Mental imagery and visualization in sport climbing training

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The aim of this paper was to explain the use of mental imagery and visualization in sport climbing training. Sport climbers use two types of visualization: disassociated and associated. Visualization can be used in the following climbing activities: preprogramming a redpoint ascent, preparing for an on-sight ascent, preparing for competition and climbing injured or tired. Studies clearly show that utilizing the mind/body connection through visualization can significantly improve the climber's skills. It can also help them to become more focused, and even overcome or prevent training burnout.
Over the years climbing has been considered
most popular and most attractive sport of leisure
time with the highest increase of membership worl-
dwide (Creasey, Shepherd, Banks, Gresham, &
Wood, 1999). As the popularity of climbing has
grown, so has the interest in researching the psy-
chological aspects of climbers. However, it is only
recently that research has examined the use of ima-
gery and visualization in climbing (Barton, 1996;
Hardy & Callow, 1999; Jones, Mace, Bray, MacRae
& Stockbridge, 2002).
All climbing disciplines demand strength, endu-
rance and skills acquired during long systematic
training. Physical preparation for sports climbing
implies increased volume and specificity of the tra-
inings as forwarding towards the elite athletes
sports form. Since majority of sports climbers do
not follow any expert plan of training (Twight &
Martin, 1999) but utilize their ‘feelings’ it is assu-
med that more advanced climbing formula could be
obtained by the administration of systematic and
documented sports climbing’s principles, these
being frequencies, intensity, duration and types of
trainings (Wilmore & Costill, 1999) which are to be
selected considering specific motor abilities of each
single climber. But, there is one very specific type
of training that is often overlooked or underrated.
This is mental training, or visualization. Many top
athletes use this type of training. There have been
studies done on the effects of visualization in sports
by some of the top universities in the world.
The aim of this paper is to explain the use of
mental imagery and visualization in sport climbing
Mental skills training techniques
Most mental skills training techniques can be
grouped into two basic categories, cognitive and
somatic methods. Cognitive methods include men-
tal rehearsal, mental imagery and visualization,
visuo-motor behavior rehearsal, and cognitive-
behavior therapy. Somatic methods include
biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation and
meditation. Although cognitive and somatic meth-
ods develop the psychological apparatus of the
individual from different perspectives there is
much overlap because of the nature of psycho-
somatic function. Therefore, elements of each tend
to permeate elements of all, but an explanation of a
variety of approaches is useful to characterize the
different aspects of human nature that contempo-
rary psychology has undertaken to enhance the
mental development of the athlete (Behncke,
APES 39(2011) 1:35-38 Stanković,D., et. al.: MENTAL IMAGERYAND VISUALIZATION...
UDC: 796.52.015.59
Daniel Stanković, Aleksandar Raković, Aleksandar Joksimović,
Emilija Petkovićand Dina Joksimović
University of Niš, Faculty of Sport and Physical Education, Niš, Serbia
The aim of this paper was to explain the use of mental imagery and visualization
in sport climbing training. Sport climbers use two types of visualization: disassoci-
ated and associated. Visualization can be used in the following climbing activities:
preprogramming a redpoint ascent, preparing for an on-sight ascent, preparing for
competition and climbing injured or tired. Studies clearly show that utilizing the
mind/body connection through visualization can significantly improve the climber's
skills. It can also help them to become more focused, and even overcome or prevent
training burnout.
Key words: training, competitions, sports, cognitive methods,
somatic methods
The brain regions responsible for motor execu-
tion appear to be also responsible for imagery
processes under conscious thought without the
intended movement being evoked (Decety, 1996;
Jeannerod, 1995). That is, those neural operations
involved in executing motor coordination also play
a role in mentally representing those actions in con-
scious thought, through imagery, without generat-
ing the actual movement. However, imagining the
event happening is not enough to elicit the correct
imagery process, and like motor skills, if the men-
tal imagery technique is performed inadequately,
without sufficient attention on appropriate execu-
tion, subsequent gains in motor performance will
be substandard.
There are many requirements in achieving the
desired effect of mental imagery, but the first is the
approach to teaching and learning the specific tech-
niques. The visuo-spatial and temporal components
form the “procedural” knowledge required for
effective mental imagery, while conceptual (ideas
of movement) and symbolical (language represen-
tations) elements form the “declarative” knowledge
of mental imagery (Annett, 1995, 1996). These two
forms of knowledge are critical if the individual is
to learn the techniques needed to perform mental
imagery properly. This is because imagining the
skill, and actually performing the skill, needs to be
as closely executed as possible for effective trans-
fer and reinforcement to neural structures (Currie &
Ravenscroft, 1997). Thus, mental imagery compe-
tency requires a degree of attention and psycholog-
ical effort to elicit the desired effect.
Once declarative knowledge has been absorbed
and understood and conscious attention to detail
during mental imagery forms a reinforcing feed-
back loop that enhances neural structures, then pro-
cedural knowledge can begin. There are many
guidelines to enhance the imagery process, and
most, if not all, fit within the spectrum of tech-
niques in mental imagery training (Martens, 1987;
Ievleva & Orlick, 1991; Rushall, 1992).
These aspects of the mental imagery process
need to be constantly practiced in order to elicit
results. Even though individual differences exist in
mental imagery ability, generally, better imagery
control correlates to better performance in the
motor skill (Annett, 1995). Another approach is to
combine the techniques of mental imagery with
physical practice of the intended skill labeled
visuo-motor behavior rehearsal.
Visuo-motor behavior rehearsal is an extension
of mental imagery, in that, it combines the psycho-
logical aspect of generating the mental image with
feedback from the performance of the physical skill
(Lane, 1980). This method has been used success-
fully, especially with closed motor skills, in a num-
ber of sports including Karate (Weinberg,
Seabourne, & Jackson, 1981), basketball (Gray &
Fernandez, 1989; Onestak, 1997), racquet ball
(Gray, 1990), tennis (Noel, 1980), and cross-coun-
try running, golf, track and field, gymnastics, and
diving (Lohr & Scogin, 1998). Visuo-motor behav-
ior rehearsal involves three phases, first, an initial
relaxation phase to retrieve a psychological state
conducive for mental imagery, second, visualizing
performance through various imagery techniques,
and finally, performing the actual skill under realis-
tic conditions.
By repeating this process with the intended skill
during training it is hoped that real-time feedback
ensues between mentally coordinating the visuali-
zation and imagery component with actual per-
formance, thereby, minor changes in either the
skill, and/or the imagery process, can be main-
tained in parallel. The rationale behind visuo-motor
behavior rehearsal is keeping mental imagery and
skill performance closely associated in training,
which should correspond to an increase in perform-
ance because the individual can fine-tune both
processes simultaneously. (Behncke, 2004)
Imagery and visualization
in sports climbing
Fewer studies have examined how imagery use
can affect climbing performance. Barton (1996)
examined the use of an imagery script by beginner
climbers. One group of volunteer college students
who had never climbed before received ten minutes
of imagery training per day, over a period of ten
days, in addition to the regular physical practice of
climbing skills. The control group, who were also
beginner climbers, was limited to physical practice
of climbing skills over the same time period. It was
found that the beginner climbers who received the
ten-day imagery program in addition to regular
physical practice did not perform any better than
the control group. Jones and colleagues (2002) con-
ducted a similar study in which novice climbers’
levels of perceived stress, self-efficacy and climb-
ing performance were assessed. Climbers who were
randomly assigned to the motivational imagery
intervention group reported significantly lower lev-
els of perceived stress and higher levels of self-effi-
cacy in their ability to execute the climb than the
control group. No differences were found between
the groups in overall climbing performance.
Hardy and Callow (1999) examined the kines-
thetic and visual imagery used by expert climbers
from both an internal and an external perspective.
APES 39(2011) 1:35-38 Stanković,D., et. al.: MENTAL IMAGERYAND VISUALIZATION...
The climbers were divided into four groups. Each
group completed a series of bouldering problems
using the combinations of internal or external visu-
al imagery with or without the use of kinesthetic
imagery. It was found that the use of external visu-
al imagery combined with kinesthetic imagery was
most effective for climbers. This supported earlier
research that external imagery can be highly bene-
ficial for tasks such as climbing, where form is
important (White & Hardy, 1998).
According to Horst (2003) sport climbers use
two types of visualization: disassociated and asso-
ciated. Disassociated visualization provides an “on-
TV” perspective, where climber sees himself
climbing from an observers point of view. This
mode of visualization is best for reviewing some
past poor performance that he hopes to improve
upon. As a detached observer, he can replay the
movie and objectively view the mistakes or falls
without reliving the possibly unhappy emotions of
the situation.
Associated visualization provides a “through-
your-own-eyes” perspective and thus triggers small
neurological reactions as if the climber were doing
the climb, as well as the feel and emotion of the
movie he is playing. This makes associated visual-
ization ideal for preprogramming some future
ascent. Repeated playing of a highly detailed, posi-
tive mental movie helps trick the subconscious
mind into thinking he has done the climb before
(Horst, 2003).
There’s also a negative visualization. For
instance, if climber visualizes himself failing on a
route or in a competition, he not only preprogram
this possible outcome but also destroy his self-con-
fidence in the process. To avoid this, it’s vital that
climber visualizes only positive events and ideal
outcomes when he projects into the future in the
associated state.
Visualization training can be used in the following
climbing activities:
- preprogramming a redpoint ascent,
- preparing for an on-sight ascent,
- preparing for competition and
- climbing injured or tired.
Studies clearly show that utilizing the
mind/body connection through visualization can
significantly improve the climbers skills. It can
also help them to become more focused, and even
overcome or prevent training burnout. Like any
other training, visualization must be practiced often
in order for it to be truly effective. Afew minutes
each day is enough. Visualization can be very effec-
tive, but it doesn’t take the place on physical sports
specific training. It is a tool to help the athlete to be
the best he can be. It takes patience and practice.
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on sport climbing performance of college stu-
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Decety, J. (1996). The neurophysiological basis
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Gray, S. W., & Fernandez, S. J. (1989). Effects of
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Gray, S. W. (1990). Effect of visuo-motor
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Hardy, L., & Callow, N. (1999). Efficacy of
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Horst, E. J. (2003). Training for Climbing: The
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APES 39(2011) 1:35-38 Stanković,D., et. al.: MENTAL IMAGERYAND VISUALIZATION...
UDK: 796.52.015.59
( Pregleden trud)
Daniel Stankovi}, Aleksandar Rakovi}, Aleksandar Joksimovi},
Emilija Petkovi} i Dina Joksimovi}
Univerzitet vo Ni{, Fakultet za sport i fizi~ko vospituvawe,
Ni{, Srbija
Celta na ovoj trud e da se objasni koristeweto na mentalnata
imaginacija i vizuelizacija vo treningot na sportskoto ka~uvawe.
Vo sportskoto ka~uvawe se koristat dva vida na vizuelizacija:
nepovrzana i povrzana. Vizuelizacijata mo`e da se koristi vo sled-
nive aktivnosti za ka~uvawe: programirawe na ka~uvaweto na red-
point, podgotvuvawe on sight ka~uvawe, podgotovki za natprevari i
ka~uvawe vo tekot na traeweto na telesnite povredi i zamorot.
Dosega{nite studii jasno uka`uvaat deka koristeweto na
povrzanosta na umot so teloto niz vizualizacijata, mo`e vo zna~ajna
mera da ja unapredi ve{tinata na ka~uvaweto. Isto taka, toa mo`e
da pomogne za pogolema fokusiranost, a duri i da spre~i i da pomogne
vo sovladuvaweto na „pregorenosta” so treningot.
Klu~ni zborovi: trening, natprevari, sportovi, kognitivni metodi,
somatski metodi
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