An article By Randy Stark published in the Stroke Network May Newsletter

Have you ever wondered why some golfers stare at the ball for so long before they actually swing? Or why some basketball players seem to zone out just before shooting a free throw? And some track and field athletes seem to be in a trance right before they line up to race? Chances are, these athletes are tapping into the amazing potential of the human mind.

No, there’s nothing supernatural or weird going on at that free throw line. I’m not suggesting that he’s trying to mentally levitate the ball toward the hoop. (Although that probably couldn’t hurt Shaquille O’Neal’s free-throw percentage!) I’m talking about the use of mental practice….also known as visualization, or imagery.

For many years, great athletes have used mental training as well as physical training to achieve their maximum performance. When performing mental practice, a person visualizes the entire task or skill they are trying to improve, imagining every specific movement of that activity. From start to finish, the athlete will mentally rehearse the movement or skill, and can actually improve his/her physical performance of that movement or skill through mental practice.

In his book “Mental Training for Peak Performance,” Steven Ungerleider, PhD, reports of a study conducted on Olympic track and field athletes regarding mental practice. Out of 633 athletes surveyed, 83 percent reported using mental practice as part of their training. Some mentally practice their performance right before the sport or event, but others set aside time for mental practice as part of their daily training regimen.

Obviously I didn’t write this article to encourage you in your golf game, or prepare you for the next summer Olympics. Mental practice is a not just a widely used training technique for athletes, but also a valuable treatment option in stroke recovery.

Consider the research below on the effectiveness of mental practice in stroke rehab.

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