Mental Imagery & Self-Confidence

Peter Mundy
Mental Imagery

This coping strategy involves athletes imagining ones self performing a specific activity. They should be performing the specific skill or activity perfectly. One must hear, feel, see, smell and perform as they would during real like participation of the specific skill or activity.

There are three different ways imagery works; psychoneuro-muscular theory imagery facilitates the motor skill learning because imagined events innervate the muscles as physical practice of the movement would.
Symbolic learning theory imagery functions as a coding system to help people acquire movement patterns. The imagery develops mental skills such as concentration and confidence. Psychological skill hypothesis prepares and programs the muscles for actual movement.

According to Brian Mackenzie mental imagery can be used to see success, one must first be able to see success mentally before one can see physical success. The benefits of mental imagery are it improves concentration, control of emotional responses, builds confidence and practice of sport specific skills.

There are two types of imagery; external and internal. Internal imagery is imagining the skill being executed from your own perspective, while external imagery is imagining the skill from a spectator’s perspective.

To incorporate imagery into our training programs we may apply the principle FITT;

F is for frequency – Aim to perform mental imagery every day of training. You may perform this just before you sleep or as you are waking up.

I is for intensity – Create an all sensory experience that is as clear as possible.

T is for time – Due to imagery consuming large amounts of concentration, small frequent sessions are recommended.

T is for type – Perform a desired skill, finishing with the desired outcome.


Self confidence is the belief that one can execute a given or desired sport specific skill. To exert maximal performance one must have optimal confidence, meaning you are convinced you can and will work to achieve your goals. However, if you have lack of confidence, anxiety is created and concentration is broken down. Or, if you have over confidence, not preparing for competition then performance can only be sub optimal. To achieve optimal confidence one must first have positive expectations, which should lead to positive results. The same applies to lack and over confidence, as generally what you expect may happen.

Self confidence improves concentration, increases effort and positive arousal.
To promote self confidence one must first set goals using the “SMARTER” principle.

S - Goals must be Specific
M - Training targets should be Measurable
A - Goals should be Adjustable
R - Goals must be Realistic
T - Training targets should be Time based
E - Goals should be challenging and Exciting
R - Goals should be Recorded

Applying the methods to free throw shooting

To promote internal mental imagery you may use a passage similar to the below:

Placing my feet on the line, the ball is in my hands. The ball is rebounding against the smooth wooden floor as I bounce it in preparation. Glaring at the target, the back of the rim, breathing slowly through my nose and out through my mouth. Positioning the ball in my hands, feeling my knees bend. Now my body is rising, my arms are fully extending and releasing the ball with the flick of my wrist. Watching the ball as it falls in the back of the rim, swish, perfect.

The coach may also like to evaluate the athlete’s free throw shooting ability then individualize, depending on different variables such as ability, a free throw shooting program using the SMARTER principle to promote self confidence.

S – Score X amount of free throws during training out of X amount.
M – Recording how many shots taken and how many scored.
A – Shoot more or less free throws if necessary
R – Shoot a realistic number, but gradually increase over time as confidence and skill increases.
T – Within X amount of weeks improve free throw shooting % by X amount.
E – Make amount of shots realistic but challenging
R – Record each training session onto paper

As time progresses, you or the coach should start to record and evaluate progress on the free throw shooting during in game situations. This will help to re asses goals using the SMARTER self belief plan.

The two coping strategies go hand in hand, as with psychological belief from mental imagery one can perform at optimal levels. While on the other hand self belief can be incorporated into actual practice of the sport specific skill.

The mental imagery will help athletes to improve confidence during pressure situations. As once something is fine tuned in the head, it can only be used positively during actual action. Self belief on the other hand, along with the SMARTER goal plan, can be used to effectively set an achievable short term goal. Once this goal is achieved the athlete’s self belief will start to increase.

Mental imagery can be used to help achieve goals during the self belief program. As if one is seeing and doing, while achieving in both then confidence and ability during stress situations can only be improved.

i love this article man

Awesome post Peter ! I like your writing !

Very interesting stuff, it works.

From my Hypnosis hobby I have found the power of the imagination to be a powerful tool. However, making it work with athletes can be a struggle. But when you have a training group with qualified older athletes I believe that the younger athletes develop quicker because they are exposed to “good practice” repeatidly - e.g. mental (reality) imagery. Only problem is that I find the younger athletes often pick up the flaws of the more qualified athletes. This is why perfect mental practice can be such a powerful tool. If you can get it to work.


It reminds me of the Borzov story and his hypnosis “training”…

Valeri Filippovich Borzov the russian?

Not sure about the one in the middle, but yes, the other two are correct.
Do you know the story?

Nope… But hopefully this is now ten characters and you will tell me. :smiley:

Cool article, alot said can easily be applied to all aspects of life.