The Power of Visualization in Soccer

By Joshua Medcalf

Have you ever wished you could get better when you are injured and can’t play soccer? Have you ever wanted to get better at something, but it just seems no matter how much you try and practice at it you just don’t see any results? Do you want to train like the pros? If that is you, then you want to learn how to use visualization.

Growing up I was a very prolific goal scorer and received a partial scholarship to play soccer at Vanderbilt University. The year before college, my team had gone all the way to Nationals and we were ranked fourth in the country. I was the leading goal scorer on that team. I was very tall for a soccer player, 6’ 2”, but I had never scored a goal with my head in my entire life. During my career at Vanderbilt this didn’t change. Then after my junior year they cut our soccer program because of title 9, and I decided to hang up my cleats and graduate.

One year later I got a call from Duke University, and ended up getting a full ride scholarship to play out my final year of eligibility on the number one team in the country. During my time at Duke I had the privilege of studying under one of the top sport psychologists in the country, Dr. Greg Dale.

When Greg Dale taught us about visualization I thought he was crazy. He told us that we could see ourselves practicing in our minds and if we were able to very vividly perform these visualization exercises they could be extremely beneficial to our performance. This sounded so weird I didn’t want to even try, but I had recently found myself the very last pick on the team during pickup games so I decided I might as well give it a shot.

However, I was only willing to try visualization under one condition; I was going to start visualizing myself scoring a goal with my head. This way, if it worked, I would know it was directly attributable to visualization.

Starting out it was very difficult trying to visualize myself scoring a goal with my head, because I rarely even headed the ball, no less headed it in the direction of the goal. Greg Dale had told us it didn’t matter if we saw ourselves through our own eyes, or if we saw ourselves like we were watching a player on TV. The easiest way for me to visualize was as if I was watching myself on TV, and at first it was like watching on one of those old grainy TVs at first.

Over time it got a little bit better, but it was never anywhere near HD TV. Three weeks after starting my visualization exercises for 10 min a day, I scored a goal against Boston College with my head that was so beautiful if ESPN covered college soccer it would have been on Top 10 plays of the night! The very next game we were playing against Virginia and we were down 1-0 with 47 seconds left in the game. I scored another goal with my head, and this was the ugliest goal I had every scored. BUT, I had scored two goals with my head only three weeks after using visualization exercises.

Here is the science behind why visualization works.

Our brains have great difficulty distinguishing between what is real and imagined. Think back to the last time you had a really vivid dream, how real did it feel? The reason for this is that when we vividly visualize something, the exact same areas in our brain are activated.

In his book, “The Mental Edge” by Kenneth Baum, shares a study done at the Olympic Training Facility in Colorado. In this study they had 3 separate groups of golfers. Group 1 positively visualized with physical practice, group 2 negatively visualized with physical practice, group 3 just did the physical practice. At the end of the week, the group who positively visualized improved by 30%. The group who just did physical practice improved by 11%. The group who negatively visualized got worse by 21%.

Keys with visualization:

• Incorporate as many of your senses as possible
• See yourself performing perfectly

You can use visualization for:

• Skill acquisition
• Skill improvement
• Increased healing time
• Controlling anxiety
• Training while injured

Visualization is one of the most powerful training tools in a soccer player’s arsenal. By sharpening your visualization skills you will give yourself a leg up on the competition.

If you would like to learn more about mental training you can contact me or visit my website