Mental Rehearsal & Visualization

Okay, prepare yourselves for a journey into the land of the weird. That's right. Mental Rehearsal & Visualization (MR & V). I know what you're thinking. MR & V is in the realm of strange abstract concepts and trickery that is only advertised late at night between the 900 number commercials on USA Up All Night, right? Wrong, Bisquit Breath. MR & V can be useful training tool to help your team get the edge.

I'll concede that this kind of thing works best on the older, more mature players, but if you can get your team to try this, you may see some measurable results. MR & V is a way to increase a player's focus, speed up the learning process without having to be on the field and allow the player to be better prepared mentally for a match. The concept is pretty simple. It's kinda like day-dreaming. A player first relaxes, then imagines playing soccer in a very vivid way. The visualization of the events will have a conditioning effect on the player's applied technical and tactical skill. In this way, a player can use the living room lounger to actually sharpen his or her on-field performance.

Ready, begin. We will start by relaxing. This can be done alone or in a group, but for this illustration we will assume being alone. Groups are difficult to control since a single outburst of laughter by any one person will most likely ruin it for everyone else. Start by laying flat on a comfortable bed, or carpet, or kick back on the living room longer. Close your eyes and start breathing deeply. Imagine each of your muscles relaxing completely. Putting on some relaxing music can be helpful. Anything soothing will work. Look through Mom & Dad's CD collection for something like: Enya - Shepherd Moons, Zamfir - Master of the Pan Flute, Vivaldi's Four Seasons or the like. If you listen to a certain piece of music while you're imagining warming-up, for instance, listening to the same music when you're actually warming-up will help bring back the right mental images to aid in warming-up.

Now that you're relaxed, let's get to work. With your eyes still closed, imagine as vividly as possible, practicing a technique, or tactic that you want to improve. Let's use passing the ball as an example. First let me warn: YOU MUST KNOW THE PROPER WAY TO DO SOMETHING BEFORE YOU VISUALIZE IT. Just like practicing, if you do something wrong in practice, you will do it wrong in the game. The idea is to support the proper technique with good visualization. If you are imagining the technique wrong, you'll do it wrong on the field.

Back to the task at hand. Your eyes are closed, you're relaxed, and you're imagining yourself practicing passing. Imagine in slow motion first. See the ball, watch the ball, prepare your body to strike the ball correctly. Arms up for good balance, shoulders square, point the toe up, lock the ankle, strike through the center of the ball, follow through, and see the ball landing exactly where you were aiming. Not bad. Do it again. Now again but faster. Keep going up to game intensity. Remember, like regular practice, we are trying to condition the body so that it responds quickly and properly when asked to perform a task. Repetition is a key factor. Imagine passing the ball perfectly at least 100 times. Every time is perfect and every time the ball lands right on target. You've made the first step in perfecting your passing.

Now let's look at "trigger words". Trigger words are words (spoken or imagined) that will be used to trigger actual physical responses. You've heard of Pavlov's Dog. A nineteenth century Russian physiologist dude named Pavlov, decided to ring a bell every time he fed his dog. After doing this repeatedly, Pavlov realized that the dog became conditioned to the sound of the bell. Bell means food. So everytime that Pavlov rang the bell, the dog started salivating in anticipation of food. We can do this with MR & V also.

If we are visualizing passing, you can think of the word "pass." Now after pretend passing the ball 100 times and saying "pass," you are building a conditioning between the word "pass" and all of the proper techniques of perfect passing. Then you go out on the field. Coach says we are practicing passing today. Everytime the ball comes to you you think "pass" and lo-and-behold, a perfect pass. Well maybe not perfect at first, but you will notice a difference.

There was an experiment done with basketball. I don't recall the actual numbers, but what I am about to relate is a close approximation of the actual numbers. Three groups of average people were asked to take 100 free throws. None of these people had played basketball before. The results of the 100 throws were recorded. Group 1 did not even touch a basketball for a month. Group 2 practiced free throws at the gym for 30 minutes a day for a month. Group 3 visualized practicing free throws for 30 minutes a day for a month but did not actually touch a basketball. At the end of the month, the three groups were re-tested. Group 1, the group that did nothing, improved 0%. Group 2, the actual practice group, improved 95%. Group 3, the visualizers, improved 93%. The results were very informative. Try MR & V, what have you got to lose?

By the way, keep those letters coming. My master judges my popularity by the quantity of fan mail, and right now, I'm in the doghouse. Ciao for now.


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