When I was a kid, gymnastics was what I lived for. I practiced everyday in the backyard and in the front yard when I felt like showing off. I worked on my form when landing, trying to make it perfectly still just like an olympian and I prided myself on my ability to flip forwards or backwards with ease. I remember working on a roundoff into a back handspring, which is a pretty common move in floor routines. That is when the gymnast runs really fast and does a cartwheel landing flat on both feet and then springing quickly into a backflip (but with hands on the ground). Like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLgmKgtk-Vg
Even though a lot of things came easily to me in gymnastics, this one seemed to be taking forever! I was really scared about falling and hurting myself, and that fear paralyzed me every time. One day, when I was practicing in the front yard (I know… bold. I couldn’t even do it right, so why was I showing off?) my dad came outside, and he told me I needed to visualize. I asked him what he meant, and he said to take a minute before taking off to just imagine what I would look like doing the roundoff into back handspring. He told me to be very detailed with my imagination. So I did. I closed my eyes and I imagined seeing myself run, feeling my hands hit the ground, my legs flipping over my head, landing solidly (but ever so lightly) on the ground and springing me backwards into a perfect back handspring. Then. I took off. And I did it! It was amazing. I felt like my dad had just handed me the secret to success.
I ended up leaving gymnastics to pursue musical studies a few years later, but I never stopped using visualization. When preparing for my first performances, I would spend many nights visualizing exactly how I wanted to perform. I would get very detailed, just like dad said, right down to the audience applause and how I would feel after. Now that I am a teacher, I teach my students to do this. 3 weeks before a recital, I begin making it part of the rehearsal process. Before their names are even announced to perform, they must spend a few moments visualizing their performance. I explain that they must do this in order to succeed. It helps. I know because they tell me, and I can see their calm manner on stage.
Have you tried visualization? Has it helped you?