The role of visualization or mental imagery and the use of video simulators can play a major role in developing soccer intelligence. The reality is the human body can only take so much training before it gets fatigued; but the brain doesn’t know the difference between physical training and simulation. This is why I am such a big proponent of the use of simulators to improve tactical and technical skillsets. The idea is to improve the player’s abilities outside of physical practice and games. Improving player’s decision making, game intelligence, problem solving, pattern recognition ability and technique can all be accomplished by using a combination of off-the field and on the field methods. The full out use of simulators is not here yet, but visualization or mental imagery has been around for some time now. I was exposed to the idea of using visualization when listening to a famous professional golfer named Lee Trevino. Trevino had been hit by lightning during his career and physically never recovered fully. He was no longer able to spend four hours a day on practice range; he physically could not do it anymore. Lee decided to try another way of training because of his physical limitations. He ended up using visualization techniques to replace a major part of his physical practice. Trevino would now do much of his practicing in his brain, visualizing the perfect swing and really feeling that sensation resonate through his entire body as he visualized shot after shot. I have no doubt that Trevino was building neural pathways and hardwiring his body and brain by visualizing the perfect golf swing without physically practicing. Trevino would go on to play golf successfully for many years after being hit by the lightening and his visualization training was a major reason why. Scientific studies show that during visualization training the brain is stimulated and the neurons fire in the same way as if the person was performing the actual physical task. This piece of data validates the impact that visualization training can have. I remember a coach telling me a story about one of his players who used to get himself so worked up and nervous before games, he had trouble performing; in order to counter act this, the coach had the player watch highlights of himself, accompanied by his favorite music (a form of visualization) in the locker room before the game, this technique would help the player overcome nerves. The last example of visualization I will give you is about darts and it may be the most convincing! A group of people who were not dart throwers were split into three groups and given 8 weeks to improve at throwing darts. All the groups were tested first to get a base line score. Group one did no dart throwing and just came back 8 weeks later. Group two played darts 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks. Group three played darts 3 days a week and used visualization 2 days a week. Group one showed no improvement, not a surprise. Group two went up to improve by 65 points total, but the real story was group three. Group three improved a massive 165+ points. These results clearly indicate that physical training combined with visualization training produce the best results. I can personally say growing up that I performed a little better on the field if I had come straight from watching a professional game on television. I know that is not visualization in its purest form, but it did expose me to watching proper technique, skilled tactics and overall high-level play. There are many ways to use visualization techniques and I encourage you to use what works best for your situation. It might be before training, during training, after training, to music, in a dark room or while watching video. Visualization can be used to learn new techniques, rehearse previous skills, prepare mentally for a competition or just as a calming mechanism. The practitioner should feel the visualization training in their body as they imagine things unfolded in their brain.
In the future I still believe simulators will play a major part in the acquiring new skills, improving existing skills and increasing overall game intelligence. Simulators create a realistic situation in which a person would perform actions and make decisions as if it was a real event. The military was one of the first to use simulators and now a variety of different fields use job specific simulators for training programs. Flight simulators have proven incredibly effective in the training of pilots. Quarterbacks in American Football are now starting to use simulators for their training. They can literally receive 1,000’s of repetitions at the quarterback position, which they would have never been able to get if the physical element had to be involved. Imagine receiving a season’s worth of repetitions without any physical wear and tear on the body. Simulators make it possible for a quarterback’s football brain to developing without any risk of injury or physical output. Years of experience can literally be gained in a fraction of the time. Imagine building up to playing at Barcelona’s game speed or seeing the game through the eyes of Pirlo, Gerrard or Messi. I envision a day when parents will ask their kids if they practiced with the simulator today. I also predict that in the future professional clubs will make simulator training a regular part of a players training day.
The last role in mental imagery and visualization pertains to where a person wants to end up in life and what they want to achieve. The world has a tendency to swoop people up and take them for a ride if they are not proactive about charting their own path. Without a specific destination in mind, most people will just follow the path of the world and end up wherever. What we need to understand about the brain is that it is always developing, learning and processing 24/7. If you take time to visualize your specific goal or goals in life, your subconscious brain will start working on a plan to accomplish those goals without you even knowing it. This is why having a clear image of your goals is so important. The more vivid and specific the images, the more your subconscious mind will be focused on them. People who are very successful have a vivid end destination in mind in terms of what they want to achieve in life. They look for ways to succeed and are careful not to get bogged down with all the reasons they won’t succeed. These successful peoples conscious and subconscious minds are always working towards their final destination with an unwavering belief that they can achieve it. The use of visualization along with the realization of the power of the mind is vital for a person to become successful. It is very important to have a good understanding of both the subconscious mind and the conscious mind. The power of the subconscious mind is huge, it can either help or hurt you depending on how you program it, and this is why it is so important that you understand how to guide your subconscious mind. Here is an example of how the subconscious mind can influence a person without them even knowing it. A well-respected therapist was called to treat a client who was sleeping poorly and would often wake up with nightmares and anxiety. The therapist asked her what her sleep environment was like and she said it was fine. She explained that her husband would watch television after she fell asleep every night while she slept. Everything seemed fine with the story, showing no major warning signs or indications of what was causing the problem. The therapist was a little confused as to why the woman was having nightmares, but he knew there must be a hidden reason at the source. He then asked the husband, what was it that he was watching on the television after his wife fell asleep? It turns out the husband was watching intense drama and horror television shows. Right away the therapist knew that the woman’s sub-conscious mind was taking in the disturbing sounds and images without her even realizing it as she slept, resulting in the nightmares, remember that the subconscious mind works 24/7. The therapist had the husband turn off the television when his wife went to sleep and as a result her nightmares and anxiety disappeared. This is a good example of how the subconscious mind is always at work, even during sleep without you consciously knowing it! In fact the subconscious mind has the ability to work on and think about hundreds of thousands of things at one time; compare this to the conscious mind, which can only focus on one complex task at a time. The ultimate reality is your subconscious mind is secretly running your life, it is estimated that up to 95% of your life is run by your subconscious mind. Take this for an example, when you walk down the street texting or talking to friend on your cell phone or thinking about something in the past or future, how do stay safe and not trip or walk into a car? The answer is your subconscious mind keeps you safe by calculating your every step and noticing what is around you for you, this allows your conscious mind to talk on the phone or think about the future or the past while your subconscious mind only operates in the present keeping you safe. Going back to the example of the husband that watched horror movies at night with his wife sleeping next to him; can you imagine the positive effects it would have if the husband had been watching a television series that re-enforced the wife’s passions and goals in life? I really like this story because for as long as I can remember I would fall asleep every night watching soccer. My career is in soccer and I am willing to bet my subconscious mind has reinforced my love and passion for the game while I slept.