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KIN 366
Instructor: Dr.Shannon Bredin
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Imagery has been use intensively in present days to either enhance psychological well-being and/or physical attributes, which include skill acquisitions and sports performance. Youth and young athletes in sports environments benefit from using imagery on a daily basis. “Imagery is a volitional experience in which an individual creates, or recreates, a particular physical skill or situation through use of one or more of the senses” (Hall & Fishburne, 2010). “Mental imagery refers to all those quasi-sensory of quasi-perceptual experiences of which we are self-consciously aware and which exist for us in the absence of those stimulus conditions that are known to produce their genuine sensory or perceptual counterparts” (Murphy, 1994). Mental imagery is our ability to be conscious of our surroundings with or without the presence of a stimulus, but also our ability to re-experience what we have encountered before. More remarkably, it is our ability to experience objects or events that did not already occur in our existence through our imagination. Being successful at planning and rehearsing future events and analyzing past experiences by our imagination is a positive advantage when teaching the acquisition of fundamental movement skills and sport skills during an individual childhood period and/or in a sports environment (Pearson & Kosslyn, 2013). Mental imagery is experienced through the motor context and is beneficial for appropriate movement pattern acquisition for children. A study made by Weiss in 1991 mentioned that imagery in youth is a natural skill and they likely already use some form of imagery while practicing a sport (Munroe-Chandler, Hall, Fishburne, Jenny & Hall, 2007).


Motor images are able to have the same properties of the corresponding motor movement and therefore have the same functional relationship to the imagined or represented movement and the generation of this movement. The timing of the stimulated movement follows the same actual movement pattern. During a motor imagery session, many neural mechanisms are activated by a sharp surge in tendinous reflexes in the limb being imagined to move, and by the vegetative changes which correlate with the level of mental effort (Jeannerod, 2011). “At the cortical level, a specific pattern of activation, that closely resembles that of action execution, is observed in areas devoted to motor control” and this activation is directly related to the effect of mental training (Jeannerod, 2011). Correspondingly, if the action is incomplete or not executed during the youth performance, the whole system remains activated, and the content of the representation is rehearsed for the next performance. “This mechanism would be the substrate for conscious access to this content during motor imagery and mental training” (Jeannerod, 2011). A study made by Estes in 1998 “found that even when there was no instruction to use mental imagery to indicate correct orientation of an object, the children spontaneously referred to use of mental imagery” (Munroe-Chandler, Hall, Fishburne, Jenny & Hall, 2007). The effectiveness to practice imagery during skill learning is due to their natural instinct (Munroe-Chandler, Hall, Fishburne, Jenny & Hall, 2007).


There are six forms of imagery such as visual mental imagery, somesthetic mental imagery, auditory aspect of auditory imagery, olfactory and gustatory mental imagery, motor and kinesthetic imagery, and crossmodal mental imagery (Lacey & Lawson, 2013). Not all forms are used during skill acquisition and sport performance and only a few of them will be valuable in the process.

  1. Visual imagery is a major part of one’s mental life by the process of mental reactivation and transformation of visual representations of an object or event unfolding in front of us.
  2. Somesthetic mental imagery is the ability to create and manipulate images arising from our sense of touch.
  3. Auditory imagery is getting information from auditory features such as pitch, timbre, loudness, duration, temp and rhythm by any auditory objects, person voice, etc.
  4. Olfactory and gustatory mental imagery comes from the sense of smelling our surroundings and tasting from our tongue. Both are classified under the common term as chemosensory mental imagery.
  5. Motor and kinesthetic imagery is the process of motor execution when imagining a movement. It activates a motor network that largely overlaps with that involved when actively performing a movement (Lacey & Lawson, 2013). A recent study made by Livesey in 2002 while examining children and kinesthetic imagery found that “kinesthetic imagery is late in developing when compared to the other senses. More specially, it was found that kinesthetic imagery appears to develop between 10-14 years {…} but is very beneficial when learning a motor task” (Munroe-Chandler, Hall, Fishburne, Jenny & Hall, 2007).
  6. Crossmodal mental imagery is the activation of the auditory cortex even with the absence of auditory stimulus being elicited by the presentation of visual stimuli (Spence & Deroy, 2012).

Perspectives of Imagery

There are two types of imagery perspectives on how you see yourself performing the act.

  1. External imagery is viewing ourselves performing as an external observer.
  2. Internal imagery is the person actually being in his or her own body when performing and experiencing the sensations.

Both perspectives are successful in their own way. When it comes to skill acquisition, internal imagery enhances performance due to the reinforcement of kinesthetic feedback. External imagery will be best used to instill confidence in an athlete during performance by focusing on the outcomes and being successful (Murphy, 1994).


There are a vast variety of benefits for children when they incorporate imagery and visualization for skill acquisition and sport performance. Imagery will enhance their overall well-being, which can be translated physically. Although learning and awareness can begin in the educational environment and sports environment, there are other benefits that individuals can take into consideration by including imagery in their daily life. Research made by The American Journal of Nursing suggests that visualization promotes relaxation, enhances sleep, reduces pain, and increase creativity (Hoffart & Keene, 1998). Furthermore, two study made by Wolmer, Laor, and Torne (1999) and Hall and Pongrac (1983) both found that visual and kinesthetic imagery for youth between the age of 7-17 helps the children mature as human being (Munroe-Chandler, Hall, Fishburne, Jenny & Hall, 2007).

Imagery in school settings

Much has been learned in the past decades by children and teachers regarding the numerous benefits of using mental imagery to improve motor learning and performance in the areas of school-based physical education setting and sport psychology. Sports are used as a part of school curriculums to engender success for children to develop the children’s overall physical fitness, motor ability, and especially practice previously learned skills. The process of repetitive mental rehearsal of volitional experiences previously performed or future movement experiences is beneficial during motor skills acquisition. The benefits could be attained through routine of motor skill mental rehearsal, which is better known as a cognitive function of the individual. Motivational function is also another function that is primarily used for goal setting and decreases the lack of motivation that many students experience. The lack of interest and motivation from the students could be one of the possible reasons why students are not learning or not retaining concepts and motor skills (Hall & Fishburne, 2010). Research in physical education suggests that visual and kinesthetic imagery would be best when learning to complete a motor task. “It is extensively used by elite and non-elite athletes in a wide range of sports” (Hall & Fishburne, 2010). It is more beneficial to use external imagery type for children in early grades such as kindergarten (Hall & Fishburne, 2010). The children will see themselves being successful which will increase their self-esteem. Conversely, as they grow older, they will switch to more internal perspective. “Physical education teachers are required to teach and students are required to learn a huge variety of different motor skills and thus both may benefit from understanding the two possible imagery perspectives that can be employed when learning and performing motor skills” (Hall & Fishburne, 2010).

Imagery in sports

“Mental practice routines play an important role in many different sports, not only for the acquisition of motor skills but also for preparation prior to competitive events and rehabilitation after sport injuries {…} to improve skill acquisition, motivation, and sport confidence and to reduce anxiety” (Lacey & Lawson, 2013). Imagery will guide and manage one’s sport performance by either “seeing” an imaginable performance routine or “feeling” the striking object in the appropriate sport’s feature (Murphy, 1994). Pre-competition imagery is mainly use by the athletes to make them “psyched up” for the event. “Psych up” strategies could include attentional focus, preparatory arousal, and self-confidence manipulations (Murphy, 1994). Imagery has been researched and used more and more in the recent years in order to improve sport performance by ‘intending’ a desired outcome. Youth has been using multiple forms of imagery to cultivate a competitive edge, renewed mental awareness, or heightened sense of well-being and confidence or self-efficacy (Quinn, 2013). Youth athletes will continuously rehearse to make the mind and body become trained to actually perform the skilled imagined (Quinn, 2013).

There have been studies made by multiple people in order to prove importance of mental imagery in sports performance. Youth athletes would possibly enhance their performance by mimicking the experience of a real experience by mental imagery. A study made by Munroe-Chandler and Hall “found that imagery increased the collective efficacy of an under-13 girls’ soccer team over the course of a 13-week intervention”. These findings focus on the importance and the benefits of mental skills training with youth athletes, which is seen to be “very effective in enhancing their physical and mental performance” (Munroe-Chandler, Hall, Fishburne, Jenny & Hall, 2007).

“Competitive level is one factor that has received a tremendous amount of attention with respect to its influence on imagery use in sport” (Hall & Fishburne, 2010). Elite athletes, better performers with a higher skills level, demonstrated a more frequent use of all forms of imagery compared to athletes performing in lower skill levels (Hall & Fishburne, 2010). “In a survey of elite athletes by Orlick and Partington , 99% of the sample reported using imagery techniques. Another current survey of athletes in training at a U.S. Olympic Training Center (an assessment of the use of imagery by elite athletes; athletes, coach and psychologist perspectives, an unpublished report, 1989), Jowdy, Murphy, and Durtschi found that 90% of the athletes reported using imagery for training and competition, and 94% of coaches reported using it with the athletes” (Murphy, 1994). Athletes have used imagery to influence performance in two primary ways. First, mental practice has been used to acquire, sharpen, rehearse, or transfer motor skills. Secondly, the athletes use imagery as a preparation or coping strategy to help manage their performance by seeing themselves being successful. During performance, sometimes winning and losing can be decided by a fraction of second or simply one small decision. Performing mental imagery could give you an advantage on your opponent by replicating a previous situation in your mind which will lead to appropriate and faster decision making.


Especially in a sport environment, individuals could use imagery to activate the neural pathways that are suffering constraint due to the injury. It has been found that practicing imagery during a period of absence of physical activities or injury recovery could be also beneficial for the individual’s motor learning because “imagery practice facilitates the performance of a motor skill compared to a no practice control condition” (Hall & Fishburne, 2010). It also activates the tendinous reflex in the neural pathways. “Healing imagery has been found to effectively reduce the recovery time from various athletic injuries when combined with other mental skills such as self-talk and relaxation”(Lacey & Lawson, 2013).


Imagery is first done by mimicking the sport appropriate sensory or perceptual experience usually either by “seeing” your performance routine or “feeling” the game object or the striking of the game object. Secondly, the performer must be consciously aware of the imagery experience, which differentiates imagery from dreaming or daydreaming. Thirdly, the imagery experience must take place without stimulus antecedent, which means that no game object is being manipulated (Murphy, 1994). The two types of perspective, external and internal, should be active on a daily basis. It is imperative to use the two perspectives to reinforce kinesthetic feedback and confidence for desired outcomes. There are two key principles to keep in mind when practicing successful imagery. First, the individual needs to be consistent which means, imagery must be an everyday occurrence. Short sessions every day are more beneficial than one long session once a week. “First thing in the morning, as close to waking as possible is ideal. This is because the mind is still slightly lucid at this time, which makes it easier to conjure up images.” The second principle is to always stay positive during your imagery session by being successful in your motor skills execution, performance, or outcome (Neason, 2012). Negative imagery (i.e. performing the skill incorrectly) could both impede performance or be employed to correct performance. In the same context, it could also be demotivating or motivating (Munroe-Chandler, Hall, Fishburne, Jenny & Hall, 2007).

When to use Imagery

Using imagery during practices is mainly geared toward the learning and practices of skills and strategies. Pre-competition imagery was mentioned earlier and is for promoting confidence, energy, or for relaxing depending on the individual personality. During competition imagery is used to redirect the athlete’s attention when he or she is not performing as well as they wanted to. It is used to adjust or maintain arousal levels. Finally, post competition imagery is used to review positive or negative aspect of the past performance. They will examine their arousal level, skills and overall performance, focus of attention, and their confidence level. It is a way to determine the negative aspects of the past performance and what could have been done to prevent them (Neason, 2012).


Hall, N., & Fishburne, G. (2010). Mental imagery research in physical education. Journal of Imagery Research in Sport and Physical Activity, 5(1), 1932-0191. doi: 10.2202/1932-0191.1045

Hoffart , M., & Keene, E. (1998). The benefits of visualization. American Journal of Nursing,98(12), 44-47. Retrieved from

Jeannerod, . (2011). Mental imagery in the motor context.HAL, (33), 1419-32. doi: 8584178

Lacey, S., & Lawson, R. (2013). Multisensory imagery. Springer Science Business Media. Retrieved from

Munroe-Chandler, K. (2008). Playing with confidence: The relationship between imagery use and self-confidence and self-efficacy in youth soccer players.Journal of Sports Sciences, 26(14), 1539-1546. doi: 10.1080/02640410802315419

Munroe-Chandler, K., Hall, C., Fishburne, G., Jenny, O., & Hall, N. (2007). The content of imagery use in youth sport. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 5(2), 158-174. doi: 10.1080/1612197X.2007.9671817

Neason, M. (2012). The power or visualization. Sport Psychology Today, 15, Retrieved from

Pearson J and Kosslyn SM (2013) Mental imagery. Front. Psychol. 4:198. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00198

Murphy, S. (1994). Imagery interventions in sport. Medical Science Sports Exercise, 26(4), 486-494. Retrieved from interventions in sport.&|1&pdf_key=FPDDNCGCFDBNAB00&pdf_index=/fs047/ovft/live/gv038/00005768/00005768-199404000-00014&D=ovft&|1|sl_10|resultSet||0

Quinn, E. (2013). Visualization techniques for athletes. Sports Medicine, Retrieved from

Spence, C., & Deroy, O. (2012). Crossmodal mental imagery. In S. Lacey & R. Lawson (Eds.),MULTISENSORY IMAGERY: THEORY AND APPLICATIONS (pp. 2-3). Retrieved from