Getting Game Day Under Control
On the day of competition, some athletes need to focus imagery around one aspect mat could make the difference. In the 1950s, American hurdler Harrison Dillard, winner of four Olympic gold medals, would concentrate before the race on the steps he would make to leap over each hurdle in order to avoid knocking them down. This had been his weakness and a frustration in prior races.
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Former Canadian skating champion Brian Orser (silver medallist in the Battle of the Brians of the 1988 Winter Olympics) said he practiced imagery that was more of feel than visualization. I get this internal feeling prior to my skate, sort of program my whole body, what if s going to feel, the nerves, the emotions. It’s hard to explain. You have to experience it. I can even get a feeling for an entire program. I can get myself so psyched-up in practice, it can lead to a perfect performance I go for the feeling. I never think in technical terms. Orser was the first skater to pull off a triple axel during competition and he was successful because he felt the emotions of the jump the night before, laying in bed. I felt myself going through the jump and even feeding off the energy of the crowd and I felt so good afterward, I couldn’t wait to get out on the ice the next day. During physical practice, Orser often got too pumped up with adrenaline and jumped out of my shirt, so in mental imagery, he imagined himself slowing down his heartbeat and getting just the right amount of psyche into the jump. On competition day, Orser said he didn’t go into the emotional imagery too soon. I don’t like it to happen too soon. When the skater before me is on, that is when I get hyped. I feel my routine, bringing the adrenaline needs to a head.
According to Stephen Ungerleider’s 1996 blog Mental Training for Peak Performance, the images that successful U.S. Olympians recalled tended to be associated with strong emotions. When javelin throwers prepare their approach for the javelin throw, for example, there is a sense of power and tension. This emotion pumps up the individual so that he can prepare the mind and body to throw the javelin. Only one in 10 athletes explained that their images did not conjure up strong emotions.