beginner’s guide to imagery

Psychological Skills

Many golfers want to know more about the psychological skill, imagery. And who would blame them. On multiple occasions, throughout the 2019 Masters at Augusta, references were made (from former players and coaches) outlining how the champion, Tiger Woods uses this psychological skill to help him execute his desired shot.

It is fair to say that imagery is one of the most commonly talked about psychological skills, and importantly, it is not a skill that is just accessible or useful for the tour player.

If this is a skill that enables Tiger to hit creative, consistent, and timely shots, then it is probably worth you taking some time to understand in more detail and taking steps to bring this into your golfing game. So, what is imagery? Are there different types or uses? And how do I develop my imagery ability? Are all questions that this short article aims to address.


What is imagery?

Imagery is a form of simulation (often comparable to a real sensory experience) that occurs within the mind. For this to be its most impactful, there is a need to incorporates as many senses as possible (for example, kinaesthetic or physical feel, visual, auditory or sound, tactile, and olfactory or smell) into your imagery. The way in which a golfer ‘images’ is highly individual, where individuals can take an internal or external perspective for viewing their imagery. Imagery ‘ability’ is something that can be training, practiced, and built. This skill is typically developed by a player (alongside a sport psychologist) creating and developing an imagery script to be rehearsed within training settings, to be used in training and competitive environments.


What can imagery be used for?

Golfers tend to use imagery for a variety of reasons and this psychological skill has a range of applications are uses. For example, standing behind your tee shot, tracing your ideal or intended target and/or start line. At a motivational level, this skill can help a golfer to acquire and practice correct skills or movements, to acquire and practice strategic skills, and even prepare for the demands of competition. At a more  specific level, imagery can increase concentration levels, enhance motivation levels, and be used for a golfer to solve problems. Finally, imagery can be tailored to specific areas of your game, and impact upon psychological ‘outcomes’, such as building confidence, controlling emotional responses, and coping with pain and/or injury.


Is perspective important?

As mentioned earlier, golfers can take an internal or external perspective for viewing their imagery. Internal perspectives refer to images of the execution of a skill from your own vantage point, or through your own eyes. The external perspective refers to a view similar to watching yourself from a 3rd person viewpoint. Having heard this described by a player I’ve worked with as ‘Sky Sports View’ this perspective has little emphasis on kinaesthetic feel.


Who uses imagery?

As mentioned in the introduction, this is a skill that Tiger uses to propel himself up (and maintain position on) the tournament leader board. Anecdotal evidence from athletes and coaches suggest that many use imagery on a regular basis, with some research studies suggesting that 90% of Olympians use it, with 97% finding it effective to be effective.


Are there different types imagery?

In short, yes. Often linked to you need (e.g. what you are wanting from the skill) or your intended outcome, at a basic level, imagery can either be considered as cognitive or motivational, and general or specific.  Different types of imagery can be broken down into 5 different areas – each with a different purpose and focus. Some example consist of the following:

  • Motivational Specific (MS) imagery involving the simulation of specific goals and behaviours.
  • Motivational General Arousal (MG-A) imagery  used to psych up or relax.
  • Motivational General Mastery (MG-M) imagery used to maintain confidence or enhance mental toughness.
  • Cognitive Specific (CS) imagery relating to the performance of specific motor skills.
  • Cognitive General (CG) imagery related to rehearsal of entire game plans and strategies.


How do you develop your imagery ability?

As with all other psychological skills, imagery is something that you can develop. This is a skill you can improve, maintain, and develop. It is also one that you can lose an ability to do well. With purposeful practice, and by following the stages below, imagery can become an integral part of your game.

Step 1 involves evaluating your current imagery ability. Step 2 requires you to create a training plan based upon the PETTLEP programme (a new blog article coming soon).Finally, at Step 3 you need to fit training and development into your typical golfing routine.


What should my imagery training plan imagery?

Researchers within the field of sport psychology (Holmes & Collins) suggest that by following a simple acronym (termed, PETTLEP) you can develop powerful and vivid imagery to support you in your quest for a better game. When creating an image, it’s important that you consider the PHYSICAL nature of the movement, the specific elements of the ENVIRONMENT, the type of TASK you are undertaking, the TIMING of your movement, LEARNING the content of the movement and the PERSPECTIVE of the person. The PETTLEP programme informs our future imagery article helping you to develop imagery scripts.


What should I do now?

This is not a skill that Tiger was born with. This is something he has developed over time, with appropriate practice and refinement to support his ability to play great golf.

Once you’ve got your head around the basics, look out for our future article ‘building an imagery script’ which provide you with a framework to follow to help you bring this to you game, whatever your level.

If you have any questions – get in touch!