The “mental Training” Applied In Sports Psychology

A basic process for the elaboration and management of the information processed by the brain.

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. Sports practice is one of the best tools that athletes have to acquire and improve their skills and techniques on the field of play. 

But there is an area of ​​these practices that does not usually receive much attention by the media, and that is nevertheless widely used in various sports disciplines. I refer to the great influence that psychologists have in improving the performance of athletes. Psychological science has been expanding exponentially into fields that years ago were totally alien to its influence. This is because the research and interventions that have been developed increasingly cover a greater range of behaviors and mental processes, including those performed in sports. 

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

This new batch of psychologists appears to gain 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 the dexterity and abilities of athletes. Among these techniques developed by sports psychologists is, for example, mental training through the regulation of the imagination.

Mind 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 great energy deployment forming “stories about reality that are coherent. As British neurologist Oliver Sacks says in his TED lecture 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, assumes an important role for the development of all motor processes. You learn, through imagination, about objects, people, environmental conditions and experiences. Each experience is made up of certain relationships that shape our behavior in the face of their existence.

Ultimately, the imagination influences, consciously or unconsciously, our action (based on this principle, for example, therapies for exposure to phobias through computer simulations). This is because every time we have an experience, it is reflected in our  brain, forming patterns of neuron activation that correspond specifically to that experience. Every time we carry out the action of imagining, we are reactivating those neuron patterns and as these circuits are activated in a recurring way, they are strengthened in such a way that they manage to shape learning, automating movements, reactions and skills.

Applications of Imagination Mind Training

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 20th century is the work of  Jean Piaget. Popular beliefs allow us to believe that children spend a greater amount of time imagining than adults, demonstrating their importance in development. However, we are not aware of any studies that have attempted to ‘quantify’ the amount of time spent in imagination among age groups.

Acquisition and improvement of skills

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

Behavior rehearsal

The performance test within the stages of mind is perhaps one of the most important human qualities. Imagination provides a unique and safe platform for testing behavior prior to its actual development, without the risk of negative consequences for those who imagine. Multiple alternative solutions to problems, considering the many potential outcomes, can be safely tried and practiced within the field of the mind. It is widely used in the field of psychotherapy due to the positive effects on the acquisition of new behaviors.

Anxiety reduction

Imagination provides a stage to safely carry out behavioral sequences that  can help improve anxiety. For example, revenge for a wrongdoing is possible and easy within the realm of the imagination, with no apparent consequences. Many psychotherapeutic modalities use the process of imagination to treat anxiety,  phobias, and  other disorders.


George Bernard Shaw stated “Imagination is the beginning of creation. Imagine what you want, you want what you imagine and in the end you create what you want ”. While the cognitive process involved in  creativity is unclear, 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 imagination in sport

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

Through the techniques of imagination 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 retention and memorization process of motor tasks. (Damián Lozano, 2004)

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

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

  1. Verbalization of the whole movement. This responds to mentally repeating the sequence of the movement and narrating it verbally, in such a way that the movement (which is usually highly automated) begins to take on a more conscious dimension of the way it is executed.
  2. Viewing of a demo-model. It is another way of being able to make the sequences of movements conscious, to this degree it is possible to externally visualize how this sequence develops. It is closely related to the activation of mirror neurons involved in the observation of other people’s behavior.
  3. Execution of 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 movement structure. In this degree, the kinesthetic sensations that occur in 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 Mind Training through Imagination

In this way, thanks to Mental Training through Imagination, different applications can be developed to the sports field, among which the following stand out:

  • Accelerate and activate motor learning processes, especially technical skills and abilities.
  • As a rehabilitating and integrating technique in competition, after a period of inactivity, whether due to injury or other factors.
  • As a complementary restorative technique in situations where the physical or mental load is very high, or the volume of the same is very prolonged and monotonous.
  • As a technique that helps  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 now you know, the next time you have to 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, EE Benarroch a, FJ Mateen. (2007). Imagination: definition, utility and neurobiology. Journal of Neurology .
  • 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, Damien. (2004, June). Mental training: 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.

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