Psych of Sport: Using Visualization to Enhance your Soccer Performance
Coming in at a mere 5’10”, and 172 lbs., Wayne Rooney has an unequivocal ability to pass, anticipate opponents’ passes, and finish. While he is by no means the largest or fastest player on the soccer field, he is still considered one of the best players of his generation (espnfc.com). Making his debut in the Premier League at the age of 16, it appears that he has always been a step ahead of his peers. When interviewed by ESPN, he revealed that some of his success could be attributed to his pre-game ritual, which includes visualization.
"Part of my preparation is I go and ask the kit man what colour we're wearing – if it's red top, white shorts, white socks or black socks. Then I lie in bed the night before the game and visualise myself scoring goals or doing well. You're trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a 'memory' before the game. I don't know if you'd call it visualising or dreaming, but I've always done it, my whole life” (theguardian.com).
Rooney continues to elaborate on how exactly he visualizes:
"When I was younger, I used to visualise myself scoring wonder goals, stuff like that. From 30 yards out, dribbling through teams. You used to visualise yourself doing all that, and when you're playing professionally, you realise it's important for your preparation” (theguardian.com).
By no means will visualizing miraculously turn you into Wayne Rooney. However, it has potential to increase your mental capacity on the field. Imagining yourself in game-like situations will not only increase confidence in your own ability, but also positively affect some cognitive processes. Motor control, perception, planning, memory, and attention are five processes that appear to be enhanced with visualization (psychologytoday.com). Visualization takes patience, practice, and time, but here is a list of helpful tips to help you get started!
Find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted or bothered.
Visualization can happen at any point before a game or practice, so experiment with when it works best for you! Are you able to focus best the night before? What about directly before your game?
Imagine yourself in realistic situations. The probability of scoring a goal from half field is not very high, so that would not be the most productive use of visualization.
Make it repetitive. If you are visualizing yourself winning a head ball, repeat the image over and over again.
Make it a habit/ritual. Many athletes use visualization as a consistent component of how they prepare for a game.