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Carli Lloyd’s Mental Trick That Helped the US Women’s Soccer Team Win the World Cup
Soccer fans were blown away when Team U.S.A. midfielder Carli Lloyd scored three goals in just 16 minutes during the World Cup's finals, inspiring her team to a 5-2 win against rival Japan. She was the first woman to score a hat trick in a World Cup final. Her secret? Mental visualization.
Lloyd, 34, has repeatedly spoken about how she takes time for intense meditation before each game to visualize various positive scenarios between her and the ball.
“It sounds pretty funny, but over the years and definitely over the last four years, I’ve taken that visualization part to another level,” Lloyd told The Philadelphia Inquirer last week. “I’ve basically visualized so many different things on the field, making these big plays, scoring goals.”
She even visualizes how many goals she’d like to score. After Sunday’s game,Lloyd told The New York Times that she visualized scoring four goals in the World Cup Final, adding that she was so in the mental zone at the start of the game that “I feel like I blacked out for the first 30 minutes or so.”
Lloyd is hardly the first athlete to use visualization to prepare for a big game. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tiger Woods and beach volleyball legend Kerry Walsh Jennings are also reportedly fans.
“A lot of what we do is visualization,“ Walsh Jennings told USA Today, on her preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics with teammate April Ross. “So to be able to go a year in advance, to the spot where we plan on winning a gold medal, and to take in the sights, the sounds, the stress, the excitement, that’s going to serve us really well moving forward.”
While visualization has a lot of big-name fans, does it actually work?
Absolutely, says Nicole Detling, PhD, a psychologist who has worked with the U.S. Olympic team, and founder of sports psychology company HeadStrong Consulting. “The mind doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and imagined,” she tells Yahoo Health. “It’s one of the most effective tools you can use.”
Social scientist and executive coach Frank Niles, PhD, tells Yahoo Health that visualization actually tricks your brain into thinking that you’re doing something, creating new mental pathways in the process that you use for memory and learned behavior. As a result, he says, you feel like you’ve done something before and end up feeling more comfortable when you actually do it.
“It’s massively effective, as long as you practice it”, says Niles. You can’t just visualize once and have it work.” We often hear about athletes who visualize, but both Niles and Detling say it can be just as effective in everyday life for everything from going on a date to giving a speech.
Interested in trying it out?
Detling recommends starting small. When you’re at home, close your eyes and imagine yourself at work. Start with the visual — your desk, computer, phone, etc. — and then gradually add in smells and sounds. “The more senses you use in your image the better,” Detling says.
Then, build up to visualizations that involve movements, like visualizing yourself running and finishing a 5k or having an important sit-down with your boss.
Niles says going through the actual steps, and visualizing yourself completing them successfully is crucial. So, if you’re running a race, picture yourself clearing the mile marker, running through the next big step, and finally completing the race.
Of course, you have to actually be a familiar with the actions you’re visualizing in order for them to work. “It’s definitely not dream it and it will come true,” says Niles.
If you find that you keep messing up during your visualization, stop doing it. “If you’re practicing incorrectly in your mind, you’re going to do it incorrectly in real life,” says Detling. Otherwise, she explains, you can build up muscle memories and brain patterns that are incorrect, increasing the odds that what you imagined will actually happen.
But the best part of visualization is that it only takes a few minutes. “If you take too much time, you’ll start losing attentiveness,” says Niles. “Then your visualization will lose its effectiveness.”
Still not sure whether you believe the hype? Just look at Lloyd. Says Detling: “She absolutely looked like she had done that a million times…and she probably had in her mind.”
Without a doubt, it is the mind that determines the outcome of our performance and behavior. Working with me, you will benefit from multiple psychological principles and cutting edge mental techniques specifically tailored for you and your sport.
In-person office sessions are available Monday-Saturday 9am to 8pm. I also do numerous hypnosis sessions for athletes worldwide by Skype with great success.
I normally take my athletes through a 5 to 10 session protocol. In that process, most importantly, we clear all of the mental baggage that interferes with achieving peak performance: useless limiting beliefs, faulty programs, old hurts/injuries, etc.
In addition, the athlete learns: intention, self-empowerment, thought control, emotional mastery, self-hypnosis, and how to increase self-confidence. Those skills develop mental toughness and lead athletes to the gateway of "the zone".
When we are through, the athlete is able to keep him/herself clear, continue to build confidence with these tools and apply it all to other areas of life. I am most proud that this training helps a lot of young athletes build solid life skills through sport.
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