A Research on Imagery Use in Team Sports

Subject: 💭 Psychology
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 13
Word count: 3512
Topics: 🔥 Motivation, Exercise, Physical Education, Teamwork
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This research will examine the use of imagery in team sporting. The purpose of this research is to examine how the individual and team sporting activities differ on the use of imagery. It seeks to analyze the use of imagery in team sporting. Group studies reveal that individual athletes have a higher kinaesthetic ability compared to team sporting athletes. This implies that there is a significant difference between the individual and team abilities in relation to imagery orientation. Imagery plays the role of motivating the team members by psyching them up. Research by (Whitehead & Basson, 2005), showed that the use of imagery works better among the national team athletes compared to the regional teams.  The research also focuses on the impact of weekly time involvement on sports and the imagery use and ability. It also focuses on explaining the relationship between the level of participation and imagery mastery. 


Imagery is widely used by coaches in training their players and athletes. It is considered a special psychological technique for training athletes. Imagery is a useful mental activity that is extensively used in training and during the actual competitions. Imagery motivates the competitors by arousing the specific goal-oriented behaviors (Whitehead & Basson, 2005). It also enhances mental rehearsal necessary for the development of skills and plays strategies. Individual mastery of imagery helps in determining the efficacy. Research shows that the athlete’s ability to master imagery is influenced by the physical activity of the sport. Trainers and practitioners identify the athlete’s ability to master imagery to ensure an effective training. Psychologists have identified the athletes’ difference in the mastery of imagery, the difference in performance based on specific imageries and the effectiveness of the mental imagery in relation to talking techniques (Whitehead & Basson, 2005).

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The purpose of the study is to examine the athletes’ imagery ability and use in both individual and group sporting activities and to identify the substantial differences existing between the two. The information provided by this research will help the trainers to design the best mental imagery programs that will enhance high physical performance. Imagery is defined as the mental or psychological activity that influences physical characteristics of a person. Mental imagery refers to the ability to represent in the mind activities or experiences that are physically absent. Imagery is one of the elements of cognitive skills of man that is essential in learning the physical skills. This research focus on the following hypothetical questions:

  1. Is there a relationship between imagery and sporting situation?
  2. Does imagery content affect the performance?
  3. There is a correlation between weekly performance, the level of sporting and imagery ability.


Participants: Participants of the research were selected from a university and high school sports clubs that had engaged in 20 different sports. The sample comprised of 130 different regional level athletes and 55 national athletes.

Measures: Score sheets were given to athletes to record their personal details that include their gender, sports interest, age, playing time and their weekly participation, and the highest level of participation. 

Sports Imagery Ability Measure (SIAM):  This method was used to measure the participants’ ability to master imagery. The participants were asked to give their images of a specific sport-related scene for a minute. After the sports imagery scene, the participants were asked to respond to 12 questions that assess the five imagery dimensions that include control, ease of imagery generation, duration, and vividness. The 12 items also focused on the involvement of six senses that include auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and visual senses and the participants’ emotional experience. 

The Sport Imagery Questionnaire (SIQ): The SIQ items were used to measure the functions of imagery. The cognitive specific imagery was used to rehearse the specific skills that facilitate mastery and motor skills performance. The cognitive General represent the imagery rehearsal for the entire game strategies. Research shows that imagery facilitates performance. When athletes try to imagine specific goals like being congratulated for the high performance they produced they register higher performance. Motivational general-mastery (MG-M) was found to improve confidence among the athletes by increasing the arousal level and decreasing anxiety arising from competition.


Participants demonstrated that the sport type influences the imagery ability. Research showed that individual participants used a higher kinaesthetic imagery compared to team athletes. Although the motivation arousal worked well among the individual players than the teams, both individual and team athletes use the imagery for arousal. Imagery plays the role of psyching the team members. 

On the level of participation, the second study examined the impact of imagery on team participation. The groups were divided into national level and local level team athletes. It was found out that national teams used a significantly higher visual imagery in comparison to local and regional athletes. This is was associated with the level of prestige and satisfaction of competing for the nation. It appears that the national athletes effectively use the visual ability. Results also indicated that the national athletes applied the motivation general-mastery compared to the regional teams. This finding suggests that the use of imagery differentiates the national from the local athletic teams.

On the effects of weekly participation in imagery use and ability, the groups were divided into a low weekly training group (LWT) which consisted of athletic groups that trained for less than ten hours per week. The second group was made up of the high weekly training group (HWT) that consisted of those who trained for fourteen hours and above per week. The research found out that there was an insignificant difference between the two groups. This implies that there is a minimal effect of imagery ability between the two groups and, therefore, the level of training has little influence on imagery ability.


The purpose of the research was to collect information on the imagery ability and use among team athletes. The findings are important for team athletes and their coaches because it will help them identify some ways of developing mental preparation for a particular sporting event. It also provides coaches with additional information on the individual differences in sporting imagery. The information collected may be used in designing imagery training programs for sporting. 

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The type of activity influence the imagery ability and imagery skills. In a situation where the event is communicated to the teams in advance, the teams have enough time to rehearse in a specific way. Most of the team performances involve a series of continually changing events that the body can only predict it partially. According to Whitehead & Basson, (2005 when team athletes master the skill of particular performance, the kinaesthetic imagery ability plays an insignificant role compared to that of the individual athlete. The research highlighted some knowledge concerning the recognition of individual differences that is necessary for imagery training. It is important to discuss the findings in relation to the functions of imagery, the use of imagery in sporting and the influence of practice on the mastery of imagery.

Imagery Functions in Team Sporting

Research by Guillot & Collet, (2008) shows that there is only one difference between team and individual players and this difference concerns the imagery ability. For instance, there is high kinaesthetic imagery ability among the team players than among the individuals. To understand the work of imagery in team sporting, it is important to analyze the theoretical models that demonstrate the relationship between imagery and physical performance. There are four basic theoretical models applied by sport psychologists to explain the relationship that exists between the physical performance and imagery. One of the theories is the psycho neuromuscular theory based on Carpenter’s work. The psychoneuromuscular theory proposes that the imagery promotes learning of motor skills due to the nature of neuromuscular patterns that are activated during the imagining process. The theory states that the neuromuscular impulses are identical to the actual physical activity and this result in the development of neural pathways that enhances motor learning. Although there is no specific motor activity that takes place during the imagining process, the nerve impulses increase the chances of correct muscle sequence making the movement execution easier. 

Several imagery studies support the Psychoneuromuscular theory. However, there are some concerns regarding the theory. Scholars have provided strong evidence against the theory’s insufficiency in explaining the imagined movement. Researchers Guillot & Collet, (2008) stated that the role of muscles couldnot be localized to the muscle groups of imagined movement. This evidence debunks the effectiveness of the theory in explaining the relationship between the sport performance and imagery. Although the psychoneuromuscular theory has a lot of concerns, the theory provides a detailed explanation of the underlying mechanisms of motor imagery.

The second theory that explains the functioning of imagery is the Symbolic learning theory. The symbolic learning theory traces the effects of mental imagery on performance to the operations in the central nervous systems. The theory was proposed by Sackett and infers that imagery allows the player to symbolize the required movement in the brain thus facilitating the physical performance. Imagery functions in the form of a coding system to aid understanding and regaining of movement patterns. 

Coding processes take place in the central nervous system, and their functioning does not incorporate the peripheral musculature. This implies that athletes have to learn skills by familiarizing themselves with the requirements for successful competition. The theory has demonstrated strong benefits to the trainers in its application. For instance, mental tasks that require large cognitive applications have led to greater gains in relation to motor tasks. A number of researches support the symbolic learning theory (Guillot & Collet, 2008). For instance, it has been proved that mental imagery effective in tasks that require high cognitive component. The early stages of learning are cognitive in nature, and this supports the descriptions of the symbolic learning theory. However, scholars argue that the theory should ensure a rigorous framework for it to function well in the future researches. Additionally, the theory does not effectively explain how the imagery works. 

The third theory is the bioinformational theory. The theory explains the imagery process by using the information-processing model. Its primary model is that the brain is precisely organized with definite descriptions of images and relationships, which are stored in long-term memory. For imagery to work effectively, the imaged situations and stimulus characteristics need to be activated. Modification of propositions affects the overt behavior. The bioinformational theory considers two types of propositions which include the stimulus propositions and response propositions. Stimulus propositions describe the specific characteristics of the imaged scene while the response proposition describes the behavioral outcomes that include physiological, cognitive and emotional responses to the imaged event. Research conducted by Smith et.al. (2001) on the imagery perspective of hockey concluded that the results support the use of bioinformational theory. However, there is a need for additional research on to test the effectiveness of the theory. The strength of the theory lies in its ability to provide a guide into imagery rehearsal. 

The fourth model on the relationship between imagery and physical performance is the activation-arousal theory. The theory states that imaging arises as a result of psychological activation and arousal. The theory is based on the work of Schmidt who proposed that imagery helps by providing a technique for close approximation of arousal. The model attributes self-regulation of optimal arousal and activation levels to mental imagery rehearsals. Studies support the arousal-activation theory. Researchers Gregg & Hall (2006) found out that athletes using positive images of the actual event were able to recall the task leading to a positive mood arousal. The major weakness of the theory is that it fails to explain how the arousal and attention are optimized by imagery. 

All the four theories support the idea that imagery can help in preparing team athletes both mentally and physically. Other theories that explain the relationship between the imagery and performance include the triple-code model, psychological skill hypothesis, and the psychological state hypothesis.

Using Imagery in Sporting

Mental practice is used during training and competition and often combines with physical practices that produce the greatest performance effects. Imagery in sporting is divided into internal and external.Internal imagery occurs when a person images the execution of a particular skill from their vintage point. External imagery on the other hand, occurs when a person views themselves from an external viewpoint. For example, when an athlete views himself or herself from a videotape. When applied and practiced systematically, any of the two types of imagery functions well in enhancing the physical skill (Shearer et.al, 2008).

A research by Gregg & Hall (2006) shows that imagery, as the motor skills, can be improved through regular rehearsal. There is need to assess imagery across the sensory modalities that may include auditory, tactile, Ol factor, kinaesthetic, visual, and gustatory senses. Imagery ability is measured before the start of the psychological program and is used as a guide for designing the mental practice project. A number of variables are used in assessing athletes’ imagery ability. Several studies conclude that imagery is composed of several sensory and dimensional components.

 According to Smith et.al. (2011), the two widely accepted components of imagery that may be applied by team coaches include controllability and vividness. Vividness comprises of the clarity and sensory richness or sharpness. Controllability, on the other hand, refers to the accuracy and ease at which the image can be transformed and manipulated in a person’s mind. Other dimensions include the duration, exactness of reference and the ease of generating the imagery. Exactness is necessary because the figural content of the imaged information should accurately depict the clear information on the object dimension, a distance of the subject and the objects, the magnitude of the object as well as the direction of the object movement. Duration refers to the time the image may remain clear in the mind once it has been generated while the ease of generation refers to the time taken by the individual to evoke an image (Smith et.al, 2011).

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Several studies demonstrate the need to examine imagery perspective in order to understand the imagery ability in team sporting. Although the initial researches suggested that athletes favor internal imagery, contemporary studies state that tasks differences are key determinants of the adopted perspectives. A research by Watt et.al. (2008), on the relationship between senior skaters and novices on the MIQ showed that senior skaters are significantly better users of kinaesthetic imaging than the junior skaters and the novice skaters. Similar research by Abma et.al. 2002) on 44 National Junior Gymnasts and level II gymnasts indicated that the junior elites apply the external imagery perspective and a greater degree of kinaesthetic imagery compared to level II Gymnasts.

There is variability of imagery abilities between the elite and non-elite athletes. Athletes participating in higher level activity can generate images related to their sport. Abma et.al. (2002) found out that there is a difference between low and high field athletes and confident tracks. He found out that high confident athletes applied imagery, but their imagery ability and skills did not differ from the low confident athletes. Kinaesthetic imagery skills and ability were linked to better physical performance among the rock skaters. It is likely that imagery abilities do not influence the effectiveness of imagery in enhancing the physical performance.

The Role of Image Content

Studies suggest that imagery ability relates to image content and that different types of abilities relate to different imagery contents. The imagery content is determined by the goals that an athlete desires to achieve. Imagery can create an emotion-arousing situation and special goal oriented characteristics without involving the cognitive process. Imagery can focus exclusively on success related aspects like specific motor skills and game strategies. Athletes use imagery for self-motivation, mastery of challenging situations, emotional arousal, coping among other strategies related to competitive events (Arvinen-Barrow, 2002). Although image content is interpreted differently among the individuals, image content is important for team sporting because the team players are motivated to win a particular sport. Team players are motivated to succeed, and the image content helps them arouse their emotions. By arousing personal emotions, team players gain some personal motivation that will drive them to produce success related strategies and skills.

Imagery in Sport Situation

Mental training is important for skill maintenance, developing sporting plans, skill acquisition, stress management, anxiety management, and developing athletic plans and strategies among other uses. Imagery works better in motivating than in other functions that are cognitive in nature. As stated earlier, high confident athletes use the imagery more than non-elite athletes. Four key components were developed to explain how athletes use imagery. According to Arvinen-Barrow (2002), these components include imagery situation, imagery function, imagery ability and outcomes of imagery use. Other variables that influence the use of imagery include the type of motor activity which affects the way the imagery is used. Image patterns vary among different athletes in different sporting activities. The image content influence performance while the sporting activity defines the imagery used in that particular competition. The level of skill also influences the cognitive performance.

In a sporting situation, the team has to work together for the success of their team. This implies that team members need to developmental training for effective skill maintenance and development of sporting plans. Situational imagery is applied by team players in solving situational challenges (Munroe-Chandler et.al. 2005). For instance, when a player in injured during an event, the team members need to be motivated for the remaining part of the sporting activity. Imagery ability is important among the team members to enhance the communication between the players.

The main uses of imagery during sporting occur during the training period, during the competitive event and also during the rehabilitation of an injury (Shearer et.al, 2005). During such activities, the types of imagery used differ regarding prevalence. During the training phase, the type of imagery used by teams depends on their focus on the particular training program and the team members’ ability to acquire skills ((Munroe-Chandler et.al. 2005). For instance, novice athletes tend to focus on imagery for its primary function that helps them learn to psyche each other for the sake of winning a race. 

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Problems Encountered

First, there was a problem with the personal score sheet that might affect the final results. The item on the highest level of team participation did not provide a space for when or for how long the team participated in that particular highest level. Secondly, the research covered a small range of events, majorly on athletics, and this implies that most of the events were not represented. Minimal representation of events limits our understanding of imagery in other activities. 


Imagery plays an important role in team sporting. Although imagery works differently among the individual and team players, imagery plays the same role in both groups. Imagery use is effective in motivating team players because of its ability to arouse the desire to win. Imagery motivates the players by removing the competition anxiety which often affects the level of performance. The level of the event also influences the use of imagery. For instance, the national level team players have a high ability to master imagery compared to the regional players. The findings of the research are important for team managers and coaches who may use them for designing a mental imagery training that can foster the team’s physical performance.

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  1. Abma, C.L. et.al. (2002). Differences in imagery content and imagery ability between high and Low confident track and field athletes. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. 14(2), 65-75.
  2. Arvinen-Barrow, M., Weigand, D. A., Thomas, S., Hemmings, B., & Walley, M. (2007). Elite and Novice athletes’ imagery use in open and closed sports. Journal of Applied Sport   Psychology, 19(1), 93-104.
  3. Gregg, M., & Hall, C. (2006). Measurement of motivational imagery abilities in sport. Journal of Sports Sciences, 24(9), 961-971.
  4. Guillot, A., & Collet, C. (2008). Construction of the motor imagery integrative model in sport: a Review and theoretical investigation of motor imagery use. International Review of Sport And Exercise Psychology, 1(1), 31-44.
  5. Munroe, K. (2000). Imagery Use by Athletes: Confirmation and Elaboration. The Sciences and  Engineering, 60, 8-10.
  6. Munroe-Chandler, K. J., Hall, C. R., Fishburne, G. J., & Shannon, V. (2005). Using cognitive General imagery to improve soccer strategies. European Journal of Sport Science, 5(1), 41-49.
  7. Shearer, D. A., Mellalieu, S. D., Thomson, R., & Shearer, C. (2008). The effects of an imagery 
  8. Intervention with motivational general-mastery content upon collective efficacy perceptions for a novel team task. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 27(4), 293-311.
  9. Smith, D., Upright, P., Deevers, S., & Hey, W. (2011). Assessing Mental Imagery Use and 
  10. Perceived Stress of Collegiate Golfers. Kentucky Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 18.
  11. Watt, A. P., Spittle, M., Jaakkola, T., & Morris, T. (2008). Journal of Imagery Research in Sport And Physical Activity.
  12. Whitehead, K. A., & Basson, C. J. (2005). Sport-related differences in type and amount of mental Imagery use by athletes. South African Journal for Research in Sport, Physical Education And Recreation, 27(2), 159-174.
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