Interesting thread......started by my good buddy SSH. Lemme just make a few random comments:
As SSH (Steve) notes, "The efficacy of such exercises [visualization] is well-documented, and cannot be factually discounted." Yep, amen to that. In the above thread we have objective measures of it (example where bballers shooting free throws improved their scores almost equally with practice and with visualization). We also have anecdotal, but real evidence...Steve says he learned cross under through visualization, for example, and there's a bunch of other examples throughout the thread.
You could sort of say, however, that you really know visualization is working when you have an objective measure of the outcome...in skiing, the obvious measure is the clock in ski racing. Do ski racers visualize? You damn betcha, and it's called course inspection. When you inspect, you not only figure out what your line is going to be, you visualize yourself skiing that line...as fast as possible. So visualization works like a charm in ski racing, right?
Well, maybe, maybe not. When I first started Masters racing 15 years ago, I had these incredibly detailed visualizations going on. I'd sometimes take four inspection runs, even take notes and stuff, and by the time I got to the start gate, I had a whole Steven Spielberg level movie going on that was going to guarantee me a place on the podium. Didn't work, not at all. Why? When, not if, I got 6 inches off my visualized line, I was toast...didn't have a Plan B, or any other way to handle reality vs. what I convinced myself I was going to do. So instead, I learned to inspect thoroughly, but focus on where I should be for the three or four trouble spots on the course. What if I wasn't where I should be? No problem, just stop running the movie and use my skills and experience to deal with reality, get back on line by whatever means, and make it to the finish as fast as possible.
When I first started racing, I was obsessed with making not just the perfect turn, but the perfect run...until one of my coaches said "Lose that approach, just focus on looking ahead and going all out. Bode doesn't always make perfect turns, but he still wins, right?" Mikewil makes this point about PGA level golfers, and what they do when they're not playing perfectly.
So Total Visualization seems to work pretty well when you're trying to refine a movement or learn something that you're already pretty close to...like working a cross under move into your skiing. Per the above example, visualization can be a tool, but maybe not the total solution where you're essential trying to do Something Big you've never done before.
To give you another example: first time I ever raced downhill, I show up for the first day of training wondering if I should have my head examined. So I do an inspection, and wuddia know? it's like a typical entry level Masters downhill...green/blue trail, no major air, pretty round, open turns, no real nasty terrain in the straight sections. Three turns and a tuck through a meadow. No problem...I have the answer for that...just go do the standard course inspection! And sure enough, no big deal...push out of the start, pole pole pole, into the tuck, four easy turns on the top flats, now stand hard and early on the right ski through the big open at the top of the first pitch, absorb the little chatter right after it, on the left ski, come in wide on the top gate of the next corridor, pin the inside of the bottom gate, tuck it out the bottom, on the right ski pointing it toward the fence, round round round to a big roundhouse on the left, one more hollow, suck it up, head down, tuck it through the finish.
As a friend of mine says about tennis and ski racing, "Looks easy on TV." So I'm running this little movie in my head on the lift, everything is cool, until I get about three hundred meters from the top...and see a succession of racers, 30 seconds apart, winging down the course at 65 mph plus, making noises like an F-15 going through the sound barrier. It gets worse...I get to the start ramp, with 5 people in front of me...and they're all banging out of the start, putting their heads down...and not even thinking about turning until about 200 meters away, which is where the first gate is. I suddenly realize that this is not slalom, where you push out of the start, skate once, then make 52 turns in a row. Holy Ike, these people don't even look like they know what a turn is! I'm about to do something that I've visualized, but the reality is way removed from anything I've ever done before, so, by extension, it's possibly only vaguely related to whatever visualization I came up with.
Time for a new plan! So I go out behind a bunch of trees and come up this approach instead:
(1) The visualization is for real, and it's all in there somewhere, but don't worry about watching the screen and following the bouncing ball too closely.
(2) The two spots I have to nail are the big left to corridor right at the top, and the last left hander at the bottom. Run those sections of the movie over and over, because those two things are key to a fast time...and to staying out of the weeds. Get that right, and everything else falls into place.
(3) Get in the start, empty the mind, breathe deep, push out hard, look ahead, and go all out.
Worked, too, and not only that, it was a stone groove. I wanted to immediately go up and do it again, at least four more times before the lifts shut down. If you've never raced DH before, it's what George Joubert called it...one of the last modern adventures, and definitely better than sex (I said that, not George).
Notice that I didn't talk at all about my time, which was good. Instead, I talked about having Big Fun, which I did. What I'm getting at is, when you visualize something, what is your goal? The immediate goal is often something specific like "get the cross under thing going", but what is your real goal?
The reason I say this is that I had a strange, recurring experience the last year I taught full time, which was the year I got my L3 at Copper. They don't even have these designations any more, I think, but back in the early 80s, we had a class that was a C/D type of class called "beginning parallel" where you were trying to help people lose the wedge and get the Figure 11 thing going on.
Big challenge, as you all know. The wedge is a wonderful thing, but it can turn into a crutch and a real impediment to parallel skiing and all the wonders that go along with that way of doing business. So I'd go out there and do my standard approach (select terrain that will help people turn up the volume and maybe that'll help them lose the wedge, for example)...and it's more or less working, but I start noticing that a lot of my students are working at this like they're getting ready to defend a Ph D. thesis. They all look like a bunch of dogs on their way to the vet. Can't have that...skiing is supposed to be fun, right? So I do all my comedy routines, come up with some cool terrain where people can get used to booking along, show people how to tuck, maybe take them over to the Nastar course...stuff like that. But I start wondering about my motivation vs. theirs. I want them to get to parallel, because I want to see everybody improve their skills, because skiing is a cool sport, and the better you get, the better it is. But what's driving these folks? So I ask, and a lot of the answers I get are pretty alarming, and they all start out "I have to get better..."
(a) So I can ski the blue/blacks with Ralph, my husband.
(b) So I can style around with my feet together, just like you guys...then I can snag all the hot babes in the Wedge Room Lounge after skiing.
(c) Because it's only my list of things I have to do, and I've already checked off "Win the Nobel Prize" and "Climb Every Mountain."
Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. You know why I wanted to jack up my turn when I was living in Stowe, Vermont? So I could ski the Front Four, because I knew it was going to be a hoot, but I needed to get my chops down to make it happen. When I came out to Colorado, I immediately ate s*** because I had never skied anything over 8 inches deep (they don't allow anything more than that in the East, and right after, it rains and freezes anyway). No problem...let's work on that for/aft balance thingie, clean up the turn shape, and most of all, point the suckers down, because this ripping the pow thing has got to be too much fun.
So that kind of became my sermon to my students. Great, whatever reasons you're here are valid...but now that I know what they are, let me suggest something additional: If you get that parallel thing going on, you're just a step or two away from skiing all those nasty bumps on #22, and having a blast doing it! If you get the parallel thing going on, the next time everybody in your group is looking out the window and trying to figure out how they're going to ski a mountain full of bed feathers...you'll be out there doing it! Wanna get a Nastar gold? No problem, this class is the start of all that! Get this parallel thing going on, and you're going to have experiences and adventures that most other human beings can only wish for.
So that's kind of my speech about what visualization can and cannot do. I think of visualization as a tool, one of many, to improve or acquire a specific skill...which will, in turn, help me to realize a greater goal that I envision. I see a goal floating throughout The Barking Bear forums, and for lack of a better description, you could describe it as "In Search of the Perfect Turn." To an extent, The Perfect Turn is a worthy quest, and belongs in the Performance Art Room of the Museum of Modern Art along with such activities I've admired from afar as winging a javelin over 300 feet, getting a perfect 10 on a triple-twisting 2 and 1/2 whatever off a 10 meter platform, or surfing Pipeline. All those activities, however perfect as they may be, hold, in my opinion the key to the fulfillment of a larger goal, which is, quite simply, to go somewhere amazing that we've never been before.
And it's not always about winning, either. One of my favorite athletes has always been Christin Cooper. As you probably all remember, in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Christin had an incredible first run, and was leading the pack going into the second run. At the top of the second run, she beached it, bounced up...and took second for the day. Debbie Armstrong won. And of course, the press essentially said to Cooper, "You lost the gold...how do you feel?" To which she said [and I'm paraphrasing] "I won a silver. You could take the joy out of life by always wishing for something more." Now that's what I'm talking about!