Mental Imagery for Gymnasts

Gymnast Psychology

What’s Your Learning Style?

Everyone has a dominant learning style. Many learn by watching, others learn by listening to instructions, and some learn by feeling.

Visualization is introduced to athletes so they can see themselves performing their sport in their thoughts. The athlete sees herself performing a routine at her best.

As a gymnast, I (Wendy Bruce) was introduced to visualization. I was told to go through my routine and see myself hit every skill. I tried over and over again to see myself hit, but all I kept visualizing was a fall. I couldn’t visualize a complete routine and I kept getting stuck on seeing myself fail.

It wasn’t until I started working at Peak Performance Sports that I learned that the traditional form of “visualization” isn’t for everyone. Just like the different ways that people learn, not everyone is set up to visualize.

I definitely learn by watching. I have to see a skill performed and see what I should do and should not do, but when it comes to mental imagery, I can’t see it in my mind.

I soon learned that instead of trying to “visualize” myself doing my skill, I might be better off “feeling” or rehearsing the skill.

I stood up and tried to feel myself performing a back handspring on beam. I could feel it. I could feel my muscles tighten, I could feel the beam under my feet, I could feel my shoulders push out when I was in a handstand, and I could feel my solid lunge at the end. I was amazed.

All this time I thought that I was failing at visualization. But the truth was that visual imagery was not my imagery style, feeling the skill was.

Mental imagery can also be done through sound.

Gymnasts uses auditory imagery of a back handspring on beam to imagine what the skill sounds like. They can imagine hearing taking a deep breathe, saying their performance cues, and what the beam sounds like when their hands hit. They can imagine the rhythm of a good back handspring and listen to the sounds of a solid landing.

You want to use the type of mental imagery that makes the most sense for your learning and performing style.

Some gymnasts may even use different types of imagery for the different events. I have seen one gymnast use visualization on high bar and auditory on pommel horse.

Mental imagery helps to prepare the gymnast to hit her skills. Gymnasts can mentally perform 100 skills with no risk of injury.

Gymnasts can use mental imagery anywhere and at any time.

Mental imagery is a vital part of mental toughness training.

But don’t get caught up on the visual style of imagery. Try all different styles and find the one that works the best for you.

Learn about the top 6 perfectionist mindsets that hold your gymnast back with our free Gymnastics Mental Toughness eBook!

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