When I’m jumping stairs the only thing I’m thinking about is how to land the trick, I’m thinking about what it’s going to feel like to land the trick, I’m thinking about how it’s going to flip, how I’m going to catch it, I’m only focusing on trying to make the trick happen.

 ­­– Paul Rodriguez

visualisation/mental imagery.

So in this one I’m going to teach you how to learn tricks from your sofa. Not even joking.


This one’s about visualisation or mental imagery, something that sports psychologists say is one of the most important psychological skills you can have, it’s something that almost all the athletes at the top of their game use, and something that people like P-Rod and Marc Johnson have spoken about as something that’s essential to their skating.


what is mental imagery?

Mental imagery is the process of creating an image/simulation in your head of something without actually moving your body. It could be a trick, an image of a place, a performance of a forward roll in a risky situation; literally anything. It’s something you do all day every day whether you want to or not, but if you put a bit of intention into it it can be used to help you learn tricks or get more consistent, to commit to your tricks or figure them out in the moment, to practice a trick you want to go film, improve your confidence and concentration, manage stress and anxiety, hype you up, figure out your errors, to experience/practice skating when you can’t physically do it (maybe because of an injury), and even to recover faster from injuries, pretty much anything and everything, and all of that whilst sitting on your sofa. You're probably thinking "if it can do all that, why has no one told me about it before?, well, Marc Johnson actually dropped this wisdom into the skate world a long time ago…

I have this idea that if you think of something, you can do it. Skateboarding is ideas put into action. I mean every time you do a trick it’s mostly in your head; your body’s just responding to what your head’s telling it to do. You can do any trick you really want to if you put your mind to it, if you try it long enough or if you can think of it, you can pretty much do it on a skateboard.

 ­­– Marc Johnson

There are quite a few different theories that try and explain how mental imagery works. For example, research has shown that the same muscles and parts of the brain activate when you imagine doing something as when you physically do it. This solidifies the pathways in your brain related to that skill in the same way as if you were actually practising it; making it easier to re-enact when it comes to doing it. Other theories say it helps to increase concentration and confidence which translates to improved performance. Whatever the exact mechanisms are, one thing’s for sure, it works.

how to do mental imagery in 5 steps.

So how do you use mental imagery for skateboarding? Well, you can use it when you're not skating to help you work on one of the things I mentioned earlier - commitment, learning a trick, etc. which I'll go over first, or you can use it during your session to help you figure out or commit to a trick, which I'll get to after.

The following are 5 recommendations taken from the imagery masters on how to create the most optimal image possible and increase the chances of the carry over to real life.

1. find a spot.

As imagery is most effective if you are completely focused on the image you want to create, to start your imagery sesh it can help if you’re somewhere with few distractions and you’re in a relaxed, relatively good mood. You can just sit down, close your eyes (or leave them open if you prefer), breathe deep and leave it at that. Another technique you can do to get chillin' is something called progressive relaxation. To do this, lie down, contract the muscles of one body area and then relax them. Move through each area of your body from head to toe.

2. specify what to visualise.

Next up you need to decide specifically what you’re working on: do you want to practice a trick? Do you want to work on being more confident to stick your shit when you’re skating something big in the streets, or staying focused when you’re skating in a competition? Make sure you know exactly what you want to work on, and it’s something you want, don’t visualise spraining your ankle…


3. choose the perspective.

Next you need to choose one of the three perspectives to imagine from: either an internal, first person view, or an external, third person view. Choose whichever works easier for you, which might vary depending on the situation. Most imagery masters say they swap between both internal and external views.

4. create the image.

Now it’s time to create the image. The key is to make it as clear and as close to real life as possible and to control it as much as possible. It’s been shown that the more senses you include the better - sight, sound, smell, touch, and also with something like skating you’re going to want to include your kinaesthetic sense too, which is the perception of your body in space and how it feels in space.

 

You might imagine feeling light and energised, the sound of your board rolling up and maybe a loud pigeon in the corner of the spot, how your feet feel as you move them into position, how your weight's distributed over your board, how it feels to pop and slide your foot up the griptape, how your body rotates, the smell of the hobo sitting next to the spot, etc. The more senses you include and the more your image matches reality, the more carryover to reality.

As another example for someone who finds it hard to skate busy spots out in the streets: you might focus on everything I mentioned in the last example but also include people all around you and the intensity that brings, but then you focus on your ability to stay focused and still land your trick despite everything going on around you.

5. lock it in.

And finally, once you’ve got your image down, repeat, repeat, repeat. Try and focus on creating the image in the same way every time.

Practising imagery away from your session when you're chilling is also going to make it easier to summon it when you're out skating too.

 

using imagery during your session.

Using imagery during your sessions is pretty much the same - you still want to try and create the image as clear and controlled as possible, but it’s more something you do on the fly like when you’re rolling up to your trick or walking back up the stairs as opposed to just separating yourself from the session and sitting down quietly to visualise it, although to be fair that might help sometimes. This is how P-Rod says he uses imagery mid-sesh:


When I’m jumping stairs the only thing I’m thinking about is how to land the trick, I’m thinking about what it’s going to feel like to land the trick, I’m thinking about how it’s going to flip, how I’m going to catch it, I’m only focusing on trying to make the trick happen.

 ­­– Paul Rodriguez

It's crazy the amount of times you hear people complain about not feeling it, or talking about why they're not going to make the trick they're trying, they don't realise but they're literally setting themselves up for failure and to skate worse. I did the same for more than a decade, but these days I'm always trying to avoid that kind of thinking out on the session.

 

One way I personally use imagery when I'm out skating is to focus on a specific aspect of the trick I need to do to pull it off, for example all my weight on the tail for back tails, or the other day I was skating some stairs and as I was rolling up all I was thinking about was the way P-Rod landed that nollie flip in his intro in Yeah Right. I was doing a different trick but I was just visualising how his feet looked and that extreme bolts landing, and it helped me stomp it much more than I normally would have.

 

getting better at imagery.

Don’t be discouraged if you’re not an imagery boss first try, some people find it easy, some don’t. I personally have real trouble imagining a proper flick on my tricks and my mind kickflips always overflip like dolphin flips, but they’re getting better. Just like anything that’s really worth it, and especially skating, it takes lots of practice and lots of failing, just stay consistent and you’ll get it.

 

If you struggle with imagery and controlling your images you can start off by trying to visualise images that might be less complex than some trick you want to do, so you can get the hang of manipulating and controlling your images exactly how you want, and then gradually progress. 

 

For example you could start off with 5 minutes a day imagining each of the following situations:

 

  • A spot or a skatepark and different aspects of it, eg sound, sight, etc.

  • Basic skills like cruising, pushing, popping ollies

  • Imagining how you want to feel in certain situations, eg confidence when you're out skating something big

Another technique you can use to help you get better at imagery is using footage of yourself or someone else and then trying to simulate it (obviously watch makes, don't visualise a slam). To do this you simply watch your clip, mentally simulate it straight away, and then repeat.

 

One other popular technique in the sports psychology world is something called scripting. This is pretty similar to what I described in the 5 steps of imagery above except you write down a script of your image, including descriptions for each sense, to help you visualise exactly what you want to. Some psychologists even recommend recording yourself reading the script and then playing it back whilst you visualise it.

 

It’s a cliché in the skate world to say that skating is mostly mental, but start involving mental imagery in your skating and you'll realise how true this really is.

extra resources.

more.

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