Imagery – A new Outlook for Climbing

Typically imagery and climbing has been basic at is very best, often it has been misleading and based on assumptions brought from other sports and disciplines. One thing my MSc has shown me is that imagery is not a simple thing and that there are many variables involved. One of the models that tries to encompass all of them is the PETTLEP model Holmes and Collins(2001)

Before we go into the PETTLEP model it is probably best that we look at what imagery can be used for. In the most part climbers use imagery or visualisation to imagine themselves climbing a route. It ‘function’ is to aid sequence memory and improve performance once on the route. There are many other functions that imagery can be used for, like anxiety reduction, increasing confidence, aiding recovery from injury and aiding other mental skills.

If you see what you are imagining as a stimulus, then the function is often a combination of the meaning you attach to that stimulus and the response you give to it. Given time it is possible to control the stimulus, meaning and response to imagery. The way that you can start control your imagery is through using it regularly, which has been shown to be around 15 minutes a day.

This model advises athlete to look at and consider the:

PHYSICAL NATURE OF THE ACTIVITY
ENVIRONMENT YOU ARE TRYING TO REPLICATE
TIMING OF THE ACTIVITY
TASK YOU ARE LOOK AT REPLICATING
LEARNING YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE
EMOTIONS THE ACTIVE EVOKES
PERSPECTIVE YOU IMAGE IN

Each one of these will have certain considerations based on the sport, person, aim of the imagery intervention. However for simply visualising boulder problems research into climbing, and specifically bouldering points towards several key things that will help aid imagery. The first thing was discovered by my MSc supervisor Nicky Callow and Lew Hardy (1999, 2005) fromĀ SSHES, University of Wales Bangor.

What they found was that in bouldering tasks an External Visual Imagery Perspective (that is as seen by a documentry crew filming you) was better than an Internal Visual Imagery Perspective (seen through your own eyes). However better still was EVI with Kinesthetic Imagery (imaginging how it feels) was most effective.

They also found that for people with a higher imagine ability had more positive effect, and that whilst climber with lower imagery abilities didn’t benefit from the performance effects of Kinesthetic imagery they did find it increased there confidence in the task.

It not just as simple as that though as Craig Hall (1997) another one of the oracles of modern imagery research, believes that whilst research does point to various sports like climbing have a perspective that best suits the physical nature and type of task. The individual athletes preferred perspective needs to be the first consideration.

Hall, C (1997) Lew Hardy’s third myth: A matter of perspective. JASP, 9.
Hardy & Callow (1999) Efficacy of External and Internal Visual Imagery Perspectives for the enhancement of performance on Tasks in which Form is Important, JSEP, 21.
Hardy & Callow (2005) An Critical Analysis of Applied Imagery Research, In Handbook of Research in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology: Internation Perspectives, WV, USA, Eds. Hachfort, Duda & Lidor.
Holmes & Collins (2001) The PETTLEP Aproach to motor imagery: A Functional Equivalence Model for Sport Psychologists, JASP 13(1)

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