Psychology in the News

October 10, 2007

Visualization and soccer

Filed under: health — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 9:40 pm

by Rachel Shea

At the end of every practice Richard, the women’s soccer coach here at Vassar, tells us to “visualize, visualize, visualize” in order to mentally prepare ourselves for our upcoming games. Seeing as we have two of our most important games of the season coming up this weekend I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and visualizing, about soccer. Conveniently enough, all this thinking about soccer overlapped with all the thinking that I am currently putting into this blog post.

Mind Gym

A few years ago my older cousin who’s a very good baseball player recommended that I read a book called Mind Gym by Gary Mack. The second chapter, entitled “The Head Edge,” addresses the importance of visualizing to an athlete. In this chapter Gary Mack talks about a study done with a group of college basketball players. The players were divided into 3 groups (this would be a nominal scale). The first group spent an hour shooting free throws each day, the second group spent an hour visualizing their free throws each day, and the third group spent half and hour shooting free throws and half an hour visualizing their free throws going in the basket. The third group showed the most improvement in their foul shot percentage. This shows that just like practicing taking free throws, thinking about taking them helps an athlete to improve. In athletics, when you visualize yourself doing something well, it is much more likely that you’ll be able to perform when the time comes. Personally, I think visualizing has a lot to do with a person’s confidence as an athlete. If you continually visualize yourself making a foul shot, you’ll be much more confident when you’re on the foul line in an important game. In high school my dad always told me that if I didn’t think I could do something I would never be able to do it. Of course, I never listened to him when he told me to visualize, but I decided to try it when I read about famous athletes like Pele, Mark MaGuire, and Mia Hamm who spend a lot of time working on the mental aspect of their game. Turns out Richard is right, we really should be visualizing before every game.


Mack, G. (2002) Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence. New York: McGraw Hill


  1. Great post. I played volleyball in High School and my coach always advocated visualising what needed to be done in a match. He told us to spend ten minutes before going to bed thinking and picturing how we were going to play our game. In the beginning of the season, I thought it was rubbish and never practiced mentally. Often, under game conditions I would buckle from the pressure. I would think too deeply about the simplest procedures and botch things like simple serves. As a result, my playing time was limited and I was put under the additional pressure of going in cold and knowing that my performance would determine future playing time. I practiced hard, never skipped, and did everything my teammates were doing. Yet, something didn’t add up and I couldn’t figure it out. Finally, one evening before a match I decided to try coach’s proposition and visualise how I was going to hit, serve, and pass. When I went in the next day, despite not being properly warmed up, I felt much lighter on my feet and wasn’t as stressed as I had been in previous matches. I realised the immense power visualisation holds in the human mind.

    Comment by Alexander Holodny — October 12, 2007 @ 6:34 pm

  2. I, like Rachel am also on a sports team. I play rugby. Just like it did for Rachel’s soccer, I also think that visualization helps to improve my performance. The night before a game I will lay in bet and imagine the first tackle of the game, scoring a try (a point), or maybe just the smell of the grass out at the farm.
    The interesting thing about this sort of guided imagery is that it does not necessarily have to involve focusing on the physicality a specific skill to improve the skill. According to sports physiologist and psychologist Elizabeth Quinn, visualization can include visual images (as in Rachel’s example of a player visualizing a foul shot going into a basket), kinesthetic (how the body feels during performance), or auditory (sounds related to competition). Basically, focusing on aspects of a situation that may not even be directly related to performance itself will improve that performance.
    Much of this could be related to our memory as a network activation model. Not that recognizing the smell of grass will make me stronger or faster such that I can make a tackle; instead it creates another memory link that will remind me of all the other times that I have made a successful tackle.
    Tonight I will be deep in a trance of guided imagery in preparation for my game tomorrow. What will the crowd sound like, how will the ball feel to the palm of my hand, how will the cries of the opponents sound after walking away from a crushing defeat?

    Comment by Kaedin Jemiolo — November 24, 2007 @ 5:46 pm

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