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Mental Imagery’s Many Functions

Mental Imagery’s Many Functions

Mental imagery, or visualization, is one of the most important psychological skills and is used by successful athletes in all sports. Imagery can be applied in many ways. Among its primary uses are:
• Skill mastery
• Priming for performance
• Anticipating situations
• Confidence building
• Relaxation and psyching up
• Concentration
• Stress reduction

These functions are described in more detail below. The first four are typically associated with mental practice because they involve images of an action you wish to execute.

Skill Mastery

Learning and sharpening skills are major functions of visualizing. Whether it’s a physical game technique (e.g., a new release) or psychological method (such as thought stopping), your imagination can accelerate the learning process for all new skills and the honing of skills already developed. Every facet of your game can be advanced and maintained through imagery. Using visualization in this way is known as “process-oriented” imagery. In this type of visualizing, the images concern what you do rather than the competitive results.

Priming for Performance

In order to successfully perform, skills must be mastered and then executed. One of the great potential benefits of visualization is to maximize the probability of your executing to full capability. In other words, the aim is to implement what you’ve learned. This involves process-oriented imagery during the training period and as part of your mental routines on the day of competition.

Anticipating Situations

Visualization can be used to prepare for the full range of situations you’ll confront in competition and, for that matter, in life generally. In your mind’s eye, you can conjure up any circumstance you may face and then rehearse the way you’ll cope with it. Through such mental practice, all aspects of you Master Plan can be further developed and you can be optimally ready to effectively handle all conceivable competitive challenges.

Following are some examples:

• See yourself bowl several games and adjust to changing lane
conditions. Make the necessary moves, equipments changes, etc.
• Envision yourself faced with a variety of spare opportunities.
Convert these using whatever techniques you would actually use.
• Imagine your team needs you to strike in order to win a match. Use
relaxation techniques to maintain poise and then throw a perfect shot.
• See yourself becoming distracted. Utilize refocusing methods to
quickly regain your concentration.
• See yourself rebound from various types of adversity: a slow start,
missed shot, poor game, etc.

Confidence Building

Visualizing performance excellence contributes to confidence. Your
optimism can be boosted by seeing yourself properly execute skills and effectively cope with a wide range of competitive situations. In addition to this process-oriented imagery focused entirely on the quality of your execution, there is a second type of imagery which can raise confidence.

“Outcome-oriented” imagery involves competitive results. Imagine winning a match, winning a tournament, or rolling an 800 series.

These are examples of outcome-oriented visualizing. This type of imagery can inspire and energize as well as increase your confidence level. Visualizing actual successes you’ve achieved is another way to raise confidence.
Relaxation and Psyching Up

The ability to calm or energize yourself in order to create an optimally
poised and energized readiness is crucial to peak performance. visualization is a basic and invaluable tool that can be applied here.


Visualization is one of the psychological tools which can help you maintain concentration and refocus if you become distracted. We recommend that visual cues for concentration be a part of your pre-shot routine. Even if you don’t use visual cues on every shot, they can be included in your mental game repertoire. Then you’ll be prepared to call upon this imagery when faced with distractions.

Stress Reduction

Relaxing imagery can be used to calm yourself before, during, and after competition. Beyond this, using visualization to relax is a life skill. Some creative visualizations can enable you to leave behind the stresses of the day when entering the bowling center.

(This information is an excerpt from the book, “The Handbook of Bowling Psychology” by Dr. Eric Lasser, Fred Borden, and Jeri Edwards)