To excel in your chosen sport, and be the best you can, means using your own natural resources, new techniques can be learned from other sports people, to enhance your existing skills. In this article I will explain some of those techniques and I would suggest you try them all out, and keep doing those that work well for you.
The following information is printed to give you an insight to why and how specific techniques work, and I have tried to explain the theory and process in layman terms, making it simple for anyone to follow.
The 5 senses, 1. visualisation, 2. internal voice, 3.kinetics= [muscle memory ] kinasthetics=[ internal feelings ] 4. olfactory [ smell] . 5. gustatory [ taste].The 6th sense – the vestibular= [inner ear – balance/motion and time ] this also lets you know the difference between past and future, and gives you a sense of time The more senses you can involve the more real the imagined experience will be, this will become apparent when you consider mental rehearsal, as an aid to physical practice. There is a theory that everyone experiences synesthesia [ sensory overlap, where more than one sense works at the same time] – this is for example, where we hear, taste, feel etc – something that we see. Now I know that this might seem unusual to you, but consider some of these examples : A loud colour. When someone says that something sounds fishy. A sharp taste. A warm voice. The sweet smell of success. You could cut the atmosphere in the room with a knife. You could feel someone looking at you. The theory is that we all have these synesthesias all the time yet we are not consciously aware of them, but often they come out in the phrases we use.The reason that this is useful to know is that sensory overlap can be used in mental rehearsal / practise , opening more new neural pathways, making the rehearsal more real and using more of your own natural existing resources. Albert Einstein used sensory overlap as an exercise that he practised for many years, he did this to improve his intelligence levels, in that the more senses used – the more areas of the brain were involved, thus using more of the brain for his problem solving/ creativity, insight and understanding, opening up more neural pathways, if you can make this a habit you will be using more of your natural resources all the time.
1. Visualisation – Before I go into detail, many people claim that they can not visualise [ they may just not be consciously aware] , so just as a short test try to answer these two questions : 1.What colour is your front door? 2. Where in your bedroom, is your bed situated? For both those answers you would have had to visualise, and what ever clarity you used to answer the question, would be perfectly adequate for sport visualisation. Counter to popular belief it does not have to be like a high definition full colour film and in minute detail.
Practise – look at an object, then close your eyes describing it in detail, keep checking as you go for feedback, and as you do your picture definition and clarity will improve, as it does it will become easier to construct visual scenes/ scenarios, with more clarity.
2. Inner Voice – Again many people claim no inner dialogue [ if you just thought, “I don’t have internal dialogue !”, when you read that statement, it would have been your inner voice that told you that] . A test that can be used for this is to hold your breath for as long as you can and your inner voice will kick in telling you to breath. The technique with inner voice is to make the voice soft, supportive, friendly and positive, rather than harsh or critical . Experiment with the inner voice close your eyes and point to the direction it comes from, change where it comes from and notice the difference. Do the same with the speed of the voice, and the tonality, when you find one that supports and empowers you make a choice to keep that one. [ Some use a mantra to silence the voice, as in meditation, yet the voice if positive and supportive can be a great aid ].
Practise – Change the inner voice/dialogue, by changing the speed of the voice, tonality, direction it comes from, volume, what it says, etc. And when you find one that suits you try it out for a while and see how you go.
3. Kinetics- muscle memory will be incorporated into the neural pathways when you mentally rehearse your sports movements even when your body is not obviously moving, remember all mental rehearsal should be perfect moves, as perfect practice creates perfect results.
Practise – When visualising with your eyes closed, imagine that you are actually carrying out the moves [ even without physical body movement ] your movement will be recorded in your muscle memory, remember perfect practise makes perfect.
Kinasthetics- internal feelings, these to can be controlled or programmed in to be automatic, so you first need to be clear on the main state / emotion that you require, for example – calm, focus, energy, confidence, etc [ what ever you personally prefer as your peak state for your sport] Once you know the state/emotion you require, the more you access it the easier it will become to recall it at will. Think of it like conditioning a muscle, and it will become second nature.
Practise – For each state / emotion, just close your eyes and remember a time when you experienced the required state, hold the state, become aware of where the feeling is in your body [ eg: chest, stomach etc] Imagine the state intensifying, hold it , then relax. Do this until you can access the required state quickly and at will.
4.Olfactory – smell, they say women are around 10 times more sensitive to smell than men, yet a smell can elicit a forgotten memory very fast, a powerful sense that works directly on the brain. The smell of a soap used at junior school, or a perfume can remind you of someone you once knew. If you are able to incorporate this sense it will make your practices/ rehearsals even more vivid.
Practise – smell + taste – do this with a partner, blindfolded try to identify 10 different foods/ fruits etc first by smell than by taste, to check smell and taste memory get your partner to identify the food/fruit and when you think you recall the smell and taste check both against your memory by smelling them then tasting the item.
5.Gustatory – The sense of taste, closely connected to smell it works in the same way.
6.The Vestibular – the inner ear – gives you a sense of balance, motion, and time and space, this sense is not classified within the 5 senses but is a powerful sense none the less. All movement relies on this sense, working in co-ordination with the others.
Practise – in a safe area with a partner, blindfolded walk in a straight line, walk backwards for 20 steps in a straight line, try to find your way around your room blindfolded. Your recall for past and present is used every day , recall what you had for lunch for every day for the past week, who you met and what you did on each day, remember each exercise opens new and strengthens existing neural pathways.
So how do you use these senses for sport performance ? First you might practise each one and experiment with each individual sense, find what is comfortable and easy for you to use[ senses that are less easy to use will be only because they are less familiar- persistence will pay dividends], test the limits, much as you would with a new car, see what they can do. The aim is to customise/ tailor, something unique to suit your requirements. Maximising your resources is the aim. Remember there is no best way, it’s just a matter of finding what is best for you.
Once you have familiarised yourself with the individual exercises then link them to your sport in mental practise, this will be easier with some senses than others, yet the ones you do not usually use may make the most positive and noticeable impact on performance. There are no set rules with this, it’s a matter of trying out exercises and keeping what works for you.