Imagery is a great tool for improving sports performance and its use and benefits have been well documented. However it is thought that the weaknesses of imagery can limit the extent to which it is useful i.e. not all athletes have the ability to image successfully. Therefore it is suggested that the use of observation may be more beneficial to the athlete as it overcomes many of the problems associated with imagery. Observation simply involves videoing the performer in action, being successful in the skills associated with their sport and replaying this to them whenever they require it. The idea is that this should produce more kinesthesis. Kinesthesis allows you to actually generate some feeling with the movements you are seeing in front of you and therefore this is thought to be more beneficial to performance.
Here comes the science! Research conducted by Grezes et al (2001) suggests that motor imagery shares anatomical substrates with overt behaviour and engages motor cortical areas in similar ways to actual performance. The cortex reorganizes its effective local connections and responses following peripheral or central alterations of inputs and in response to behaviour (Buonomano and Merzenich, 1998). If motor imagery and observation accesses these same anatomical substrates then it would seem that it too can affect the organisation of the cortex and by imaging a movement continuously can change the allocation of the cortical area almost in the same way as physical practice.
Although there are many types of imagery research seems to support visual motor imagery. During visual motor imagery the participant sees him/herself or another performing the movement as from a distance (third person perspective) (Mulder, 2007). Therefore the use of kinesthetic imagery to improve subsequent performances would seem to be supported and will have great implications for future sport psychology interventions. From this the sport psychologist has to realise it is not enough for the athlete to just see the action happening but it is just as important to feel the action and it is this sense of feel or kinesthesis that will positively affect future performances. The use of video would ensure that you as the coach have control over what the athlete is seeing and also should be more successful as an intervention tool if it generates the kinesthesis required. There are many benefits of observation over imagery and these will be discussed in a future article.