How Mental Preparation Influences Athletic Performance

An athlete deep in concentration, highlighting the vital role of mental preparation and visualization in enhancing sports performance.

The intricate connection between the mind and body has been a topic of interest and research for centuries. In the realm of sports, the role of mental preparation has often been overshadowed by physical training. However, emerging research suggests that the two are intertwined, and mental preparedness can significantly impact athletic performance. One groundbreaking study conducted by Vealey and Greenleaf titled “Seeing Is Believing: Understanding and Using Imagery in Sports” delves deep into this subject. But does mental imagery truly influence athletic execution? Let’s find out.

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Unveiling the Study: Mental Training and Motor Performance

The research aimed to discern whether mental training of motor performance holds any merit in the learning process of tennis and field hockey strokes, specifically the forehand, backhand, push pass, and hit strokes. Engaging 24 male novice players in tennis and field hockey, the study was meticulous in its approach, dividing the participants into two groups: an experimental group and a control group.

Conducted at the Faculty of Physical Education for Men, Alexandria University, Egypt, the participants aged between 19 to 20 years. The experimental group underwent 16 sessions spanning over six weeks, with each session lasting 40 minutes. These sessions encompassed specific mental training exercises such as relaxation, visualization, and concentration-attention control that correlated to the specific strokes in tennis and field hockey.

The Methodology

Before and after the intervention, two measurement waves were carried out. These employed motor assessment tests pertinent to tennis and field hockey, evaluating each participant’s technique. Alongside, questionnaires were utilized to measure the proficiency in visualization and concentration-attention control.

Results and Revelations

The findings of the study were quite illuminating:

  1. Significant Improvements: The experimental group showcased a highly significant advancement in learning the forehand and backhand strokes in tennis and the push pass stroke in field hockey.
  2. The Exception: Interestingly, the hit stroke in field hockey did not exhibit any statistical difference in performance.
  3. Enhanced Concentration and Visualization: The initial and final measurements drew attention to a notable difference in the participants’ ability to concentrate and visualize, with the results revealing a reliability value of 0.780 for the tool used.

Mental Training: A Necessity, Not Just an Add-On

Drawing insights from the study, it becomes evident that a blend of mental and practical training augments performance and learning in sports. When athletes mentally visualize their moves, they not only reinforce motor pathways but also build confidence, enhancing their overall performance.

The Takeaway for Athletes and Coaches

  1. Holistic Training: Both mental and physical training should be integral components of an athlete’s regimen. The mind plays as pivotal a role as the body in sports.
  2. Visualization: Encouraging athletes to visualize their actions can lead to better motor learning and improved confidence.
  3. Concentration and Attention: Building an athlete’s ability to concentrate can significantly augment their performance on the field or court.

In Conclusion

The profound study by Vealey and Greenleaf shines a light on the invaluable role of mental preparation in sports. Whether you’re an aspiring athlete, a seasoned player, or a coach, understanding and implementing mental training can be the key to unlocking unmatched potential and achieving peak performance. As the saying goes, “It’s not just about the physical skills but also the mental game.”


Vealey, R. S., & Greenleaf, C. (2006). Seeing Is Believing: Understanding and Using Imagery in Sports. In J. M. Williams (Ed.), Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance (pp. 306-348). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Photo by John Torcasio on Unsplash

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