I am a member of a sport psychologist list serv through Temple University, though I am not a “sport psychologist.” I am a tennis coach that utilizes mental performance strategies with the players I coach and I’ve taught the subject as a course at the high school level. I received a group email yesterday that included opinions on if it would be better to use “mastery imagery” or “coping imagery” as a strategy for improving performance. The difference between the two strategies is mastery imagery focuses on seeing yourself perform the way you want to perform. While coping imagery focuses on dealing with adversity and seeing yourself overcoming it.
I believe the context of what you are doing and what your needs are, influence which visualization strategy is best for you at that time. Synchronized swimming was the context of the listserv discussion. My take on it is this:
Synchronized swimming is a game of perfect, and from what I know, it is a continuous sport. While competitive tennis is far from a game of perfect and it is an interval sport with time between points. Consequently, I would think mastery imagery would be better for a sport of perfect while both mastery imagery and coping imagery would be better for athletes in a sport of tennis and most other sports. It depends on what your need is at that time.
Mastery visual imagery is very useful to refine technique or to see yourself play loose and free physically and emotionally. In a competitive tennis match you will face adversity. You better rehearse how to deal with it. My suggestion is to not visualize the double fault or unforced error. Rehearse the “now what?” Visualize how you will deal with it. Another suggestion is to see yourself playing the big points the way you want to play the big points. Now we are back to mastery when you face some adversity. You cannot run out the clock in tennis. You need to visualize how you will physically, mentally, and emotionally, finish. Not easy vs true competition.
Visualization training can help in any sport or in any life experience that you consider important. For instance, you can utilize it before a job interview or a presentation to a group. Spending as little as one minute with visual imagery training can become one of the better used minutes of your day.