Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hockey Edge Newsletter October Issue 12, Vol. 3 Imagery! A Useful Tool to Enhance Performances

A useful tool to enhance performances in ice hockey  
Written by Mikael Wallsbeck

Imagery is a mental skill that many ice hockey players use to prepare for games, as well as enhance their confidence. In this article, I would like to present a study I did examining 17 ice hockey players’ (playing in the third highest level in Sweden) experiences using imagery in relation to their sport.

I dare to say that almost every professional athlete uses imagery because it is a very handy and powerful tool. It is important to not be confused by the meaning of imagery and how it is different from visualization:

Imagery, in the context of sport, may be considered as the voluntary or spontaneous creation or re-creation of an experience using the different senses.  Imagery may occur in the absence of the real stimulus antecedents normally associated with the actual experience and which may have physiological and psychological effects on the imager”.

This means that athletes can use imagery to re-experience a good performance (e.g., a good hit or tape-to-tape pass) or create a new experience that hasn’t occurred yet, for example scoring a goal on a certain goalie. Certainly NHL teams in the 2011 playoffs should have been using imagery of scoring on Boston goalie Tim Thomas because in reality there was not much going in to his net!

When I played ice hockey I, for example, used imagery in the locker room before games. I imagined myself performing well in different situations. For example, I imagined myself executing a good pass from the defensive blue line to the offensive blue line. I felt the feeling in my arms, heard the crowd and saw the other players around me. The effect of this imagery was that I felt confident and had a positive feeling before the game, because in my mind I had already performed well.

To learn more about how hockey players effectively use imagery we studied Swedish hockey players. These individuals played on the same team and completed the Survey of Imagery Experiences in Sport (SIES) that has been developed by Fredrik Weibull and myself. In this survey the athletes fill in how they experience imagery, how frequently they use it, for what purposes, how they use it and what effect the imagery has on their purposes for using it. Below I present two tables on what they actually imagined (content) and why they did it (purpose).

Table 1. What these ice hockey players imagined.
Categories of contents (most frequently used at the top)
Successful individual performances
Unsuccessful individual performances
Successful team performances
Physically strong
Imaging using imagery in the context of ice hockey

Table 2. Categories of purposes for why the ice hockey players used imagery.
Frequency of purposes (most frequently used at the top)
Self confidence
Problem solving
Find the right feeling
Improve Tactics/Strategy
Lower arousal

Most players experienced imagery in the context before competition, and in Table 1 the content of the imagery and purposes are presented. Most players used the imagery content of “Successful individual performances”; this content was more frequently used compared to the content of “Successful team performances. This might be something to think more about. It might suggest that although ice hockey is a team sport, players should use more imagery to experience successful individual performances. Personal performance is something that lies more within the individual’s control. This also might support that imagery is a useful tool, because it is an individual technique. However in Table 1 you can also see other types of imagery that were used by the ice hockey players. Interestingly, unsuccessful performances were second on the list. Why would a player imagine failure? It may be that they are preparing themselves to deal with adversity and responding in a positive manner. Or, it could be that they are fixing previous failures in their mind, and then creating the appropriate response. Finally, maybe the player is just experiencing negative effects and wants to improve their imagery ability and be able to use more positive imagery.

Why do hockey players use imagery? In Table 2 you will see that imagery was most commonly used to increase self-esteem, motivation and self-confidence by these players. You can also see that it was used for several different purposes which suggest that imagery can benefit players in many different ways and really is a versatile tool that players need to take advantage of more often.

Practical implications
This small study shows that ice hockey players use imagery for several different purposes and that imagery is something that can be beneficial to use in order to become a better ice hockey player. When you read this article you might recognize some of the imagery content used by the players; you potentially may have tried some of the same things. Use this knowledge to motivate yourself to keep on using imagery to enhance your performances. In order to use imagery to enhance performances use the following exercise:

1) Decide on what you as a player or coach want to improve in your performance.

As an example the Swedish player Johnny wants to improve his passing accuracy.

2) Formulate the text in a positive and good way
What Johnny needs to do first is to describe for himself how he wants to perform the passes and write that down. Such as:

“I am behind the goal and see the back of the goalie. I see one player approaching the offensive blue line. I experience the sensations in my hands when handling the stick. I move forward leaving the area behind the goal, waiting on the right moment to release the pass. I’m feeling the puck leaving the stick, I see it sliding over the ice and the pass is perfect. My teammate receives that pass and attacks the blue line and the offensive zone.”

3)      If you want you can record the text and create an Mp3 file. You can use your own voice or someone else’s. This will make it possible for you to listen to text with closed eyes.
4)      Image the exercise several times.
5)      Create a new exercise and do the same thing all over again.

If you want to know more about how you can work with imagery in relation to ice hockey contact me and I will be glad to help you!

About the Author

Mikael Wallsbeck lives in Sweden and has a European masters in sport and exercise psychology. He has a background in hockey and is currently a referee. Mikael also consults with athletes and groups in order to enhance their performances, and works for the company Imagine to deliver individualized imagery programs. He is also a board member of the Swedish association of sport psychology.

To Contact Mikael;

If you want you can check out his blog on Most texts are in Swedish but some are in English.

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