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Study on mental imagery in climbing

  A lot of sportsmen and sportswomen use mental imagery in their activity. This skill is often a factor of performance; that is to say, this factor and performance are interdependent and therefore, it highly deserves to be granted priority for training...

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Introduction: 
A lot of sportsmen and sportswomen use mental imagery in their activity. This skill is often a factor of performance; that is to say, this factor and performance are interdependent and therefore, it highly deserves to be granted priority for training. During climbing competitions for example, mental imagery is widely used to picture the moves mentally. However, imagery also has other uses. Understanding this skill and knowing why and how to use it is therefore essential; this is one part of mental preparation.

Definitions: 
The concept of mental imagery contains several notions: visualization, mental practise, mental rehearsal… Anyway, “imagery is the fact of using all senses to create and reproduce an experience in one’s mind” 1. With that skill and closed eyes, you can for example imagine a cake, its shape, its colour (visual), its smell when taking it out of the oven (olfactory); you can imagine that you are biting into it (kinaesthetic), hearing how it crunches (auditory) and tasting it (gustatory) without having that cake in front of you. Mental Imagery allows then to reproduce past experiences but also to create new ones that have never belonged to the perceptive past. It is possible, as well, to imagine oneself under two angles: either in one’s own body, or by seeing oneself doing something as a spectator of oneself; this presents several points of interest. In sports, mental imagery can contribute to the good training, preparation and correction of moves as well as to the setting up of strategies; it makes it possible to modify one’s cognitions, to manage one’s awakening, anxiety and emotions. Numerous studies have showed the effectiveness of mental imagery in sport.

Presentation of the study: 
A climber can imagine: moves; climbing strategies; objectives of results; they can picture themselves mastering the situation and controlling their emotions. These examples illustrate quite simply the five possible functions of mental imagery according to Paivio 2. My study consists in comparing the frequency of use of these five functions by climbers of different levels: inexperienced (≤ VII+/VIII-; n=50), certified (= VIII; n=59) and experts (≥ IX+/X-; n=75).These assessments were made from a survey composed of 30 questions; 6 questions for each one of the 5 variables where those who have been questioned must evaluate on a scale of 7 points if they rarely or often use the described situation of mental imagery.

 

Results of the study: 
- The frequency of use of the 5 functions, considered as a whole, differs very significantly between inexperienced, certified and expert climbers.
- The higher the climber’s level is, the more common mental imagery of the moves is.
- Inexperienced climbers imagine strategies less frequently compared to confirmed and expert climbers.
- Expert climbers imagine themselves controlling the situation more often compared to confirmed and inexperienced climbers.

If you wish to evaluate your frequency of use of the 5 functions of mental imagery when climbing, you can answer this survey; your results will automatically appear on the second spreadsheet. To go deeper into the subject, find here my dissertation, my data and other interesting articles availablehere.
Références :

1 Vealey, R., & Greenleaf, C. (2001). Seeing is believing: Understanding and using imagery in sport. Dans J. WILLIAMS, Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (pp. 247 - 272). Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Compagny.

2 Paivio, A. (1985). Cognitive and motivational functions of imagery in human performance. Canadian Journal of Applied Sport Sciences.

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