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Using imagery to keep your diving skills sharp

British Diving and English Institute of Sport (EIS) sports psychologist Laura Cosgrove describes how you can use mental imagery at home to help improve your diving skills.

What is imagery?

Imagery means creating mental images of past or future situations by using experiences and information which trigger parts of your brain and motor pathways.

Imagining diving skills keeps your brain’s motor pathways firing and ensures the myelin (the tissue that insulates our neural messages) stays thick – or grows.

Divers could use this:

  • To practice your reaction to challenges (for example, recovering from a bad dive)
  • To practice calming or psyching yourself up
  • To break down skills and focus specifically on improving them
  • To improve general confidence and motivation (for example, make a highlight reel!)

How to practice imagery at home

Our mental imagery will be based on controllability and vividness, taking the following steps:

  1. Choose the area or skill you want to practice
  2. Attempt to control the image first (if it’s a certain dive, don’t let the outcome be landing on your back). If you can’t control it, practice up to the point where you start to ‘lose’ control and build from here. If you can control it, add vividness.
  3. Vividness is the extra detail to make it feel more real. Try adding the following details for vividness:
  • Kinaesthetic senses – think about details of how your body is moving and an awareness of this.
  • Physical additions – try standing and doing your arm swing in real time.
  • Noises – think about adding the noise of a crowd cheering, or water splashing.
  • Tactile senses – hold your chamois, or go barefoot on the bathroom tiles to add a tactile sense to your imagery.

Try to use mental imagery on a daily basis, for between two and 10 minutes at a time. Gradually build up to adding as many senses as possible.

Always decide what scenario or skill you are focusing on before you start your imagery training. You can have a few different scenarios you want to practice, but do them separately.

The golden rules of imagery for diving

  • It does not matter if your images are 2D, 3D or both
  • If your image is not controlled, you are practicing a mistake!
  • Make your image as specific as possible to enhance effectiveness and correct myelination
  • Your brain cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is vividly imagined (have you ever woken from a dream and been unsure of whether it happened or not?!)

Scenarios to try

Why not try one of the following five scenarios to get started?

If you think of any more, let us know on Twitter and we will share with the Swim England Diving community.

  1. Improving specific technique (tip: ensure you have coaches’ comments before starting this)
  2. The last round of competition and you need this dive to win.
  3. Skip / run up the stairs and then practice slow breathing to calm yourself whilst imagining your most scary dive
  4. Doing a new dive in competition for the first time!
  5. A montage of you training hard, enjoying yourself and improving.