In the mind's eye

Aidan Moran discusses mental imagery in sport: seeing, feeling and believing.
Many people believe that although sport is played with the body, it is won in the mind. Not surprisingly, sport performers increasingly turn to psychology in an effort to gain a ‘winning edge’ over their rivals. In this regard, mental imagery, or the ability to represent in the mind information that is not currently being perceived, is widely used by athletes in an effort to enhance their performance in competition. For example, the golfer Tiger Woods acknowledged the importance of ‘seeing’ and ‘feeling’ desired shots in his ‘mind’s eye’ before addressing the ball: 'You have to see the shots and feel them through your hands. (quoted in Pitt, 1998, p.5)' Complementing such anecdotal insights are survey data showing that mental rehearsal techniques are both highly valued and practised routinely by top US Olympic athletes (Gould et al., 1998; Ungerleider & Golding, 1991). But what do we really know about the nature and use of imagery in athletes? What are the new directions in this field, and can the study of athletes’ imagery shed new light on how the mind works?

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