Visualization In Basketball - A Myth or The Secret Of Success?

Visualization in basketball

Watch sports media for long enough and you can be sure to stumble across an athlete talking about the power of visualization.

Now, can we actually use it as basketball players or is it just a made-up thing that sounds too good to be true?

And, if it appears to be true, are there any specific techniques and strategies for us to implement visualization be it on and off the court?

These are the questions that will be answered in this article.

Let's get started!

Does It Work?

You may have heard about the study conducted by Dr. Biasiotto at the University of Chicago where he split people into three groups and tested each group on how many free throws they could make.

After they finished the testing, he had the first group practice free throws every day for an hour.

The second group just visualized themselves making free throws.

The third group did nothing.

After 30 days, he tested them again.

The first group improved by 24%.

The third group did not improve, which is something you would expect.

However, the results showed that the second group improved by 23%! This is astonishing if you keep in mind that this group improved almost as much as the first one, which was practicing every day.

So back to the question – does visualization work? Apparently, it does for many people.

Now, does this mean that it's a substitute for real training? No, but it can be a great addition if you use it correctly.

outdoor basketball playground sunset

Subconscious Learning

One thing I really like about visualization is that it turns our instinctive, subconscious minds on.

Now, if you've been following my content, you probably know that I'm convinced that getting our moves, skills, and general basketball thinking to a place where you just operate out of instinct, is crucial if we want our training to translate to games. We want to get to a place, where we just "feel what we need to do"

That's why I constantly tell you to train with defense – this way we are naturally getting reps in an in-game environment.

And, you can do that with visualization as well – you are getting a ton of in-game reps. Instead of overthinking, you get loose by letting your imagination take over and feeling the flow of the game.

Of course, with real games, you'd usually still get more results, but as I said above, it's a great "supplement" to your training.

Visualize As Many Details As Possible

If you are interested in visualization, you've probably already heard this – you need to visualize as many details as possible. This is essential.

The feeling of the ball in your hand, the gym, the floor, the smell, the sounds, the light bulbs. Your teammates, and your opponents. How they look, their clothes/jerseys, hair, and skin, and what they are saying. Their personalities and playing style. What the bench is doing... etc.

You can get quite deep into that and the more you do it, the better. The reason we want to get as many details as possible is simply that we want to get as near as possible to the reality of the environment we are trying to get better in.

Now, we don't need to constantly keep all of these things in mind, after all, that's not what we do during the game when we are in the zone. Therefore, one thing that can help you here is getting awareness of the context before you start to visualize:

Think about the details of the event taking place. Is it a regular season game or are you competing in the playoffs? Is it your local gym, or are you playing on the road? What time of the day is it? What about your mood? Things like this.

After you've done that, then you can start visualizing the game part.

basketball hoop trees

Visualization – Types & Techniques

When it comes to the "What & How" you are going to use visualization, there are several options you can choose. Here are a few of them:

  • In workouts – That's something probably every one of us has already done before. Simply go through the drill or move you are about to practice and imagine yourself executing all the important details.
    Or, another great tool is, when you feel like you just can't make a shot, visualize yourself being on a hot streak as you've already been before, go through the shooting motion a few times, and then go back to shooting. Trust me, this can really help you get out of a "shooting slump".
  • Working on a specific skill – Similar to the one above, but you can also do it at home. Just take 5-10 minutes to visualize yourself performing the skill you're currently working on in a real game at the highest level. By the way, that's also what the players from the study I mentioned above did.
  • Preparing for an important event (game, tryouts, tournament, etc) – Here, the context we talked about in the previous segment plays a huge role.
    For example, you have an important game next week on the road. Imagine yourself being in the setting of playing in a different city. If you don't already know what the gym looks like, look it up on Google Maps or the schools/club's website. Think about the playing style of your opponents, and how you are going to play against them as a team. Imagine yourself surpassing your limits and playing at a level you've never played before.
  • Emotional control – Now, this is a tricky one. This is where you want to learn how to adapt when things just don't go your way. For example, when your team is down by 15 points in the 3rd quarter or you just missed the last 6 shots. I don't want you to get too deep into the negative thoughts here. Instead, you acknowledge the current situation and imagine how you'd stay calm and aggressive and figure out to overcome this difficulty.
basketball high school rebound

Key Points

  • You can get more results out of visualization than you think.
  • Visualization can help you turn on your subconscious and learn new things instinctively.
  • Don't forget to imagine as many details as possible – get close to reality.
  • You can use visualization in workouts, while working on a specific skill, preparing for an important event, or training your ability to adapt.

If you have any questions, are looking to give us advice, or just want to talk hoops, don't hesitate to reach out!

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Until next time!