One of the most important things successful athletes do has nothing to do with playing, practicing or even physical movement. It has to do with visualization, picturing what an athlete will need to do in competition, or “imagery,” as some have started to call it.
“The more an athlete can image the entire package, the better it’s going to be,” Nicole Detling, a sports psychologist with the United States Olympic team, told the New York Times ahead of the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
Nebraska volleyball and Coach John Cook certainly believes in the value of taking mental reps. Coach Cook calls it being “mindful,” and it’s part of the Huskers’ daily routine.
“We tell the girls to spend at least 30 minutes a day visualizing,” he said. “Visualize yourself making every movement, whether you are setting a ball or going back to serve, visualize those movements, the sights and the sounds.”
Coach Cook especially stresses the value of visualization before matches. He believes that if the players visualize what will happen in the match or if they are mindful during the match, they will play more consistently.
After playing at every level possible in volleyball, I couldn’t agree more. Visualization is one of the most important factors in preparation.
Before every game, I would spend about 20 or 30 minutes visualizing in the locker room if it was a home game, or on the bus on the way to the game if we were on the road. Since I was a setter, I would go through every single set we had in our offense, similar to how quarterbacks have playbooks in football. I would picture my footwork, how my hands needed to be positioned, where the ball was going in terms of location and then the hitter attacking the ball and the celebration afterwards. I would go through a similar process with digging, setter attacking, serving and blocking. I would try to imagine everything down to what the crowd sounded like and what the gym smelled like. I credit visualization for the majority of my success as a player.
The other part of being a mindful athlete is avoiding negative self-talk in the middle of competition. I made a point of only thinking positive thoughts during a match, even if we were losing or having an off night. The more positive that internal conversation an athlete is having with him or herself, the better things seem to go.
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