Visualization can be a game changer for athletes.

Unfortunately, most athletes are not consistently nor effectively using this simple but powerful strategy.

The problem is you either don’t realize the impact or you don’t know exactly what you should be doing.

The good news – that changes today.

The Power of Your Mind

There is an abundance of research highlighting the positive effects of visualization, but the story of Major James Nesmeth is by far the most compelling:

Major Nesmeth was an average American golfer and generally shot in the 90’s.

However, his golf game was put on hold as he left for the Vietnam war.

Unfortunately things took a dark turn, as he was captured and became a prisoner of war. He was imprisoned in a small cage, 4.5 ft long and 5 ft tall – preventing him from standing or doing any physical activity.

As you can imagine the conditions were less than ideal and took an incredible toll on his body and mind.

At first, he just sat there and hoped he would be saved. But eventually he needed to do something with his mind to help dissociate from where he was and prevent his spirit from being completely depleted.

So, he started visualizing playing 18 holes, and often 36 holes of golf at his favorite course. He would close his eyes and vividly imagine walking through each hole and playing every shot out in his mind.

The more he practiced visualizing, the more real the sights, the sounds, and the feeling of playing became. It was like he was literally there playing.

This went on for 7 years!

This in and of itself is an amazing feat to survive for that long under those conditions.

But the best part was after being released and coming home – all he wanted to do was go play golf at his favorite course.

Of course, he took a week or so to get some proper food in him and get adjusted back to life at home.

Then without actually swinging a real club in over 7 years, he plays his first round.

He shoots a 74 – his best round ever and gets a hole in one!

*Note this is based on a real person, but the story has been told so many times and is all over the internet with different variations.

That is the power of your mind.

By consistently mentally rehearsing, you can improve your performance without actual in-person practice.

We see this effect with athletes returning from injury. They come back better than before they were injured – because they lean into consistent and effective visualization.

To be clear, you will get the best benefits by combining visualization with actual practice.

Here are the 5 key to effective visualization:

1. Vividness

This is all about the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and even taste. In addition, you need to tap into how you want to feel emotionally when you play your sport.

You want to visualize from a first person point of view and in real time. You are trying to make it feel as close as possible to you actually being there and playing your sport.

The realer it feels, the better.

Visualization itself is a skill you will get better at with practice.

It also might be better for you to focus more on the sounds and physical feeling than the visual images.

Regardless, don’t make the mistake of over focusing on what you are doing and not how you want to emotionally feel while you do it.

2. Prepare for Stress

One of the secret weapons of visualization is to actually prepare for potential distractions or stressors – like pressure or adversity.

This is what Todd Herman calls the “positive power of a negative script”. It is more formally known as coping planning – where you plan how you will respond to stressful situations.

Simply put, you want to visualize a situation where you might start to feel frustrated, anxious, or distracted, but you are able to quickly reset, get centered, and move forward.

This does not mean you visualize yourself making a mistake or a bunch of negative things happening, it’s about the moments after. It is your response when you feel yourself being pulled away from the zone or your intended mental state.

By mentally rehearsing for these potential stressful situations, you will be well prepared to respond effectively when they do arise.

This can be the difference in:

  • Getting derailed by adversity vs bouncing back
  • Choking under pressure vs performing at your best
  • Losing control of your emotions vs staying composed

3. Do + Feel = Process

The fundamental idea of visualization is to imagine how you want to show up and play.

Unfortunately, most athletes focus too much on what they want to do and the results, and they miss how they want to feel while they do it.

The majority of your visualization should be about the process, not the results.

It is all about what you do and how you do it that leads to the results. You can and should visualize the intended results, but the benefit is in rehearsing the process.

The process is made of two key components: your actions and your emotions. In other words, what you do and how you feel while you do it.

Mentally rehearsing the way you want to feel is the most important part.

If you do visualization of yourself making a play and achieving a result without any emotion – you will be just going through the motions and missing a key ingredient.

But when you fill your visualization with how you want to feel while making that play, now you are tapping into the full power of your mind.

Think of it this way, you might not do the play exactly as you visualize, but you will want to feel exactly as you visualized. The mental state comes first, the actions comes second.

4. Consistency

Another major mistake athletes make is only doing visualization on game days.

If you only visualize two times per week you are missing out on the massive benefits of the compound effect.

It’s like going to the gym to get stronger twice a week versus five times – the difference is huge over time.

I recommend you visualize 4 to 6 times per week for 5-10 minutes per day while you are in season or approaching an upcoming competition.

This consistent visualization will benefit your practice habits, but it also helps you stop putting games on pedestal.

When your mental preparation for games is much greater than practice, you are making them bigger than what they are.

Although practices and games are different, they are more similar than you think. Whether it is a practice or a game your job is to play with confidence, learn from your mistakes, and keep moving forward.

By mentally rehearsing on both practice and game days it will help you keep perspective and perform under pressure.

5. Setup & Timing

High quality and vivid visualization is a mentally demanding task.

This is why it is recommended to only visualize for 5 to 10 minutes per day.

Similarly, you want to be mindful of the setup and timing to ensure optimal results.

A common mistake athletes make is doing their visualization laying down in bed before they go to sleep. This can work for some and it might spill into dreaming about it, but the problem is you will likely be too tired, the quality will suffer, and you might fall asleep without even finishing.

Instead, you want to find a time that works for you. It could be in the mornings or closer to your practice or game – pick a time when you are mentally fresh and that works for you, then stick to it.

I recommend 3 hours to 30 mins before your practice or game.

Two setup tips to consider are finding a quiet place and getting into a comfortable position. You could listen to music during the visualization if it helps, but we recommend not to so your full attention is on the task at hand. Secondly, most athletes sit up straight while doing their visualization, but you could lay down – just don’t fall asleep.

An important piece to optimize your visualization is creating a script. Here is the general template of the scripts we use with our 1-on-1 clients:

STEP 1: Take 3 deep breaths.

STEP 2: Reconnect to your why – going back to when you first fell in love with your sport.

STEP 3: Coping planning – key #2 from above where you prepare for 3 potentially stressful events and how you will respond.

STEP 4: Action planning – key #3 from above where you review your process on key plays you want to make (this is the majority of the visualization).

STEP 5: Past success – if you have previous success you can relive some of the key moments to reinforce what you are capable of doing.

STEP 6: Take 3 deep breaths.

Some athletes enjoy listening to a visualization recording. This walks you through the different steps and gives you prompts to keep you on task.

We have pre-recorded visualization scripts for hockey forwards, defense, and goalies. We will be adding to this library for other sports – so if you want one for your sport send us an email at


In summary, follow these 5 keys for effective visualization:

  1. Make it Vivid
  2. Prepare for Stress
  3. Do + Feel = Process
  4. Consistency – 4 to 6 Times per Week
  5. Create a Personalized Script and a Routine that Works for You

I hope you found this helpful – please share it with anyone you think would be interested.

If you’d like help creating your personalized imagery script or a personalized recording to listen to like we do with our 1-on-1 clients, then just click the button below to get started.