For athletes, one key area which is important to them is improvement. They are always looking for something that poses as a weakness to them in order for them to enhance their performance and in turn make them better athletes. Kosslyn, Thompson & Ganis, (2006) describe how during the timeframe of a century, many researchers have attempted to investigate and analyse the construction behind mental imagery where with the absence of sensory input appropriately, “we can represent perceptual information in our minds”. Watt, Spittle and Morris (2002) defined imagery use as the manner in which people imagine themselves in ways that can lead to learning and developing skills and can facilitate performance of those skills. Alongside this, imagery can be a factor that decreases anxiety which enhances self confidence and concentration (Post and Wrisberg, 2012). Both self confidence and concentration are important elements within sport that all athletes need to work on early in their career. Ultimately by concentrating well, an athlete takes in the information necessary to make good decisions, such as responding to an opponent or adapting to the environment. Athletes who concentrate well, make good decisions within a competitive environment and develop overall self-confidence. The confidence an individual feels during a particular activity or situation is generally derived from one or more of the following six elements; performance accomplishments, being involved with the success of others, verbal persuasion, imagery experiences, physiological states and/or emotional states.
The well known football manager Alex Ferguson stated, “without question, at the top level, concentration is a big part of a players game – whether they’re a keeper or outfield” (Northcroft, 2009, p.12). Ferguson has a very successful background with both being a player and winning numerous titles and trophies at the professional football club, Manchester United. With his status being so high, it shows the various range of concentration levels he has witnessed. Mirrored with the quote from Alex Ferguson, Petr Cech describes “everything is about concentration” (Szeczepanik, 2005, p.100). These quotes provide knowledge for how important concentration is in sport, but more specifically football as they are both professionals in the field.
Moran, (2009) describes that a crucial way for sport performance to become successful, athlete’s need to be able to ignore distractions whilst using concentration to focus on the task at hand. Psychologists understand that attention is focused on information which is irrelevant to the task at hand, meaning the “concentration is never really lost”, rather directed elsewhere (Moran, 2012, p.147). It is important when the concentration gets directed elsewhere to focus upon using positive emotions to try and get back to a level state within performance. There are a wide range of variables that can affect the attention of athlete’s, a main cause could be anxiety. Emotions such as anxiety are described by McCarthy, Allen and Jones, (2012) as a distraction to athlete’s coming from irrelevant thoughts. The result of becoming an anxious individual, shows that the performance is more likely to be lower from the Attentional Control Theory (ACT; Eysenck & Derakshan, 2011).
Distraction training aims to replicate a certain situation in order for an athlete to practice to transfer into a real-life situation in this instance, sport. Maynard, Warwick-Evans and Smith, (1995), proposes that by simulating practice conditions, real-life situations will become more effective for athletes’ concentration levels. Smith, (2002), used an example with the international football team of Mexico, where the coach, Javier Aguirre, practiced penalties leading up to a tournament and analysed “there will always be noise and that is the best way to practice”. By using distraction training, it aims to provide various distractions to athletes in order to train the mind to deal with the same situations in games. Theory describes that practicing in the same way you play, provides automaticity allowing the athlete to not have to think about the execution of the skill or movement whilst in a game day environment.
Despite the benefits of this technique, Moran, (2004) critiques the area by explaining we cannot fully prepare the athlete in competitive situations as we cannot replicate exact arousal levels. Ronan O’Gara, a rugby out-half, describes, “it’s completely different in a match where my heartbeat is probably 115 beats a minute whereas in training its about 90-100” (Fanning, 2002). Within this training technique, replicating the crowd, opponents and situations are relatively easy to do, although to be able to replicate the emotional feelings toward a game situation is almost impossible.
Alongside distraction training, imagery could be implemented as it is known as a widely used mental training technique, which has been proven to be beneficial to athletes. For athlete’s to become aware and gauge their ideal performance state, they should use the technique imagery.
To work on ‘imagery’ within sport, Holmes and Collins (2001) developed a model of motor imagery which uses an acronym; PETTLEP. The acronym is broken down to be described as; Physical, Environment, Task, Timing, Learning, Emotion and Perspective. It is proposed that in order to use this model efficiently, the devised intervention should aim to simulate exact situations with “relevant movements and their subsequent emotional impact”. The seven areas described can be adapted to use in various aspects of sport, but again should be used to simulate exact areas which occur within the certain environment. Using a game situation as the outcome can allow for the PETTLEP model to be devised to work on the areas within training to become an automatic response for the athletes. Much research around the area of the model has proved to be highly successful and valuable within different settings. Imagery interventions have been used in sport in order to enhance technical skills (Wakefield & Smith, 2009) and to work on the improvement of strength within performance (Wright & Smith, 2009; Wakefield & Smith, 2011).