Use your Brain to Improve your Brawn

During a graduate school course, I read a myriad of scientific articles, most of which I have completely forgotten by this point. However, there was one article titled, “Mental Imagery Combined with Physical Practice of Approach Shots for Golf Beginners” that has always stuck with me. This article studies the effects of mental imagery on beginning golfers. The results of the article found that the golfers who engaged in both physical AND mental training improve more than golfers who just engage in physical training. Although this was a relatively small-scale article, this type of research has been done over and over again, with similar results:

“The results suggest that internal imagery training may be used to improve a component of a complex motor skill.” – Olsson et al. Scand J of Psych 2008.

“Results show that motor imagery can influence muscular abilities such as strength and power…” – Fontani et al. Perceptual and Motor Skills 2007.

“In conclusions, the combination of mental movement imagery and physical practice enhanced learning and improved motor skill performance.” – Ay et al. Education 2013.

How awesome is it that you could be sitting at work, or sitting at home on the couch and be able to improve your derby ability?! Now before you get TOO excited…successful mental imagery is not as easy as just daydreaming about roller derby.   There are many important components to successful mental imagery that must be used in order for it to be effective. However, once you practice mental imagery a few times, it becomes quite easy, and can be incorporated into your daily routine.

Before you begin the process of mental imagery, you must have an idea of what skills you’d like to imagine yourself doing. These skills must be within your own skill level (or something you believe is attainable). You also must know how to do the skill correctly (and be able to imagine yourself doing it). Even if there is no one around to demonstrate the skill correctly, there is SO MUCH roller derby footage out there where you can watch any number of skaters doing what it is you’d like to learn to do.

*One note about watching footage to learn a skill – especially for jammers…watch footage of a skater that is your similar body size. I may admire the feats of Scald Eagle, but I will never be able to do some of the things she does because I am not as tall or strong as she is.

image

So watch some footage (or watch your teammates) and start to create an image of YOURSELF doing the skill you’d like to attain. This isn’t like you are watching yourself from some 3rd person point of view. This means you are imagining yourself – on the track, skating – and completing the skill.

Once you have a skill in mind and you have a good mental image of yourself doing the skill, here are the next steps to “complete” your mental imagery exercise:

1. It is best to use mental imagery while you are in gear, and near a track. However, if this is not possible, you can work on imagining you are in this environment. Hear the sounds, smell the smells, feel the weight of your skates on your feet…

2. When you imagine yourself doing something, it should be in real time. Don’t speed it up or slow it down in your mind.

3. Think about your muscles when going through the motions. Feel those parts of your body responding to the mental imagery. Think about where your power will be coming from and how you want all of your body to move during the skill – from your head to your feet.

To learn how to use imagery effective, people often use a script. The script helps guide you through the correct thought process when using mental imagery.

Here is a sample imagery script for jumping the apex.  To try it out, get settled on the couch, close your eyes, and have your best buddy read it to you.

You line up on the jammer line, star on your helmet…
you hear the audience cheering, teammates yelling, wheels digging into the floor …
you feel the sweat you’ve already worked up and you can tell your body is a bit tired…
you hear the familiar yell of “Five seconds!” and you brace yourself for the start…
you can feel your heart beating…
sense the jammer next to you…
you take a deep breath…
and then the whistle blows.

You take off skating, hitting the wall of blockers in front of you with force…
you are digging in hard when you see an opening on the inside line…
you move your feet quickly…
sprint up the inside line…
and before you know it, you are through…
you hear the jam ref whistle you as lead as you start skating around the open track…
you notice the fans cheering on the sidelines…
notice your coach yelling something at you…

And then you see the opposing blockers you are approaching…
you notice they are right at the apex…
the blocker on the inside line has left a little space…
as you approach the pack, you think to yourself “I’m going to do it”…
as you get closer to the pack, you start to feel the strength in your legs…
you focus on your landing spot as you get closer and closer…
and then it’s time!…
you jump with strength and precision…
you sense the blockers on your right…
and before you know it, your skates touch back down on the track…
you regain your composure…
steady your feet and stride…
and see nothing but open track in front of you again…

You can’t help but smile as you call off the jam…
you completed an apex jump…
you feel strong…
you feel good.
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The above script can be adapted for any type of skill you might want to work on.  If you feel confident about using mental imagery without using a script, that’s great too!  Just keep on using your brain as much as your brawn to be the best athlete you can be!

 


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