Mental imagery and visualization key to success in sports

Over the years, Visualizing Birth has referred to a growing body of data within the field of sports psychology that has shown how visualization techniques are integral to success in sports. Many of these same techniques may be tapped in the broader context of physiological and physical transformations, including those that occur during the processes of labor and birth.This article on James Madison University’s swim team, the Dukes, explains details about how swimmers are using mental imagery and breathing techniques to succeed in their sport.

JMU swim & dive prepares for CAA championships

JMU swim & dive
JMU swim & dive is on its way to another success season behind the play of the dive team.Alyssa Antonio | The Breeze

The lights at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center in Christiansburg, Virginia, will be dimmed and the water will be sitting at rest Wednesday morning until 10 CAA teams jump in and compete for the top spot in the conference.

Going into the CAA Championship, the women’s swim and dive team knows it’s going to take more than individual performances to win them the title of champions. All season long, the Dukes pushed the togetherness of the team and repeatedly referred to themselves as “family.” Head Coach Dane Pedersen gave the job to the seniors this season to push that exact concept.

“The team dynamic is what we pride ourselves on, which is being a family,” Pedersen said. “It’s not difficult to follow them [seniors] because the example that they created is one that everyone relates to and one of the reason everybody came to JMU to begin with.”

 Finishing 7-2 overall and undefeated in the CAA, the Dukes dominated the regular season. It seemed becoming a tight unit and constantly cheering on other teammates from the pool deck was what was necessary to win meets. Senior Courtney Clarke was a prime leader of this mindset.

“This is your family, you’re swimming for everyone around you, it’s not about yourself at this point. It’s about JMU, and all of the girls cheering for you on the side of the pool deck,” Clarke said. “It’s not time to be selfish.”

With their family by their side, the Dukes are excited to enter into the competition with this exact mindset. Coaches and players have been emphasizing the fact that it’s going to take more than a physical force to win the title, especially when facing two-time defending champions William & Mary. Diving Coach John Wolsh and his six divers believe the mental process is key while preparing for meets.

“The visualization process is a crucial part of training,” Wolsh said. “It’s not just imagery. It’s controlling your breathing, controlling your psychology, controlling your attitude. That is a crucial part of the preparation.”

Similar preparation has worked for the Dukes in the past. The Dukes won the diving portion of the competition for the past six years with the exception of 2016. Freshman CAA Diver of the Week Emily Gross along with the rest of the divers are eager to continue this legacy.

“We talk about our desire to sweep. We want to sweep,” Gross said. “There are six divers . . . we want one through six. We want to keep that going.”

On the contrary, Pedersen realizes the importance on focusing solely on the Dukes’ performance. He doesn’t want titles to get in the way of the Dukes’ overall success.

“Our philosophy is always just to focus on purple because our great meet isn’t going influence what kind of meet they have,” Pedersen said.

JMU will face the rest of the CAA this week in hopes of moving up from their familiar second-place to claim their title for the first time since 2012. However, Pedersen will be happy with the outcome regardless.

“My message to them is don’t let someone else’s results determine our success or failures.” Pedersen said.

Contact Paige Ellenberger at For more swim and dive coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

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