Imagery 101 for Athletes: How to Improve Your Performance With Mental Rehearsal

Dave Kearney
3 min readOct 27, 2022
Imagery practice using a recorded imagery session.

Let’s talk about imagery, and how it can be used to directly improve your performance in competition and in training.

What is imagery?

Imagery (sometimes called visualisation) is a mental training technique that has been shown to improve athletic performance across dozens of sports. It can be used to improve self-confidence, get psyched up, improve individual skills like shooting or passing, and memorise specific strategies and plays used by your team.

In imagery, you mentally rehearse an aspect of your skillset using a script that you have created. Very often it is written down or recorded as an audio you can listen back to. It’s one of the few ways to “get better without breaking a sweat” and is beneficial both when fully fit and when recovering from an injury.

Example of imagery use

Scoring in a penalty shootout is a battle that is fought firstly in your own mind. Even top professional athletes routinely succumb to the pressure when the stakes are high.

To prepare for such a high pressure competition scenario, an imagery script could be used to help prepare for such a kick.

This imagery script would help the athlete acclimatise to the pressure and noise in the stadium and help him/her become more relaxed and confident before shooting. The script might also end with the crowd celebrating after the successful kick and the celebration with teammates.

Can I find good imagery scripts online?

The best imagery scripts take into account who you are: your sport, position, level of experience, personal preferences and more. To achieve the full benefits of using imagery, you should create your own scripts, ideally with the help of a coach or sport psychologist who is familiar with the process.

Are there any risks to using imagery?

There is a risk to using imagery. Practicing with a bad script, just like practicing with a bad technique, can embed bad habits and reduce performance. You should be careful when developing a script. If possible, do it with a coach or sport psychologist who has experience creating and recording imagery scripts. Some athletes also prefer to listen to a coach’s voice rather than their own.

Considerations for an effective imagery script

To create an effective imagery script, start with What skill you want to improve and Why you want to focus on it. For example, do you want to improve a specific sport specific skill, or do you want to help alleviate pre-competition nerves, or is it something else?

Once you know this, decide where and when you will listen to your imagery script. Will you practice it each night before bed, or during training and competition, or at some other point in the day? Agreeing a regular schedule with yourself is a commitment to yourself to achieve the benefits of imagery.

Finally, write your personalised script based on Who you are and what you want the imagery script to achieve. The worksheet linked in the next section will help you write this.

Writing and recording your imagery script

This worksheet contains writing prompts and can be used as a starting point to write your script. Once it’s written, you might consider using Mindset sport psychology app (iPhone or Android) to record and play back your imagery scripts. Sport psychologists and coaches can also share imagery scripts with you using the same app.

Finally, if you fancy reading a bit deeper into the scientific literature around writing effective imagery scripts, try reading this research paper (it also contains a handy Who/What/Where/When/Why checklist to help prepare your script).



Dave Kearney

Making mental skills training based on sport psychology best practice a normal thing for all athletes