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The "Mental Training" applied in sports psychology

April 5, 2024

Mental Training: discovering the importance of sport

It is very normal to be able to see today, in the media, how athletes dedicate a large part of their time to their practices before competing in their disciplines. The practice of sports is one of the best instruments that athletes have to acquire and improve their skills and techniques within the field of play.

But there is a scope of these practices that does not usually receive too much attention by the media, and yet is widely used in various sports disciplines. I refer to the great influence that psychologists have on improving the performance of athletes. Psychological science has been expanding exponentially to fields that years ago were totally alien to its influence. This is because the research and interventions that have been developed increasingly cover a wider range of mental behaviors and processes , among which are those executed in sports.

In this way, a new area within sports and psychology was born relatively recently, in which both converge to enrich each other for the understanding of behavior and the improvement of performance and quality of life of athletes: Sports Psychology .

This new batch of psychologists appears to obtain an understanding of the behaviors and mental processes that occur in sport and physical practice, as well as to develop techniques and interventions that help increase skill and abilities of the athletes. Among these techniques developed by sports psychologists is, for example, mental training through the regulation of the imagination.

Mental Training through Imagination

The Mental Training through Imagination is based on the principle that imagination is a basic process for the development and management of information processed by the brain. Imagination is directly influenced by both sensations and emotions and is used to order, explore and examine thought. It facilitates, to the extent that it adapts to reality, an understanding of the demands of each situation. It serves, among other things, to recognize a situation quickly without great difficulty and without a great display of energy forming "stories about reality that are coherent." As British neurologist says Oliver Sacks in his TED conference on hallucinations:

"We see with the eyes but we also see with the brain, and seeing with the brain is often called imagination ...".

The regulation of the imagination , both in Mental Training through Imagination and in any other field, it assumes an important role for the development of all motor processes. You learn, through your imagination, about objects, people, environmental conditions and experiences. Each experience is made up of certain relationships that shape our behavior as opposed to their existence.

Definitely, the imagination influences, consciously or unconsciously, in our action (In this principle, for example, phobias exposure therapies are based on computer simulations). This is because every time we have an experience, it is embodied in our brain forming patterns of activation of neurons that correspond specifically to that experience. Each time we perform the action of imagining, we are reactivating those patterns of neurons and as these circuits are activated in a recurrent manner, they are strengthened in such a way that they manage to shape learning, automating movements, reactions and abilities.

Applications of Mental Training by Imagination

Cognitive development

Imagination can play an important role in cognitive development. This has been highlighted by a number of social scientists; The most notable of the twentieth century is the work of Jean Piaget. Popular beliefs allow us to believe that children spend more time imagining than adults, which demonstrates their importance in development. However, we do not know of studies that have tried to 'quantify' the amount of time dedicated to imagination between groups of the same age.

Acquisition and improvement of skills

Data in the literature indicate that the functioning and practice of the imagination of a specific motor skill can improve the functioning of that skill in 'real life'. This has been proposed in athletes (as we will describe in this article), surgeons and musicians.

Behavior test

The behavior test Within the stages of the mind is perhaps one of the most important human qualities. The imagination provides a unique and safe platform for testing the behavior prior to the actual development of this , without the risk of negative consequences for who imagines. The multiple alternative solutions to the problems, considering the numerous potential results, can be tested and practiced safely within the field of the mind. It is widely used in the field of psychotherapy due to the positive effects in the acquisition of new behaviors.

Reduced anxiety

Imagination provides a setting for safely carrying out behavioral sequences that can help improve anxiety. For example, the revenge of a wrongdoing is possible and easy within the realm of imagination, without apparently producing consequences. Many psychotherapeutic modalities use the process of imagination to treat anxiety, phobias and other disorders.


George Bernard Shaw He indicated "Imagination is the beginning of creation. Imagine what you want, want what you imagine and in the end you create what you want. " While the cognitive process involved in creativity is not clear, many creative individuals, such as artists, explain that they imagine a creation before creating it in the 'physical' world. In fact, within the stage of our imagination, we are free to create with fewer limits than those that exist in the "real world".

Mental Training through the regulation of the imagination in sport

The investigations they demonstrate a great positive influence of the imagination on sports performance . Both scientifically controlled studies and experimental reports on the use of the imagination to improve performance provide positive results. (Robin S. Vealey, 1991).

Through imaginative techniques, it is intended that the athlete assimilate and internalize the movement through a codified system, which represents it in a symbolic way and makes them more familiar and more automatic. It is so important, that its correct application leads to an improvement in the process of retention and memorization of motor tasks. (Damián Lozano, 2004)

Psychoneuromuscular theory (Weineck, J. 1998) argues that similar impulses occur in the brain and in the muscles when athletes imagine movements without putting them into practice. The scientific evidence maintains that living the events in the imagination, generates an innervation in our muscles similar to that produced by the true physical execution of an event.

What is the process of applying the technique of imagination as mental training? Kemmler (1973), stable three degrees in mental training:

  1. Verbalization of movement set . This responds to mentally repeat the sequence of the movement and narrate it verbally, so that the movement (which is usually very automated) begins to take a dimension more aware of the way it is executed.
  2. Viewing a demo-model . It is another way of being able to make conscious the sequences of movements, in this degree one can visualize externally how such a sequence develops. It has a lot to do with the activation of the mirror neurons involved in observing the behavior of others.
  3. Execution of the movement by representation of gestural development , taking into account the kinesthetic sensations that accompany the movement, as well as the specific technical difficulties of the structure of the movement. In this degree the kinesthetic sensations that occur in the movement become conscious, that is, what it feels like when such a group of muscles moves. In this way you can make corrections that facilitate the improvement of movement and sports skills.

Practical applications of Mental Training through Imagination

In this way, thanks to Mental Training through Imagination can develop different applications to the sports field, among which are:

  • Accelerate and activate motor learning processes, especially technical skills and abilities.
  • As a rehabilitative and integrative technique in the competition, after a period of inactivity, whether due to injury or other factors.
  • As a complementary repair technique in situations where the physical or mental load is very high, or the volume of them is very prolonged and monotonous.
  • As a technique that helps to reduce the stress produced by the competition itself, it manifests itself through the appearance of traumatic experiences in the form of failures.
  • As an element that helps the transition in the training phase after the competition.

So you know, the next time you should train for your sports practice do not hesitate to use Mental Training through Imagination, a resource developed and implemented by sports psychologists. The results obtained are of great magnitude and do not require great efforts or energy to be applied.

Bibliographic references:

  • American Psychological Association (APA). Division 47, "Exercise and sport psychology"
  • Drubach a, b, E.E. Benarroch a, F.J. Mateen. (2007). Imagination: definition, utility and neurobiology. Neurology journal. //
  • Gil Rodríguez Cristina. (2003, May). The psychology of sport: implantation and current status in Spain. Multidisciplinary Encounters Magazine. //
  • Kemmeler, R. (1973). Psychologisches Wett-Kampftraining. Blv Leistungssport, Muchen-Bern-Wien.
  • Ossorio Lozano, Damián. (2004, June). Mental training: the regulation of the imagination. Digital magazine
  • Oliver Sacks (2009), TED Conference: "What do hallucinations reveal about our minds?
  • RS. (1991). "Conceptualization of sport confidence and Competitive orientation: preliminary investigations and instrument development". Journal of sports psychology.
  • Weineck, J. (1998) Optimal training. Hispanic European.

The Biggest Mental Mistake Made by Coaches and Athletes (April 2024).

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