Skillsoft Blog

Have a memory of the game before it starts

Shawn Hunter

Wayne Rooney is widely regarded as an astonishing soccer player—one of the greatest
playing the game today. But his behavior is also mercurial, brooding, and even
thuggish at times. He was recently banned for a game for intentionally kicking
Montenegro’s Miodrag Dzudovic. As a kid he played non-stop—in the streets, in
the house, in the backyard. And when he couldn’t play, he dreamed of playing

Rooney does this today before
every match:

“Part of my preparation is I go
and ask the kit man what color we’re wearing — if it’s red top, white shorts,
white socks or black socks. Then I lie in bed the night before the game and
visualize myself scoring goals or doing well. You’re trying to put yourself in
that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a ‘memory’ before the game.
I don’t know if you’d call it visualizing or dreaming, but I’ve always done it,
my whole life… you need to visualize realistic things that are going to happen
in a game.” (David

If you can actually practice,
great. But imagining practicing is just about as good. In a well-known
experiment, Australian researcher Alan Richardson divided about 90 students
into three groups. With the first group he asked them to ignore basketball and
come back at the end of the month. He asked the second group to come into the
gym 5 days a week and practice their free throws for twenty minutes, trying to
get better at their free throws as best as they could. With the third group he
asked them to come into the gym 5 days a week and for twenty minutes imagine
shooting free throws — to sit in the gym and visualize each attempt, to develop
a pre-shot routine, “see” and “feel” the ball bouncing and then leaving their
hand arcing to the basket. If they missed, they had to visualize an adjustment.
They were also asked to be constantly getting better.

At the end of the month all three
groups had to come into the gym and shoot 100 free throws.

  • Group 1
    didn’t improve
  • Group 2
    got 24% better
  • Group 3
    got 23% better

I had an interview with Rich
Herbst, VP for Learning and Leadership Development at Teletech, who emphasized
the use of simulations to help develop call center operators to perform better
on the job. A former F-14 pilot, Herbst described how he had thousands of hours
practicing in simulators and on airfields before he actually landed an F-14 on
an aircraft carrier. In our interview he described the experience of landing on
a carrier:

“I had done it so much that it
was like it was kind of like muscle memory. And so you stop thinking about the
stress of what you’re doing, and training takes over. And so I think in the
best types of training that you have, regardless of what it is that you’re
doing in life, if you can get yourself to a place where you’ve learned it so
well that when you experience it in real time.”

Think about what you’re trying to
accomplish, or get better at. Are you wishing it, or rehearsing it in your mind,
and then actively doing it—prepared to fail or succeed but always learn?

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