Elite Performance Psychology – Mental Rehearsal and Visualization at the Olympics

shiffrin visual

Mikaela Shiffrin conducts mental rehearsals before her Olympic ski competition

If you have been watching the 2018 Winter Olympics you have probably noticed our Olympians hanging over their ski poles doing some strange fluid movements prior to their race.  These athletes are using mental rehearsal to get extra reps on the slopes and visualize successful performance.  Gold medal winner Mikaela Shiffrin uses elite performance psychology techniques to get an edge on the competition and quiet the noise in her head before a race so she can focus on the performance tasks that result in elite performance.

See Shiffrin talk about her pre-race mental preparation here.

Mental rehearsal is based on the concept of neural functional equivalence. Research has shown that the same brain activity occurs when we imagine doing a performance task as does when we actually perform the task.  The brain activates the neural networks that prepare the body for a specific performance action.  Conducting mental rehearsal prior to a performance event can prime the body for action and can be used between performance events to get more mental reps in the performance environment.

Visualization is a bit different.  Visualization in elite performance psychology is used to foster confidence and quiet negative self-talk.  Think of this as a personal highlight reel, you see yourself being successful, performing at a high level, crushing the competition.  Visualization can be particularly useful to short-circuit anxious thoughts or rumination that often spirals out of control after experiencing a setback.

There are several key concepts used in elite performance psychology to enhance mental rehearsal and visualization, not all methods are scientifically proven and take advantage of multiple performance systems to optimize the benefits and enhance performance.  If mental rehearsal and visualization is done incorrectly, it could actually degrade performance.  It is beyond the scope of this article to cover these concepts, be sure to find a qualified trainer that has the scientific background to conduct this training responsibly.

There is a reason why elite athletes and high-performing executives have personal coaches.  It takes expertise to assess performance strengths and weaknesses and develop evidence-based training to optimize performance at all levels.  Develop your cognitive skills, decision making, and poise under pressure with the TierOne Performance Consulting team or at the TierOne Performance Institute.  We offer state-of-the-art individual and program-based training to optimize elite athletic performance and executive coaching.  Also, checkout this YouTube clip on improving poise and mental toughness through distress tolerance training.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters.