Elite performers do numerous mental repetitions of their upcoming events in the hours and minutes beforehand. Imagery is applied to re-create an event in real or in metaphor to enable performers to optimize the confidence and delivery of their performance. Golfer Jack Nichlaus images the motion of his back swing as that of a car rolling as smoothly as possible from a curb, with a gentle starting motion followed by a gradual build-up in acceleration.
Many performers find novel ways of enhancing the realness of their imagery. Figure skater Elizabeth Manley (silver medalist at the Calgary Oympics) would walk out beside the rink boards during the warm-up of the group skating prior to her. She felt the crowd around her, taking in the whole environment from a perspective as close as possible to the real thing (one foot away from the ice). She would then walk to an isolated section under the arena stands and play music on her Walkman while imaging her program with the fresh perceptions acquired a few moments earlier.
She also used imagery once she had completed her own on-ice warm-up. She would walk through her entire program when she was two skaters away from performing. While waiting out the final five minutes before her performance, she would focus her imagery and walk through the first section of her program only. When Elizabeth stepped onto the ice to perform, her mind and body were at ease, for to them, they had already been there and had completed a perfect performance.
Such exercises may sound very tight and formal, but Elizabeth and I kept a
different attitude during these times. Humor and lightness were very much the
mood as we joked and kibitzed with one another. She conveyed that playfulness
in her imagery, and into her performance. I often tell performers to remember
that "the situation is hopeless...but not serious."