The Power of Imagery

01 Sep 2023
3 min read
Author – Vedika Jogani

A recent graduate from Ithaca College with a Master’s degree in Sports and Exercise Science, specializing in Mental Performance, Vedika is OMP’s Product and Content Manager. During her studies, Vedika worked closely with Ithaca’s Men’s and Women’s Tennis Teams and Women’s Volleyball Team as their Mental Performance Consultant. Vedika is currently completing her Certified Mental Performance Consultant Certification.

Imagery stands as a powerful tool for elevating athletic performance. It is a psychological tool that is used by athletes through training, competition and injury rehabilitation. Many athletes have used imagery as part of their training.  

One of the greatest athletes of all time, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt has spoken about using imagery before races.  
“I used to visualize every race before I ran,” he said.

“I would imagine the race and think about how I would run it.”  

Usain Bolt

Another sporting great, boxer Muhammad Ali similarly used imagery before many of his bouts. “I used to visualize the mat and the opponents and the moves I wanted to use,” he said.  

Sport Psychologists and Mental Performance Consultants often use the PETTLEP model of imagery put forth by Holmes and Collins (2001) when introducing athletes to imagery. 

This acronym encompasses a comprehensive 7-point framework that serves as a guide to carry out imagery.  Each letter of the PETTLEP model encapsulates a pivotal facet.  

P: Physical

This is arguably one of the most important components of the PETTLEP model. To get the most out of the imagery experience, the imagery instructions should be loaded with the performer’s real time physiological responses. For example, wearing the same clothes as during a performance or holding any associated implements like a tennis racquet or a golf club.  

E: Environment

This relates to the place where imagery is performed. The PETTLEP model suggests that this should be as similar to the performance environment. Imagery has been found to be most effective when the imagery script mirrors the actual performance environment. Many athletes find the use of video and audio to be useful in aiding mental simulation of the venue.  

T: Task

The content of the imagery should be appropriate to the skill level and personal preferences of the athlete. This means that the content of the imagery should be specific to each performer.  

T: Timing

This refers to the speed at which the imagery is completed. The model suggests that athletes perform the imagery in ‘real time’ as the performance.  

L: Learning

This emphasizes that the content of the imagery should be adapted in response to learning. This means that when the content of the imagery should be adapted with learning. For example, changes in physical condition, skill level and physical fitness should be incorporated into the imagery content.  

E: Emotion

Sport performance is an emotionally heavy experience and therefore, including realistic emotions in the imagery makes the imagery much more real which will lead to a more vivid imagery experience.  

P: Perspective

This is dependent on the athletes’ individual preferences. Some athletes prefer a first-person experience (through the eyes of a performer) while the others prefer a third person experience (viewing oneself through video/film). The imagery experience should be catered to the athletes’ individual needs.  

Leveraging the PETTLEP model for imagery empowers athletes to unlock their full potential. This approach has been proven to amplify performance efficacy, making it an integral tool in an athlete’s pre-performance routine.  

Holmes, P. S., & Collins, D. J. (2001). The PETTLEP approach to motor imagery: A functional equivalence model for sport psychologists. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 13, 60–83. 



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