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Visualisation Skills for Tennis

By Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc. M.Sc.(Hons) B.Ed.

Establish Positive Achievement Routines and LOVE the Training

In sports coaching the concept of goal setting has taken on the status of an immutable 'truth' - something so accepted as to be rarely, if ever, questioned. For many years I also not only personally practised goal 'setting', but also widely preached its virtues.

However, I've recently developed a new approach to high achievement which is both more effective and much easier to understand and implement for both players and coaches.

Problems with Goal 'Setting'

You see, the problem with goal 'setting' is two-fold. Firstly, what happens when, (as often happens), you don't get the goal you set? For example, I'm sure Leyton Hewitt had 'set the goal' of winning Wimbledon this year - yet he was defeated in the first round! Here is an individual who is an accomplished player and highly experienced in elite achievement - yet he didn't get his goal!

Haven't you had the same kind of disappointing experience? Haven't you 'set' yourself goals - whether it was to increase your fitness level; or to change your diet and lose some weight; or to win a particular match; or get a particular job; or attain a certain result in your studies .... and you didn't do it!

Tell me how did you feel afterwards? What was the end result of your goal setting? Loss of confidence in your abilities. Erosion of your self belief. Perhaps not wanting to try again - giving up?

Yet we're told, "Don't give up!" The answer is simply to try again - to set yet more goals.

Don't worry - the problem isn't you! The fault is with the process. Goal 'setting' is not the answer!

The second fatal flaw with goal setting is that it encourages an unhealthy and unrealistic emphasis on outcomes and results.

Too often an athlete's happiness, self worth, and even identity are dependent on achieving the goal, the result ... and when (as inevitably happens) an individual doesn't get the goal, win the event, achieve the result - they feel cheated, disappointed, and can lose heart, and even fall prey to depression.

Further, goal 'setting' too often leads the individual to associate all the pleasure and joy with the final attainment - as if life were a result, rather than an on-going process! This often then consigns the actual 'process' of achieving the goal to the role of a 'sacrifice' - something to be suffered through in order to attain eventual happiness!

What this unhealthy obsession with the end result creates then is an emptiness, even in the athletes who get to the top, after the 'magic moment' of successful attainment is over, as they look around after years of 'sacrifice' and wonder, "Is this all there is? Is this what I gave up my life for?"

The Solution

If goal 'setting' isn't the answer, what is? Is it possible to achieve at the highest level with a different kind of process? I believe so, and I believe this new process is both more effective and leads to long term joy and fulfilment - rather than infrequent, fleeting pleasures.

The 'goal' is to happily achieve; rather than achieve to be happy.

This new process - which I term the Sportsmind Routine Achievement approach - involves two radical changes in thinking.

Firstly, the understanding that achievement is a process, not an end result. In order to achieve any goal, there must be a process involved; and this process involves specific routines.

The key to successful and satisfying achievement then, lies in identifying the routine, which if followed, will inevitably lead you to the desired 'goal'. This is done by simply asking the question : "What routine, or set of routines, - if adhered to consistently and conscientiously - would inevitably lead to the successful attainment of goal X"

The task then is to simply focus on doing, and enjoying, the routines - confident that your training will lead you where you want to be.

Secondly, associate the greatest pleasure with the training - not the end result. Love your training - otherwise you're going to be spending most of your time not enjoying your life, and I see so many sportspeople who dislike training, and only do it because they feel they 'have to' in order to get the goals they want! This is exactly the same as the many people working in jobs they hate! Why spend your life doing something you hate? Either change your attitude to training, or go and do something that you do like!

The way to do this is to continually ask yourself about your training, "How can I enjoy this more? What can I do to make this even more fun and enjoyable for me?" Remind yourself regularly while you train, "I LOVE tennis (or golf, or whatever) ... I LOVE training. I'm so lucky to be doing this - some people have to actually WORK for a living; I get to PLAY!".

Achievement as a Personal Management Process

Having made these two important points, let me now say it IS important to have goals!

However, achieving significant goals in sport, particularly at an elite level, involves more than just the process of setting them.

Achieving big goals is a personal managementprocess involving establishing a goal, breaking it down into smaller sub-goals, determining a viable action plan, implementing and enjoying this plan, evaluating progress, adjusting the plan, celebrating achievement, and finally choosing a new goal.

Goals are important to success, because without a clearly defined and desired outcome, motivation flags and there can be a loss of direction. If you don't have a specific destination in mind, you might be a good player, but you'll end up going nowhere in particular - and this is what happens to many talented athletes, simply because they don't have long term goals.

You do want to have a desired outcome and not be afraid of setting it, and going for it - however you also want to temper this outcome focus by establishing strong achievement routines, and associating great enjoyment to your day-to-day training.

For instance, consider a journey. At the beginning of the journey you think of your destination - where you want to end up. Then you get in the car and pay attention to the traffic around you; stop at lights and intersections; change gears; accelerate; turn corners; refuel when necessary; and deal with any delays and flat tyres along the way.

Now just imagine if you didn't have that destination in mind at the start - what would happen? You'd just hop in the car and start driving, and you might drive extremely well, but you'd end up going nowhere in particular.

What is different about the Sportsmind Routine Achievement approach is that we remember to enjoy the journey, and focus on what you need to do each step of the way. Remember that choosing a direction is important, but placing too much emphasis on it leads to problems.

For instance, on your journey you'll have an accident if you think too much about the hot date you're doing to visit, but if you don't want that hot date in the first place, you'll probably never get the car out of the garage!

Likewise, if you think about winning during the match, chances are your attention and concentration on the moment by moment play will suffer as you imagine the future, or regret past mistakes, instead of being in the present - and you won't perform to your potential.

Enjoy your training; love the doing of your sport - it is after all the most important part!

About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed "Sportsmind - An Athlete's Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training" and "Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings"; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph's College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
SPORTSMIND , 77 FLAXTON MILL ROAD
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email : jh@sportsmind.com.au
website : www.sportsmind.com.au

By Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc. M.Sc.(Hons) B.Ed.

In the previous issue I spoke of the importance of developing the seven mental skills of the sports mind :

* Positive Self Motivation

* Powerful Goal Achievement Strategies

* Emotional State Mastery

* Positive Mental Attitude

* Strong Concentration & Focusing Abilities

* Positive Self Image & Unshakeable Self Confidence

* Precision Visualisation Skills

I want to begin in this issue with a discussion on Visualisation for Successful Tennis, because I believe Visualisation is the foundational and most important mental skill - one which all players want to master first.

This is because all the other mental skills require competent visualisation techniques .... to achieve goals, you have to see yourself doing so; to improve a technical aspect of your tennis game you have to be able to clearly picture what you need to do; to change a limiting emotional reaction or behaviour, it's essential that you imagine yourself into the new response; in order to build self confidence, you will want to develop your self image; and so on.

POSITIVE VISUALISATION

Visualisation is a common skill we all use all the time; to achieve anything, to do anything, we first 'see' ourselves doing it.

So visualisation is not something strange or difficult or esoteric, but something we all constantly use in order to function in the world ..... we all can visualise. The trouble is, most people use visualisation negatively - they imagine all the bad things that could happen, and then hope they don't!

The important thing to realise is that we human beings are a lot like guided missiles - we move in the direction of our regular and consistent thoughts and imaginings; we move toward what we picture in our mind - particularly what we picture with vividness and strong feeling.

Whenever we associate a vivid picture with a strong feeling, it has a magnetic attraction - so be careful of what you picture with feeling, because you will be pulled in that direction.

A classic example of this process in action is given by the tennis player who has just serve a first serve fault. As he or she prepares to hit their second serve, an image comes to their mind of double faulting - perhaps even recalling a previous time when they had done so. As they picture this memory, they see it vividly, and of course they feel again the embarrassment they experienced then. They then tell themselves, "Now I don't want to double fault!".

But of course it's too late .... they've already visually programmed themselves with clear pictures and powerful feelings to do just that! As the ball is tossed he or she tenses up because they're afraid of failing, and then watch with dismay as it flies straight into the net.

Why did this happen? Despite all his verbal commands to himself not to hit double fault, he did just that.

Has anything like that ever happened to you? Have you ever commanded yourself not to do something, only to find it happening despite all your conscious efforts? Maybe you've said to yourself, "Now this time I'm not going to get nervous and stammer when I present the talk", and yet you did!

Why?

SELF ONE AND SELF TWO

There's a wonderful book by Tim Gallwey called the Inner Game of Tennis, and in it he talks about the concept of the two selves. Tim Gallwey was a tennis coach, and he noticed people talking to themselves on the court, and from this he suggested that we actually have two 'selves'.

Self 1 is the conscious, 'telling' self, and its the part of us that is always telling us to "Keep your wrist firm", "Watch the ball", "Follow through", or whatever. Self 2 is our non-conscious 'doing' self, and it is the part of us that Self 1 is giving the commands to. You could call Self 1 our conscious mind, and self 2 our body.

Now the interesting thing about self 2, our body, is that is understands vivid pictures and images better than it does words. It's similar to a computer in that it understands a particular programming language ..... however the programming language of self 2 is not MS DOS or WINDOWS XP, but rather vivid visual images. Self 2 is a very competent servant and it accurately follows the instructions given to it in its language.

However most people try to program self 2 with words - they verbally command their body to do something without having a clearly visualised and precise picture of exactly what they want to happen. But it just doesn't work effectively - it's a bit like talking in a foreign language.

If I said "Suwari waza katate mochi nikkajo osai ni", would you know what I wanted you to do?

It's just the same when you try to 'talk' to your body - it just doesn't understand the words you use. The way to command, or 'program' your body effectively is to use vivid images - particularly images associated with strong feeling, or what I call 'feel-mages'.

This concept is supported by comments from champion sportspeople. Jack Nicklaus has said "I never hit a shot, even in practice, without having a clear, in focus picture of it in my mind." Greg Liganus, after hitting his head on the diving board in one of his dives in the 1988 Olympics, was asked by one of the television crews if he wanted a copy of the dive to see where he went wrong. He refused, saying he didn't even want to consider the possibility that Greg Liganus could hit his head on a diving board!

You want to have a positive focus, and you want to communicate with your body in a way that it understands - by giving it clear, vivid images.

It could be said that your level of performance is directly related to the precision of your visual communication, and the level of trust you can establish between your self 1 and self 2.

WHY VISUALISATION WORKS

There is overwhelming scientific and anecdotal evidence which demonstrates the undeniable fact that visualisation can improve your sports performances - there are numerous scientific studies which have shown its effectiveness. In my own research, the feedback I've received from athletes is that they improved their performance from 10% to 50%!

I'd like to share one classic example of the power of visualisation with you. Colonel George Hall was captured by the Vietnamese in the war and incarcerated in a POW camp for seven years - five and a half of which were spent in solitary confinement. Prior to the war, Colonel Hall was a golfer, playing off a handicap of four, and to keep himself from going crazy in prison, every day he would visualise playing a round of golf. He would play each shot, and each hole in his mind, and every day he'd play a different golf course.

When he was finally released and returned to the USA, shortly afterward he was invited to play in a celebrity Pro-Am tournament, and despite being underweight and suffering from malnutrition from his ordeal, he hit a round of 76 ... right on his handicap, despite not having held a golf club for over seven years!

Visualisation works - but do you know why?

It works because visualisation has a measurable, physiological effect on our body. When you visualise doing a movement, play, stroke, shot, or performance, there is a measurable response by the specific muscles used in that activity in response to your imagined movements.

For instance, in order to do a tennis serve in reality, a specific 'program' of neuro-muscular circuits has to fire in order for that to happen. However, if I just vividly imagine doing a tennis serve, it's been found that micro-muscular stimulation occurs in those same muscles used to do the serve in 'reality'.

In fact, neurologically, your body can't tell the difference between a 'real' experience, and a vividly imagined one. You consciously know one experience is real and the other is imagined, but at the cellular level, your body can't tell the difference. For example, think of the last time you had a nightmare .... and now think of a time you had a fright in 'reality'.

Was the fear you experienced in the dream any different from the fear you experienced in response to the 'real' event? It wasn't was it? Your heart still pounded the same and your hands still felt clammy. Perhaps you even jerked your arm up in the dream in response to the imagined events! It was only a dream, but your body still responded like it was real didn't it?

Because there is this muscular response to visualised activity, it makes it possible to 'program in' desired shots, strokes, plays, movements, behaviours, and even emotional responses prior to doing them. In other words you can 'groove in' to your body at a cellular level, a 'muscle memory' of what you want your body to do.

Further, visualisation allows you to practice your techniques perfectly - without error, and so 'groove in' the optimum neural pathway for future successful performance.

In the next issue, I'll conclude our discussion on Visualisation by explaining how to best visualise, and list six different ways to use visualisation to improve YOUR tennis game!


About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed "Sportsmind - An Athlete's Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training" and "Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings"; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph's College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
SPORTSMIND , 77 FLAXTON MILL ROAD
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email : jh@sportsmind.com.au
website : www.sportsmind.com.au

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