'Visualization' Makes Athletes Better


January 06, 1991|By Pat O'Malley

You don't hear or read much about it, but visualization is something that can turn the ordinary athlete into a great athlete.

Maybe you don't know what I'm talking about, so let me explain and tell you that it is a well-kept secret in sports circles, but it really does work.

Listening to the impressive Raghib "Rocket" Ismail of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in an interview on ESPN, I began to wonder why we don't hear more about visualization, which is actually psycho-cybernetics, and its relationship to sports.

The Rocket really has gotten into it the last couple of years through the urging of his brother and family doctor. Ismail is a game-breaker, returning kicks and punts or catching a pass out in the flat, and apparently he has seen some of his electrifying runs before they happened.

"In visualization, you see things before they happen and you see things in a positive way," said the Rocket on ESPN. "I've visualized a certain play, and all of a sudden it's deja vu out on the field.

"It's just something you have to discipline yourself to doing. Coach (Lou) Holtz does it all the time and has accomplished most of his lifetime goals by visualization. It's hard for people to get into, but it's a tremendous thing once you do."

The interview really got me thinking because it's something I've always done while coaching and playing, but never really thought about it having a name. I wondered how many coaches and players are into it and whether they believe in it.

Several I talked to said the practice is widespread, and it is worth trying.

John Brady, the successful Annapolis head basketball coach who led his Panthers to the state 4A championship last year, believes in it.

"The idea is that your mind is like a computer and sees something happen before it actually does," said Brady. "Golfers, especially Jack Nicklaus, have used it for years, and they probably have used itmore than any other sport. Nicklaus will see a shot take off and where it's going to land in his mind, then do it."

Stan Kellner, a nationally known sports psychologist, runs a camp on psycho-cybernetics and stresses how important it is to visualize a shot. He recently produced a videotape entitled, "Yes, I Can."

The tape deals with what Kellner refers to as "the ultimate shooting method," and that includes visualization.

Brady often talks to his players about it and is convinced that visualization has helped many a player improve his free-throw percentage.

"It's been proven by Kellner and others that those who visualize making a certain number of free throws each day at practice make more than the player who doesn't," said Brady. "A few of my players use it."

Among those who do are two of Brady's top shooters in senior Dennis Edwards, who leads the metro area in scoring with his 35 points-per-game average, and junior Rob Wooster, who delivers three-point shots with great regularity.

"I use itsometimes because it keeps me thinking positive," said Edwards, who owns a 50-point night, two shy of the county record of 52 set by GlenBurnie grad Mike Thibeault last year.

"Sometimes I think about how many points I'm going to get in a game, and the night I hit 50, I was thinking 40 or more going in."

It's a matter of the athlete setting a specific goal and convincing himself he will reach it. And what makes it convincing is if the athlete can see the goal being played out in his head.

"I can see myself doing certain things in certain situations before they happen," said Wooster, who plays four different positions for the Panthers and tries to see himself in the various situations before Brady puts him in them.

"Yeah, I do because I have an idea what Mr. Brady is going to do and what he wants. I also occasionally see myself hitting a three-pointer before it happens."

With that shot fixed in his head, Wooster just physically replays it when he gets the ball. It works because the mind is conditioned to carrying it out just like a computer.

Brady uses it occasionally when he's coaching, but as he said, "It's the individual who has to do it. I can't visualize somebody else doing it."

I beg to differ with Brady on that because often over the years when I have coached, I've visualized a certain guy making that big play to win the game, and it has worked.

One of the best examples is when I was coaching baseball at Loyola High back in the '70s and had the pleasure of coaching a superb athlete named Mark Poehlman. Poehlman, who went on to become an All-American outfielder at the University of Maryland, was one of those guys who knew how to win ballgames.

This particular day at Blakefield in Towson, we were playing Southern of Baltimore and their flame-throwing right-hander Weldon Lester Swift was sticking it to us with a 2-0 shutout on a one-hitter through six innings. The winner would go to the Maryland Scholastic Association playoffs.

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