been training and hold it there in your mind's eye.

Exercise 3

Visualise yourself standing on the trampoline, think about the very simple effort of bouncing. What are you doing to make yourself bounce, how are you engaging the muscles in your feet to press into the bed, pushing down through your bent legs to put force into the bed, extending them till they are straight as the bed is fully depressed, then imagine holding that extended shape as the bed returns to flat and you are catapulted out into the air. Repeat the action in your head, but add your arms, driving downwards into the bed, then reaching high above your head. See yourself doing this, feel the landing on the bed through your feet, the bed depressing, your arms swinging through until they are upright above your head as you leave the bed to bounce higher and higher. When you are comfortable in your bouncing, prepare to do a simple skill, maybe a tuck jump or a front landing or maybe a tuck back somersault. Again, prepare for it in your mind's eye, count yourself in as you or you coach would if you were executing the skill in training and then do the skill as you would want it to be executed, with perfect form. See yourself doing the skill from inside your body. What are you feeling as you do it? what are you seeing? what are you hearing? When you have done that a few times, repeat the exercise, but do it from outside of the body, what is the coach seeing? what are your friends seeing? what is being captured on the camera and will be replayed on the video?

Exercise 4

This time take the same skill as you used in Exercise 3. Build it back up to full execution, but instead of watching it from inside and out, concentrate on what all the different parts of your body are feeling as you execute the skill. Think about what you are doing as you do the arm-set, what muscles are engaged, position of your head, arms, body, legs and feet. As you move into the take-off position (from maximum depression through to leaving the bed, what is happening to your body. Next consider the same but while you are in flight, what is happening to each part of your body, what muscles are you engaging as you take the shape you have selected for the skill, what are you feeling as you fly through the air in the skill. Finally, consider what you are doing as you undertake the exit and return to the bed, what are you extending, feel the line-out as you exit the skill, what muscles are you tightening in preparation for landing? and then feel yourself landing on the bed, absorbing the forces through your feet, steadying yourself, finding your balance as the bed prepares to launch you once more into the air. Repeat this until you can do it effortlessly, until you can recreate the activity in your head over and over without thought and concentration on the actions become natural. Now combine all the senses while you undertake the action, what are you seeing, feeling and hearing as you perform the skill. Do not try to concentrate too hard on any one sense, instead, use the total experience to recreate the activity using all the senses.

Exercise 5

Consider the 4 exercises above (you can do all 4 once you have mastered each one) and try to progress the visualisation in your head. For Exercise 1, imagine the person you selected has now got off the chair opposite you and is now in a room full of people, watch them interact and follow them around the room, watch them return to you and begin a conversation with you, imagine that conversation. For Exercise 2, extend the visualisation, have your coach talk to you, imagine them asking you to perform a skill that you are learning and maybe having problems with or maybe it is your routine. Then move to Exercise 3 and 4. This time imagine you undertaking the skill or routine as you have been doing it, then each time you repeat the skill in your head, correct one of the faults that you can see in the skill or routine. Continue improving the faults, gradually at first. Return to this exercise regularly until you can visualise yourself having perfected the skill or routine and that you can see yourself performing it without errors. Finally, imagine completing an error free execution of the skill or routine, seeing the pleasure in your coaches face or hearing the cheers of the crowd and seeing the judges scores go up, all really high marks.

Exercise 6

Think back to when you completed a new skill successfully, with great execution, or completed an excellent routine in competition that scored really highly. Try to re-connect with the sounds, the feelings, the emotions that you felt on achieving that. Identify what it was that made you perform really well that day (or session). What was present that was a benefit to you, how did you prepare that made it successful, what can you repeat to recreate that success. Identify those activities so you can put them in place for the next time. Now, repeat this exercise and imagine a time when you had a bad session or competition, relive it in your mind's eye and try to identify what was different, what affected you that day and what could you control that would ensure that those do not affect you again.

Exercise 7

Try to recall a session or competition where you were particularly anxious. Recreate the feeling in your head, especially try to recreate the feeling of anxiety, try to feel the physical responses of your body to the emotion and the thoughts going through your mind that might have caused that anxiety. Now attempt to let go of that anxiety, breathe slowly and deeply, and focus on your body as you exhale. Imagine all of the tension in your body being pulled into your lungs as you inhale and being expelled from your body as you exhale. Continue breathing slowly and controlled, exhaling the tension with each deep breath until you feel completely relaxed and your anxiety has gone. Now repeat the exercise where you felt stressed by the training or event and once again try to attain complete relaxation. Finally, repeat the exercise again imagining a session or event where you felt overwhelmed or angry and once again, using the breathing techniques, aim to find that relaxation. Once you can do this from a memory, you can use it in training or competition to prepare for your go and be ready to give it your best efforts, no longer impaired by emotional stress

Exercise 8

This time I want you to consider an event or session when you felt that your training or competition went from good to bad. Picture it in your mind's eye and try to locate the specific factors that influenced your change in performance. Maybe it was something another gymnast said to you, or maybe it was something your coach said, maybe you could not find a trampoline you liked and you blamed the outcome on the equipment. Having identified the factors that had a negative influence on you, take a few minutes to recreate the situation. Now, instead of getting angry, anxious or upset, consider what you could do to improve the situation, identify coping methods to help you combat the negative feelings and feel proud and confident that you have overcome them and are ready to train or compete at your very best. Use these new methods you have identified if you encounter such negativity again when training or competing.

I hope you have found this interesting and useful. This is not a quick fix to help you get through this downtime. This is something you should adopt as a new stratagem to help you in your training and your competing. This works, I know, I used it very successfully myself for many years.

Enjoy and I look forward to seeing you back at training soon

Tony Fagelman

Head Coach