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Developing Imagery skills

The aim of this page is to help you develop your imagery (visualisation) skills. We will look at the elements of imagery development and the creation of scripts to help in developing your imagery skills.

Imagery Categories

The five main categories of imagery have been identified as follows:

  1. Motivational-specific (MS) - This involves seeing yourself winning an event, receiving a trophy or medal and being congratulated by other athletes. MS imagery may boost motivation and effort during training and facilitate goal-setting, but is unlikely on its own to lead directly to improved performance
  2. Motivational general-mastery (MG-M) - This is based on seeing yourself coping in difficult circumstances and mastering challenging situations. It might include maintaining a positive focus while behind and then coming back to win. MG-M imagery appears to be important in developing expectations of success and self-confidence
  3. Motivational general-arousal (MG-A) - This is imagery that reflects feelings of relaxation, stress, anxiety or arousal in relation to sports competitions. There is good evidence to suggest that MG-A imagery can influence heart rate - one index of arousal - and can be employed as a 'psych-up' strategy
  4. Cognitive specific (CS) - This involves seeing yourself perform specific skills, such as a tennis serve, golf putt or triple-toe-loop in figure skating. If learning and performance are the desired outcomes, evidence suggests that CS imagery will be the most effective choice
  5. Cognitive general (CG) - This involves images of strategy and game plans related to a competitive event. Examples could include employing a serve-and-volley strategy in tennis or a quick-break play in basketball

Where do I start?

To be effective, like any skill, imagery needs to be developed and practiced regularly. There are four elements to mental imagery - Relaxation, Realism, Regularity and Reinforcement (The 4Rs) (Hale 1998)[1].


A relaxed mind and body are essential to help you feel the movement patterns and experience any emotions generated. It will help to use a relaxation technique prior to imagery training.


Create imagery so realistic you believe you are actually executing the skill. In order to obtain the most realistic imagery possible, you must incorporate definition, action, emotion, detail, and a positive result in your imagery:

  • Definition - Make the images as vivid as possible, include colour
  • Action - Break down the image into small components and visualise those components. (Sprinting - consider the action of the arms, legs, trunk, head, feet, hands, breathing etc.)
  • Emotion - Try to include emotional feelings in your images. Refresh your memory constantly by emphasising specific sensory awareness (e.g. smells, the wind) during training
  • Detail - Incorporate as many of your senses as possible into your imagery so the scene is as clear and realistic as real life itself
  • Positive result - This is essential, "you only achieve what you believe"


Spending between 3 and 5 minutes on imagery seems to be most effective. It should be included in training and time outside of training should be spent on imagery. (10-15 minutes a day)


The writing of imagery scripts will help you plan the content and timing of your imagery training.

Creating a Script

Basic picture

Document the basic content of the skill to be imagined. Describe how the skill is performed and include all components of the skill to be imagined or behaviours to be emphasised e.g. elbows are driven back with hands relaxed.

Adding details

Add the detailed movement patterns and kinesthetic feelings - e.g. the toe is dorsiflexed and a tightness felt in the muscles at the front of the shin

Refine the script

Read it to yourself and try to imagine executing the skill. Do you feel as if you are actually executing the skill correctly? If not, re-examine the text to see if they accurately reflect the sensations and movement patterns associated with the skill.

Tape it

When you have a suitable script then record it and use it as an aid for your imagery training.

Example - Squash Serve

Basic Story - Components: Body position, ball toss, impact, ball flight, and landing in the back corner

Adding detail - Seeing the racket in the hand, the black ball in the other hand, seeing the position of the opponent, looking at the point on the face wall where you will direct the serve.

  • feeling the relaxed shoulders and hands
  • feeling the racket grip in the hand
  • seeing the back ball nestled on the fingers in the hand
  • feeling the smooth release of the ball
  • feeling the body weight shift, the knees bend
  • feeling the power in the body
  • feeling the racket head accelerate
  • feeling the wrist snap and the sound of the racket making contact with the ball
  • watching the ball bounce off the face wall and land in the back corner of the opponent's side of the court making it impossible for the opponent to return
  • feeling the exhilaration and pleasure

Refine the script - Rewrite the script until when you read it, you feel as if you are executing the serve.


In designing your imagery program, apply the FITT principals, as we do with physical training

  • F is for Frequency - Aim to incorporate imagery into every day of your training schedule. For busy people, just before you sleep could be a good time, and it helps if you are in a relaxed and tranquil state
  • I is for Intensity - Try to create an all-sensory experience that is as vivid and clear as possible. Initially, practising in a quiet environment can help to minimise distractions and facilitate clear images
  • T is for Time - Imagery should make big demands on your attention, so short (5-10 minutes) frequent quality sessions are preferable to long ones
  • T is for Type - Remember to decide on your desired outcome and select the type of imagery to match it.


  1. HALE, B. (1998) Imagery Training. London: National Coaching Foundation

Related References

The following references provide additional information on this topic:

  • MURPHY, S. M. (1990) Models of imagery in sport psychology: A review. Journal of Mental Imagery
  • MURPHY, S. M. (1994) Imagery interventions in sport. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
  • HALL, C et al. (1985) The measurement of imagery ability. Human Movement Science, 4 (2), p. 107-118

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (1997) Developing Imagery skills [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

Related Pages

The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: