JV's blog

Close your eyes and imagine performing a skill – really picture yourself doing it.

What you’ve just done is called visualization, which means representing a movement or routine, a process in which athletes use all their senses to create a mental image of what they want to achieve.

Chances are you’ve heard of it or even tried it before. This word is thrown around in sport, but athletes often don’t understand the impact it can have. So, why should you visualize? And how can you do it more effectively? Our sport and performance psychologists weigh in with tips.


Visualization is important for improving performance in a range of different ways. A vast amount of research has shown the many different benefits of visualiZation, which include:

  • Allowing athletes to stay confident and focused by regulating any nerves or stressors. 
  • Motivating them by giving them a vision of what they want to achieve.
  • Growing muscle strength by enhancing the cortical output signal, creating a higher level of muscle activation and therefore increasing strength.
  • Increasing focus of attention.
  • Reducing tension and fear.
  • Helping athletes learn to be more positive – mental practice is characterized by positive and successful representations, eliminating negative thoughts.
  • Allowing athletes to develop a more disciplined, organized and planned type of thinking, raising a greater awareness of the skills they perform.
  • Better preparing athletes for stressful situations.
  • Helping with pain management and performance endurance.

Another interesting bonus is that it can even help you come back from injury stronger. Research has shown that simply visualizing an action produces muscle patterns that are similar to those produced when the action is actually carried out. Therefore, whilst an injured athlete cannot practice their skills, they can practice visualizing it to make the execution easier when they are able to practice again.


Make it physical

You’ve probably been encouraged to carry out visualization when “lying or sitting comfortably”. However, this can be ineffective as it will relax you rather than offer the necessary arousal you need to perform well.

Instead, visualization should be a physical process, where you imagine the relevant physical characteristics. For example, footballers should try and carry out visualization standing as they would before a penalty, wearing the same clothes that they would play in, or even holding a football by their feet.

Use all your senses

When visualizing, engage your body’s sensory system. Visualize a vivid picture so real you can almost touch it. Not just what would you see, but what you would hear and feel, too.

Get emotional with it

The role of emotions in sport is often underestimated. Try and visualize the positive emotions you will experience when on the pitch as this will improve your performance. However, don’t let any negative emotions creep into your visualizations. To find out more about how to better manage emotions.

Replicate the environment

Research has also found that replicating the environment can be beneficial.

For example, golfers who visualized their bunker shots whilst stood in a tray of sand showed an enhanced execution of such shots on the golf course. Whilst it may be impossible to carry out visualization on the actual competition course, athletes should try and carry out visualization in an environment that is as similar as possible.

Make it specific

When carrying out task visualization, you need to try and be as realistic as possible to ensure the imagery is specific to your abilities and level of performance.

In other words, don’t visualize a skill that is way too advanced for you, and don’t visualize skills differently to how you actually perform them. It is vital that what you visualize is specific to you and realistically applicable to your performance.

Done in real time

Try to imagine the timing of the action you are visualizing. Timing is key to the success of many skills, so visualizing them in “real time” is much more beneficial. However, slow motion imagery can be useful at times if you want to focus on more specific movements and skills you find most difficult.

Keep it updated

As an athlete, you should be continuously reviewing and adapting your visualizations as you make improvements and develop. This is so that what you imagine matches what you are now able to produce. If you’re still visualizing a basic skill when you are now able to do a more advanced version, this will not be beneficial.

Keep perspective

So, how should you visualize yourself playing?

Whether you see yourself in the first person (through your own eyes) or in the third person (as if you are watching yourself on the TV) probably does not matter too much and is simply down to personal preference.

It may be that you use a combination of the two: using the first-person perspective to mimic what you actually see when you are playing, and the third-person perspective to analyze the different components of the skill you’re visualizing.

Visualize regularly

To perform at your best, you need to be pumping two key hormones: dopamine and noradrenaline. Visualization releases both – so the more you do it, the better equipped you’ll be for performance. Improving your mental skills is the same as improving your physical ones – it takes repetition and focused practice.


Visualization isn’t a substitute for training, but using it regularly alongside your training will help you to become the best athlete you can be. Aim to carry out the process in a similar environment to where you will be performing it, imagine what emotions you will feel, and adapt your routine to your evolving abilities.

Visualization is a complex process, made up of many different aspects. Therefore, it needs to be practiced. You would never dream of showing up to an event and trying a new skill for the first time – and you should treat visualization in the same way. Practice your visualization so that when it comes to competition day, you can use it effectively.

written by: innerdrive.co.uk


Sports season is about to start again!

For supporters and spectators, this is great news – for athletes, not always. Pushing your body back to its maximum fitness and performing at your best regularly again is painful, not just physically, but mentally as well.

However, this pain comes with the territory. The key is to know how to block it out and push past it – and this is where sport psychology comes in. A great way to get ready for the season is to work with a sport psychologist, but you can also try the following tips…



A lot of athletes don’t look forward to pre-season because it’s the rebuilding of fitness following the ‘‘off-season’’. After an extended break to mentally and physically recover, research has shown that athletes tend to experience a significant drop-off in fitness across multiple areas.

Without a well-structured pre-season, players won’t be prepared to play as they did before.

Therefore, pre-season involves the “building” of conditioning and skills, which involves progressively overloading the body to improve fitness. To do this, coaches usually increase training load 2 to 4 times during this period.

It’s vital to a successful season, but it also isn’t pretty. It’s tough and challenging, requiring athletes to push their bodies and mind as far as they’ll go, and coaches to find a precise balance between optimal preparation and avoiding overtraining and injuries.


Set small goals

We often advise our athletes to set both long-term and short-term goals.

When it comes to pre-season, because it can be so tough, it’s good to set yourself some shorter-term goals (i.e., what you need to do this week). This can help break down a seemingly impossible and distant goal into more tangible simple steps.

These small steps can help keep you on the right path and provide short term incentives and accomplishments that will eventually add up to carry you to the end of the upcoming season.

Have the right perspective

Remember to go in with the right expectations. You’re not going to be as fit or as strong as you were before the break. Don’t expect to be as good as you were straight away. Remind yourself that it takes time and that you have to work for it.

Being aware of what it’s going to look like and that it’s going to be tough will help prepare you for what’s to come. Take it day by day and focus on being in the moment, don’t get caught up worrying about what you need to do in the distant future, and you won’t risk getting deflated when everything isn’t perfect straight away.

Control your emotions

It’s tough when you aren’t performing the way you know you can. It can be upsetting and frustrating. However, letting these emotions get to you can be detrimental for not only your performance but also your motivation and mindset.

Emotional control is a crucial part of excellence in sport. Therefore, athletes must learn to control their emotions when they are finding it tough or not where they want to be yet. Some of our top tips include:

  • Listen to songs that get you in the right state of mind before practice
  • Take control of how you talk to yourself – make it helpful and rational, and say no to negative thoughts
  • Visualize things that reduce stress and anxiety
  • With support from others, face your fears head on
  • Relax your body by clenching and then releasing your muscles
  • Take deep breaths to lower your heart rate and help you relax

Work on your mental game

Use the time in pre-season to not only brush up on your physical skills but also your mental skills. This is a good time to work on mental tools you might use throughout competition season.

Practice your visualizationself-talk and controlling your emotions, find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Then, when it comes to the competition floor and the nerves are hitting, you’ll know what to do to calm yourself down and perform to your best.

Change your mindset to push through the pain

Athletes experience a lot of pain during pre-season. This cannot be avoided, but how you view this pain is important. You should aim to be able to recognize that pushing through it will help give you the physiological adaptation necessary to get back to where you were and improve your performance.

Visualization can also help motivate you to push through the pain. Visualize yourself finishing the challenge: what will this look like and how will you feel? You should try and picture the positive emotions you will experience and use this to push on.


It’s going to be tough but using these tips will help you complete pre-season and show up to your first event of the season a better athlete than ever, ready to perform to your full potential.

See it as an exciting challenge rather than a threat and before you know it, you’ll be back in full fitness playing at your best. Work hard; you don’t want to look back and wish you had put more effort in!

Written by: Innerdrive.co.uk


Are our emotions something that help us when it comes to sport, or do they hold us back? The answer? Both. Learning how to balance and control your emotions is what matters.In our first part of this two part series,  we covered five strategies to help regulate emotion ranging from facing your fears head on, to listening to inspiring music to get you in the zone. This was based on research by Professor Marc Jones at Staffordshire University on how athletes can better manage their emotions when competing. In this second part, we cover tips 6-10.


Try tensing your muscles for a few seconds and then consciously relaxing them to feel a sense of calm, physically as well as mentally. Research shows  that this leads to a reduced heart rate, lesser feelings of physical exhaustion, and diminished anxiety. 


Try to emulate athletes that deal with emotionally difficult situations well; this is an effective strategy to manage anger and stress. For instance it has been shown that Role-playing exercises off pitch reduce angry behavior on pitch. The ability to learn from others is a hallmark of developing a growth mindset and a very important life skill.


Keep a journal or review film of situations where strong emotions arise during play and how you dealt with them. This allows you to identify which emotions are healthy, competitive ones for you and which are not. This is important to know so that you can get the best from your emotional state. Keeping a diary to improve self-awareness is a simple and effective way to improve metacognition. This can be incredibly effective when combined with challenging self-handicapping thoughts (check out part one of this blog), as your newfound awareness can help you identify which thoughts and emotions need challenging.


The more important you believe the situation to be, the more likely you are to have a strong emotional response to it. Research suggest that reminding yourself that “it’s just another match” can help reduce the noise and intensity that emotions can bring.

Reframing our ideas of failure and success can also be effective. In the earlier mentioned research by Professor Jones, he details an example where a Premier League striker was struggling to score goals, and feeling down because of it. Helping him reframe his definition of success to include all the other things he was doing well helped raise his spirits and find his goal scoring form again.


Much like muscle relaxation, focusing on taking deep slow breaths can be an important factor in regulating emotion. These breaths increase feelings of relief and lead to lower physical symptoms of negative emotions such as muscle tension.  It also provides a sense of control of the situations, slows things time and gives you space to consider how best to proceed.


Every athlete no matter their level needs to learn how to balance their emotions. There is no perfect formula. What works well for someone else is no guarantee that it will work well for you. Using some of the techniques described in both parts of this blog series will provide a strong platform to explore what works best for you.


What does it take to really excel in the world of elite sport? The ability to deliver your best when it matters the most is a fundamental part of performing under pressure. Can this ability be taught, learned and developed?

We have previously explored why some athletes perform better under pressure than othersand what it takes to thrive in a pressurized environments.  However, what makes emotions in sport so complicated is that no emotion is truly good or bad during competition. For example, anger can make you try harder, but it can also make you lose focus on the task at hand.

Even two people experiencing the same emotion can react in different ways. So a  footballer who is embarrassed about missing too many shots may shy away from receiving the ball, whereas another might react by calling for it more to get a chance to redeem themselves.

Research by Professor Marc Jonesat Staffordshire University offers fascinating insight into how athletes can better manage their emotions when competing. In this two part blog series, we are going to look at 10 tips to control emotions in sport based on his research.


Listening to musicis a great way for an athlete to get into the zone. Upbeat or inspirational music for example improves an athlete’s confidence and motivation, leading to better on pitch performance. Music acts as a way to boost arousal levels whilst also helping to block out distracting thoughts. Click here to read moreabout the impact of music on performance in sports.


Negative self-talk leads to a poor emotional state, which in turn hurts athletic performance. Replacing it with positive self-talk such as “I played really well in my last match” or “I’ve succeeded at this before, I know I can now” counters negative emotions and creates positive ones too.   This positive self-talk creates helpful emotions such as happiness. As many as 76% of elite level figure skaters utilise this techniqueto cope with the stress of competition. For more tips on how to talk to yourself, check out our blog on ithereand how self-talk is linked to growth mindset.


If you find yourself stressed out over competing or are worried about failing,  try imagining positive scenarios like scoring a goal. As a young athlete, Wayne Rooneyused to lie in bed imagining himself scoring goals and dribbling around defenders. He uses these visualisation techniques this day and credits them for his accomplishments.

It has been found thatimagery focused on toughness, control, and confidence leads to increased motivation, emotion regulation, and self-belief. This is a great technique to do the night before a matchor just before you go out to compete.


It’s important to consistently review your behavior both on pitch and off to ensure it is helping, not hindering your performance. If you are exerting energy and focus on behavior that is hurting you, you’re wasting energy.

One elite tennis playerin this study was asked how many times in her career she argued with the referee and how often it had actually resulted in a call being changed (very rarely). The massive difference in the energy wasted compared to the result she gained, helped her realise there were better things to choose to focus on.


As discussed in our blog on The Fear of Failure, psychologists believe that there are three ways people cope with situations. These are Avoidant, Emotional and Problem Focused. Let’s say you are worried about snakes in your garden. You could decide to never go into your garden again (avoidance focused), or convince yourself that having snakes in your back garden isn’t that bad (emotion focused) or go into your garden and get rid of the snakes (problem focused). 

Whereas avoidance and emotional focused coping may provide a short relief, problem focused coping addresses the issue head on, allowing you to make long term gains. Don’t be an ostrich and bury your head in the sand. If something is worrying you, work out how you can make it better.


Date: 03.01.2021

Explosive strength performance is the result of a partnership between your muscles and nervous system. The muscles are the ‘engine’ and the nervous system is the ‘governor / control panel’. Explosive strength is also known as power, which is the combination of strength and speed together. When the nervous system commands the muscles to fire at a maximal rate, the body is putting out the most effort possible. The formula for power is “force x velocity” aka the ability to express force quickly. When athletes train with maximal intent on each rep, or whatever activity they’re performing, they’re working to move with maximal force and velocity every time. These repeated efforts lead to enhanced power output / explosive strength, speed and, consequently, more athletic ability.

Athletes that possess the rare combination of both speed and strength are virtually unstoppable. By training strength and speed concurrently, athletes will develop their power in sprinting, jumping, change of direction and overall force production and force absorption.  Force absorption is a rare quality that helps athletes become more durable / less injury-prone. In sports like football, this is probably the most valuable attribute for any athlete. If an athlete is fast and strong but not durable, they will not last long. That is why mobility is so important, which is the flexibility of athletes’ joints and the stability around them.

Training systems that produce the best results prioritize strength, speed, conditioning, and mobility. All together, these attributes contribute to enhanced performance and power potential for the athlete. All things equal, the more powerful athletes are, the more potential they have to win and dominate in whatever arena they compete.