I was reading a golf instruction piece yesterday (Surprise, surprise!) and one “tip” regarding how to improve ones “game” was to embrace visualization. The author wrote:
“One of the greatest helps to a pupil making a swing change is having a clear mental image of what they are trying to achieve.
“As a junior, I spent hours with my eyes closed, visualizing the movements I wanted to achieve. Even as a coach now, I often close my eyes when analyzing a swing and try to put myself in the body of my pupil to feel what they are feeling.
“Lesson – close your eyes for a few minutes or seconds. Get a clear image of what you are trying to do. When (and only when) you can see it, stand up and rehearse the motion.”
So, what is all this visualization stuff about?
Let me keep this as simple as I can and provide you with a rationale … that I cannot prove as no one can at this point, but I have been studying this intensely for the past few years and feel this has some merit.
The purpose of the visualization process in sports is to provide a set of instructions to your unconscious mind.
It is the unconscious part of your mind that is in control of your voluntary physical actions. You do not need to think consciously about any physical action that you have learned (tying your shoes, riding a bike, driving a car, etc.). Doing this is a path to “choking.” Athletes who choke often allow their anticipations lead them to taking conscious control of their actions, taking control away from the mental processes that actually could make what we want to happen happen. (Gag, gasp, choke. It is painful to watch this happen.)
“The purpose of the visualization process in sports is
to provide a set of instructions to your unconscious mind.”
You may have learned that whenever we engage in repetitive tasks, the chances of success are increased substantially if we have just done that task and are repeating it rather than if we are doing it for the first time. We also may know that our subconscious mind lives in a world apart that we create for it in our mental space (a playground for the imagination, as it were).
If we have just done something, e.g. shoot a free throw, it is easier to repeat that effort than to do it for the first time, especially if it was successful, because that effort forms a perfect set of instructions for the second effort. I call these “do overs” as no change in plan is needed. If a correction needs to be made, the instructions are: just like before but with a little more … less … whatever.
In archery, the spot for any such visualization is just before the bow is raised. This is because of several limitations on our memories that I won’t go into now.
Try this! Just before you shoot, you imagine as accurately as you can a perfect shot into target center. Include all of the sights , sounds, everything. Then shoot immediately.
Anybody who tells you that “this will work” is someone from whom you should turn and walk away rapidly, possibly also clutching on to your wallet. No mental exercise has been “proven” beyond a shadow of a doubt to work as advertised. These are all things to try and evaluate yourself (or your student’s selves). This is one of those things I place a high probability of improving an accomplished archer’s game. It will not, however, turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.