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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Sports Visualizations

This article was written by Keith Randolph on May 15, 2002
posted under Creative Visualization

Visualization plays a key role in the successes of many great athletes. Most obviously, of course, visualization in-creases confidence and motivation. Less obviously, it affects and sharpens players’ muscles.

This was discovered by physiologist Edmund Jacobson when he had subjects visualize certain athletic activities. Through the use of sensitive detection instruments, he discovered subtle but very real movements in the muscles that corresponded to the movement the muscles would make if they were really performing the imagined activity.

Further research revealed that a person who consistently visualizes a certain physical skill develops "muscle memory" which helps him when he physically engages in the activity. A related study by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson confirmed the reality of the phenomenon.

Richardson chose three groups of students at random. None had ever practiced visualization. The first group practiced free throws every day for twentieth days. The second made free throws on the first day and the twentieth day, as did the third group. But members of the third group spent 20 minutes every day visualizing free throws. If they "missed," they "practiced" getting the next shot right.

On the twentieth day Richardson measured the percentage of improvement in each group. The group that practiced daily improved 24 percent. The second group, unsurprisingly, improved not at all. The third group, which had physically practiced no more than the second, did twenty-three percent better—almost as well as the first group!

In his paper on the experiment, published in Research Quarterly, Richardson wrote that the most effective visualization occurs when the visualizer feels and sees what he is doing. In other words, the visualizers in the basketball experiment "felt" the ball in their hands and "heard" it bounce, in addition to "seeing" it go through the hoop.

A Psychic Edge?

As in other activities drawing on the power of visualization, sports feats are sometimes assisted by paranormal aspects of the mind. Parapsychologist Rhea A. White, for example, is convinced that the best athletes have what she calls a ‘’psychic edge." Their intense concentration/visualization of what they seek to do brings psychokinesis into the equation.

Jack Nicklaus, the great golfer, says that "will power is what separates the great athlete from the average to mediocre athlete." He points to his celebrated colleague Arnold Palmer who, when putting, would "see" the ball go into the hole and "will" it there. Ben Hogan, another major figure in golf history, said once that if he concentrated hard enough on where he wanted the ball to go he could put it there.

The controversial Israeli psychic Uri Geller claims that as a teenager he spent hours shooting baskets and he writes in his autobiography, "It intrigued me that, when the ball rolled anywhere on the rim, it would inevitably drop in if I concentrated on it; it would also seem to vary slightly in its course if I concentrated … "

In football, New York Giants tight end Gary Ballman tells how he came to make an impossible catch. Another player had thrown the ball to him but had overthrown it badly; there was no way he could possibly retrieve it. But Ballman wanted the football so much that he imagined it slowing in its flight and dropping into his hands. To his utter astonishment, that is precisely what happened. "It was a strange feeling, I’ll tell you," he said.

These kinds of odd events are hardly uncommon. White, a sports fan who has conducted an extensive investigation of the phenomenon of PK in athletic contests, says:

Competitive sports demand a great deal of the participating athletes. They must be strongly motivated, employ intense concentration yet remain relaxed, visualize their targets and drive themselves beyond the normal limitations of their muscles. It shouldn’t seem strange, then, that some of these athletes, as they psyche themselves up to this extra mental and physical output, are using PK.

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