In the Imagery of Success parts 01 and 02 we discussed the basics of motor imagery – what it is, and the different types. Please review those blogs before diving in to part 03 below.
Think of an Onion
Researchers suggest several methods to ensure athletes both vividly and accurately image a motor performance (2010, Guillot, Hoyek et al. 2012, Stambulova, Stambulov et al. 2012, Guillot, Moschberger et al. 2013). Collet, Guillot et al. (2011)created a “Motor Imagery Index” through which motor imagery quality can be assessed by quantitatively combining psychometric, behavioral, and psychophysiological measures. Several are outlined briefly. First, coaches and specialists can use self-report questionnaires and interviews to assess athlete’s motor imagery ability. Is the athlete aware of the speed of her imagery? Can she rewind her imagery if she sees a mistake and then correct it on a replay? What methods does she use to control her imagery? Does she move around or hold objects to reinforce the image’s vividness?
A second method to monitor athletes’ motor imagery ability is through psychophysiological measurements. Psychophysiological measurements are controlled by the autonomous nervous system and are activated during motor imagery (Collet, Guillot et al. 2011). Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory frequency can be compared between the imagery simulation and actual performance of a skill. The autonomic responses should be compatible between both. For example, onions tend to make our eyes water. If an individual images themselves cutting a raw onion vividly and deeply, their eyes are likely to water even though the onion isn’t there.
Lastly, chronometric measures can be used to ensure temporal parameters are similar between the image and actual performance (Collet, Guillot et al. 2011). The coach can incorporate timing devices (e.g. metronomes), which accurately guide the imager through skill timing via auditory cues (Guillot, Hoyek et al. 2012). Another popular method to ensure timing accuracy is to use a stopwatch to measure and compare motor image timing with that of the actual skill (Guillot, Hoyek et al. 2012, Stambulova, Stambulov et al. 2012). The coach can even utilize split times to ensure subunits of the skill remain in temporal congruence (Collet, Guillot et al. 2011, Guillot, Hoyek et al. 2012).
A Dynamic Picture
A more recent method to ensure motor imagery timing is through dynamic motor imagery which involves coupling gestures or postures associated with the skill as athletes visualize movements (Guillot, Moschberger et al. 2013). Athletes trained to utilize dynamic motor imagery report more vivid representations than when utilizing imagery in the absence of gestures (Guillot, Moschberger et al. 2013). However, for the imagery to be effective it must match the parameters of the skill as accurately as possible – timing is a necessity. A recent study showed that when high jumpers engage dynamic motor imagery, they not only improve temporal congruence between image and skill, but also improve technical efficiency, and the number of successful jump attempts (Guillot, Moschberger et al. 2013).
Athlete Centered Skating Suggestions
We suggest motor imagery training is a vital part of athlete training. Accordingly, we incorporate motor imagery within our curriculum and even utilize this ‘tool’ to teach our athletes the technical side of performance (Look for an in-depth discussion in our upcoming six-part blog series on external focus of attention). Motor imagery ability and practice are included in the Athlete Centered Skating Assessments.
We also suggest that motor imagery is an ability that must be considered and developed when children are young. We find that children take on motor imagery more quickly (and perhaps more seriously!) than older athletes.
Lastly, since motor imagery is a skill, it must be trained just like any other skill. No skater can go out and perform a triple axel without practice first. Likewise, no athlete should be expected to be an expert ‘imager’ immediately. We suggest athletes sit within their performance environments and focus on the sights and sounds before we ask them to image their own performances. This allows them to build a vivid sensory training environment in their minds to make their skill imagery even more realistic.
We use stopwatches to time our skaters’ jumps and spins – and this includes the set-ups and exits. We also time our skaters when they image their skating programs. This is very challenging and to develop this skill, we will play their music in the background to guide them. Then, at random times, we mute the music and then un-mute it to find out if the skater maintained the correct timing.
This concludes our discussion on motor imagery. Look out for our six-part series on external focus of attention that builds from motor imagery research.
(2010). The Neurophysiological Foundations of Mental and Motor Imagery. Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press.
Collet, C., A. Guillot, F. Lebon, T. MacIntyre and A. Moran (2011). “Measuring motor imagery using psychometric, behavioral, and psychophysiological tools.” Exercise and sport sciences reviews39(2): 85-92.
Collet, C., A. Guillot, F. Lebon, T. Macintyre and A. Moran (2011). “Measuring Motor Imagery Using Psychometric, Behavioral, and Psychophysiological Tools.” Exercise and Sport Science Reviews39(2): 85-92.
Guillot, A., N. Hoyek, M. Louis and C. Collet (2012). “Understanding the timing of motor imagery: recent findings and future directions.” International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology5(1): 3-22.
Guillot, A., K. Moschberger and C. Collet (2013). “Coupling movement with imagery as a new perspective for motor imagery practice.” Behavioral and Brain Functions9.
Stambulova, N., A. Stambulov and U. Johnson (2012). “‘Believe in Yourself, Channel Energy, and Play Your Trumps’: Olympic preparation in complex coordination sports.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise13: 679-686.