Using Visualization Techniques to Succeed at Volleyball

See Yourself Succeed!

Girl diving for volleyball
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As many have said before, excelling at sports is mostly mental. You have to believe in yourself and your teammates and when the pressure is on, you have to stay calm and relaxed. If that is true, why is it that we spend so much time focusing on the physical training and so little time mentally preparing for matches and competitions?

Studies show that a practice called mental imagery (or visualization) can help all levels of athletes improve their skill, their confidence and their sense of calm in battle.

Besides that, it is also suspected of increasing an athlete’s work ethic, motivation and desire to improve.

One volleyball-specific study in particular proved that the players that visualized making a perfect pass before entering a serve receive drill actually performed better than the group that didn’t visualize. Another showed that novices that visualized the new skill they had been taught improved at that skill faster than those who did not.

There is no definitive evidence that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that visualization alone can improve performance, but many athletes say they benefit from it and several studies have agreed. 

How to Visualize

Visualization is simply the act of imagining yourself performing skills with perfect form and perfect execution. There are many different ways to visualize and there is no wrong way. You can visualize in a quiet room or in a room with your favorite music playing.

You can stand, sit or lie down. You can visualize for a minute or an hour. 

Whatever you do, make sure you are in a place with little to no distraction or put on some headphones to drown out the world. Close your eyes and begin to get a mental picture of what it would look like to have your opponent serve you tough.

Imagine yourself seeing the ball early, moving your feet, getting into perfect position and putting the pass right on top of your setter’s head. Let the play continue and see the setter set the perfect ball to a hitter. Maybe the hitter is you if you are in the front row. Watch yourself get into position to hit, keeping the ball in front of you, seeing the block and the defense and putting the ball away for the kill. 

Visualize yourself doing every skill in every rotation for your upcoming match. Even if in reality you struggle with a certain skill, visualize yourself having mastered it. Never visualize a negative result. If you accidentally see yourself shanking a pass, make sure to replay the point in your head with a positive ending. See yourself succeeding and your team doing well. Feel the emotion, think about how the crowd will sound, how the ball feels when you strike it. Put as much detail into your visualizations as possible. Watch yourself make the plays in slow motion. Make sure that you visualize not just as if you were watching yourself on video tape, but as if you are in the game playing. See the ball coming at you as you will see it on the court.

When to Visualize 

There are two key times when visualization can be helpful: before a match and during a match.

Take some time before you warm-up to get yourself into the zone. Whether you have five minutes, fifteen minutes or an hour, use the time to see yourself playing and succeeding against your opponent. Think about what they will do to win and how you will respond. Who is their key player? See yourself roofing that player time and time again. Watch yourself execute the skills perfectly and see the positive outcome of the match.

You can also use visualization during a match. You have a few seconds between rallies and more during a time out when your coach has finished addressing you and the team. If you’re on serve receive you can see yourself making the perfect pass. If you’re serving, you can take a moment to see yourself making a tough serve exactly to the spot you intended. If the game is on the line and the set could come to you, see yourself getting the perfect position and putting the ball away.

Visualization can also be helpful for practice or even days before a game. Experts say that visualization should be done 2-3 times per week. The week before a game, you can take yourself through a typical practice and the upcoming match.

Quality Matters

Visualization must be done well in order to reap the benefits. It works best when the images are vivid. When you can engage all the senses in your mental picture, it is more effective.

If you don’t have much of an imagination or if you struggle to create a vivid mental picture in your mind, try watching a video tape of someone with perfect form or look at a picture or a video of yourself executing a skill well before you close your eyes and start to visualize. Make sure you put yourself in a quiet place with no distractions so that you can concentrate on creating your mental images.

For beginners, make sure that you learn from your coach what perfect form is and what it looks like. If you are not sure, ask someone who knows. Go watch an elite team practice or watch a game on television. It is imperative that you visualize yourself executing the skill with perfect form. Mental images of yourself with bad habits will reinforce that bad habit and make it even harder to break.