In a study that has become quite well known since it was published, psychologist Alan Richardson showed that visualisation (or mental rehearsal as it is more commonly referred to now, as it is thought that using all the senses produces better results) can improve performance nearly as well as physical practice. Briefly, the study was as follows:
Three groups of basketball players were tested to see how much they could improve their free throws
- The first group would practice free throws for 20 minutes a day
- The second group would only visualise themselves making free throws
- The third group was not allowed to practice or use visualisation
The third group didn’t improve at all. However, the group that was practising for 20 minutes each day improved 24%, whilst the group using visualisation improved 23% - almost as much as the guys actually physically practising. This was revolutionary stuff, and we now hear elite athletes talking about visualisation quite regularly as part of their preparation for big events.
How can normal sailors use mental rehearsal?
So what does it mean for lesser mortals, and particularly beginner sailors, club sailors and open circuit sailors? With time on the water at a premium, any improvements that can be made at times when it is not possible to actually go sailing can be crucial to improving performance on the water.
Mental rehearsal helps a lot in these circumstances. According to Mental and Physical Fitness for Sailing the key is to start building your mental rehearsal skills first, and gradually expand them. Once you have these skills (and it doesn’t take long to develop them to at least a basic level) you can start using them to improve a whole range of skills. Some possible uses for mental rehearsal include:
- Sailing at a new venue
- Sailing in big fleets
- Recovering from a mistake
- Becoming comfortable sailing at the front of the fleet
The list is long and varied, and once you’ve developed the skills you can use them in other areas of your life too.
Interestingly, a lot of us already kind of use mental rehearsal already. We think back over recent races, often replaying a mistake we have made, or a great move we used to gain a place. The important thing here is to make sure you use these replays positively. Going back over a mistake we have made only ‘rehearses’ that mistake, making it more likely to happen in the future. In order to improve using such a situation it is important to replay the lead up to the mistake, but to change the mistake itself. Instead, use mental rehearsal to imagine what you should have done to avoid the mistake, and replay that in your mind, as this will help you to avoid such mistakes in the future.
You can replay successful moments as much as you like – it will not only help ingrain these successes, but it also helps a lot with confidence and self-belief.
See these other posts for more help on using mental rehearsal to improve your sailing: