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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Mental Imagery in Basketball

Physical preparation for any sport is important. However, being mentally prepared and mentally tough is just as important, if not more important. In the sport of basketball, mental imagery plays an important role, and often separates the great players from the average players. With the “line” being so small as to whether an athlete makes it to the next level or not, mental abilities can be a major contributing factor for the few that do make the transition. Michael Jordan once said, “I visualized where I wanted to be, what kind of player I wanted to become. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there.” To read a perspective such as this from a legend like Michael Jordan is a testament to the importance of mental imagery for success in basketball or any sport.

Mental imagery can help reduce the stress or “pressure” that an athlete may feel before or during the sport activity. A basketball player can improve their overall skills through mental imagery. For example, players that want to improve their shooting can take a few minutes and mentally “imagine” being a successful shooter. Each step in the shooting process can be visualized and “felt” through imagery.

The player should find a quiet place to sit comfortably. While relaxing and breathing regularly, the player should close their eyes and go through each phase of their shooting routine. The player can “imagine” taking the dribble, squaring up to the basket, jumping off the court, extending the ball above the head, releasing the ball and seeing the rotation of the ball while it swishes through the basket. This can be done over and over again until the player can translate what was imagined into physical success on the court.

In an era when each player is trying to figure out how to get an edge over the next player —- getting the opposing player to loose their focus can mean the difference between winning and loosing. In professional basketball, trash-talking has become a mastered art form. Mental imagery can help to keep the athlete focused on the task at hand. This is especially true when an opposing player tries to throw their opponent off their game by trash-talking. This is very much a part of the game of basketball. The opposing player may try different trash-talking techniques to distract the other player. The mental preparation gained through mental imagery exercises would go a long way towards helping the player stay focused despite all the trash-talking going on.

Mental imagery can be practiced anywhere and just about anytime. It is only mastered through consistent use and is only limited by the athlete’s imagination. Being mentally prepared can help an athlete successfully navigate through adversity. It can also help the athlete stay focused during important parts of a practice or game. Many players and coaches today feel that mental preparation can be as much as 90% of the game.


Brown, D., Burke K. Sport Psychology Library: Basketball. Fitness Information Technology, Inc. 2003.