Use visualization with your players

Larry Haugness | May 15, 2020

For teaching pros and coaches who may be unable to spend much time—or any time—with their students during the coronavirus lockdowns, this may be the perfect time to introduce them to the power of visualization. 


For many years, sports psychologists and others have been saying that the brain often can’t tell the difference between vividly imagining and physically doing. We often hear Olympic champions say, “I saw myself winning this race.” You are powered by what you vividly imagine.


Still a bit skeptical about the power of visualization? Here are a couple of quick examples that may help you and your students buy into it. 

I was in a USTA Sport Science course on visualization led by Dr. Jim Loehr years ago. He had everyone close their eyes as he described a scenario, and we tried to put ourselves into this situation. He had us visualize climbing the stairs in a tall, rickety wood building in a high wind. As we got to the top floor, he told us to look over the edge and drop a coin. It was a great in-depth, detailed story. When he stopped and had everyone open their eyes, the young woman next to me was literally sweating and shaking. Dr. Loehr came over and said, “You’re afraid of heights, aren’t you?”


Another example is Capt. Jack Sands, a U.S. Navy pilot who was shot down in Vietnam and became a prisoner of war. He spent seven years in a 5-foot by 5-foot cage in isolation with no physical activity. Fighter pilots are taught to visualize emergency situations, so he put that to use. He was a casual golfer with a typical score around 100. Every day for seven years, he visualized stepping onto a golf course and playing a full 18 holes of perfect golf, stroke by stroke. He experienced, in his mind, the wind, sounds, smells and how it felt to make each of those swings at the ball. After he was released and made it back home, he scored a 74 on the first round he had played in over seven years. 


Ask your players to picture themselves playing a perfect game of tennis. Have them visualize moving to the ball, split-stepping, loading the racquet, then hitting the ball where they want it go. Then have them move toward the next shot, and continue playing points, games and a match. Tell them to not get caught up in the process, but to get wrapped into the scenario they create. 


Even if they can do this a few minutes at night before they go to sleep, it will have a positive effect on their game and their attitude when they’re finally back on the court.




Larry Haugness has been involved at all levels of tennis for 45 years and has been recognized for his achievements by the USTA, USPTA, PTR and TIA.

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