Imagery role in mastering a sport

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''Inner tennis,'' ''inner skiing,'' ''centered skiing.'' These are some of the better known names among the myriad movements of recent years to overcome hangups when it comes to sports.

One common denominator of most is the use in some way of visualization. The best illustration I know of visualization - one that I can say without any doubts that I've experienced - concerns tennis, not skiing. But the lessons, of course, hold for any sport.

If an ordinary player watches an excellent tennis match - one between two experts whose strokes, anticipation, and grace of movement are almost flawless - several things begin to happen.

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First, he'll probably feel the urge to go out and hit some balls, and most likely he'll intuitively feel he's going to hit them well. When he does begin hitting them, he often finds power and efficiency where before there were bad habits and hitches - at least for a little while, before his ''visualization'' dissipates.

Ski racers now are being trained to employ visualization as a means of ''seeing'' themselves take the best line in a course and have the fastest time. The best ski instructors are increasingly using imagery to help their pupils see themselves skiing well.

So now I'm off to pick a trail and see myself mastering it. . . . Oops! Where'd that patch of ice come from?

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