Only in the late 1980s was the secret of Russian sports success finally revealed.
It turned out that the Russians had employed mental imagery training, or visualization. Their secret was to combine physical training and visualisation.
The Russians would not only train physically. They would also mentally rehearse their routines hundreds of times before the actual competition.
DR Charles Garfield in his authoritative book on mental training Peak Performance: Mental Training Techniques of the World’s Greatest Athletes stated that, “Without a doubt, the most dramatic contribution to the advancement of goal-setting skills in recent years has been the Soviets’ introduction of visualisation. During mental rehearsal, athletes create mental images of the exact movements they want to emulate in their sport. Use of this skill substantially increased the effectiveness of goal-setting.”
Garfield cited a study conducted by Russian sports physiologists on visualisation on four groups of athletes before the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics where the Russians won the most medals – twice more than arch rival USA. The athletes were divided into four groups.
The result? All improved and the extent of improvement was in this order.
Group 4, the group that spent the most time visualising improved the most.
Garfield’s finding is corroborated by another oft cited study - by DR. Blaslotto at the University of Chicago.
Blaslotto studied how visualization impacts a player’s performance. The performance measure was the basketball players’ free throw percentage.
Blaslotto randomly assigned the athletes to one of three groups, and took their free throw percentages before starting the experiment. He then conducted the experiment for 30 days as follows:
Group one would practice making free throws everyday for one hour.
Group two would spend one hour a day visualizing themselves making successful free throws.
Group three, the control group, did not do anything.
30 days later, the three groups were retested.
As expected, group three, the control group showed no change in performance.
Group two, who had physically trained 1 hour a day for 30 days improved their free throw percentage by 24%.
The surprise result was in the first group, who visualized themselves making successful free throws but did not physically make a single free throw at all. They improved their free throw percentage by 23%!
So what do all these findings mean for us?
Visualisation cannot replace physically practicing, training and performing a task. And we can always improve on our performance and outcomes by practicing visualisation.
You can add sounds to make your visualisation even more vivid.
Try it. You will be amazed by the results.