A little over 10 years ago, my father became an amputee(because of a bad circumstance) losing the part of his left leg below the knee. Besides taking advantage of ordering us around a bit(I’m joking pops…only if you’re reading), he mentioned that he still felt pains and itches in the foot that wasn’t there any longer.

How can that be? Then I found the culprit. It is a “medical term” called the phantom limb phenomena. Put as simply as I can…it seems that the sensory receptors that connect the brain to the limb, although cut off by the amputation, still remembers an active pattern.

To be straightforward, at our core make-up, we are electrical beings.

I know you have heard of muscle memory. A quick example is you learning to walk. Well, the muscle remembers what to do because an electrical pattern, originating from your brain patterned it. This is why some people with brain injuries have to learn to walk all over again.

What does this have to do with skill development??? I’m glad you asked!

No matter how “great” a talent you come into your athletic program with, I promise you, you still have bad skill actions that need to be reprogrammed and/or developed better. The only way of getting to a place where you are doing the correct action automatically is to practice consistently.

Internationally recognized speed and movement coach Loren Seagrave, founder of Velocity Sports Performance and Director of Speed and Movement at IMG, highlighted how long it would take to reprogram an action until it’s automatic, saying,

“It takes 500 hours to reprogram a motor pattern….you can’t possibly train that much”.

You can try to physically practice that length of time on a particular movement or… you can also implement this technique – visualization/imagery to speed up the process.

What the neurosciences have found out is that just imagining doing an action fires the actual electrical patterns that would fire if you were doing it for real.

What does that mean?

It means that your muscles can begin to record the pattern required of them at the “speed of thought”. To the lazy athletes: know that this technique will never and can never take the place of actual practice. Do not use this post to say to coach, “Hey coach, I know you set up our practice time but I’ll be ‘thinking’ practice in my room today thanks.

Here are two tips for getting started and getting the most out of the imagery technique:

Because we know that thought triggers an electrical pattern, it’s ideal to not have any distractions that can interrupt the pattern you are trying to solidify. This is not an easy practice for those who are afraid of silence and relaxation, but it is worth it. Pick a quiet place, sit down and relax.

2) Control
When you are visualizing try to be able to control the imagery. You should already know what action you want to visualize and the correct way of doing it. From the correct understanding of how it is done, control the imagined action with your mind.

I know it sounds simple, but believe me, it works. It leaves you with a sense of competence and confidence about performing. But for some it is difficult and not a favorite thing to do. As far as you trying it out. You decide.

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