Using visualisation

6th Mar, 2017

February issue of All At Sea, 2017

It is now widely accepted that to achieve your true potential in sport, it is essential to train mentally as well as physically.

In the July 2016 issue of All At Sea, I discussed the importance of being able to balance the rational and emotional mind in order to cope with environmental, physical, competitive and personal stressors while out sailing and racing; a skill known as 'mental toughness'.

In this issue, I discuss the role of visualisation in improving your performance on the water.

Visualisation is a skill which allows you to use your thoughts, reactions and emotional sensations to your advantage in high-pressure situations.

Visualisation can be used for:

  • -Training and rehearsal, to improve skill level in boat handling and tactics
  • -Psyching up for a race or training session
  • -Building confidence in high-pressure situations (such as on the start line, mark roundings, leading the fleet)
  • -Recovering from a mistake (allowing you to stay focused in the present)
  • -Relaxation when feeling anxious
  • -Recovering from an injury

The idea of 'visualisation' is to mentally rehearse a process (such as tacking) rather than an outcome (e.g. winning a race).

Mental rehearsal of a perfect performance not only consolidates learning, but acts as a confidence boost – allowing you to react more quickly and efficiently in high pressure situations.

So, how do I visualise?

There are two types of visualisation, internal and external – both of which can be focused on a past performance or imagination of a future success.

Internal visualisation requires you to visualise a skill or event from your own perspective, as if you were sailing your boat. This is the view you would see if wearing a go-pro on your head or chest.

External visualisation requires you visualise the skill or event from somebody else's perspective; this would be the view seen from a coach boat or spectator.

Visualisation is a skill which can be developed with a few minutes' practice each day:

  • -In a quite area, focus on your breathing by taking a few slow, deep breaths
  • - Begin to imagine how you will perform during a certain process or situation
  • -Focus on performing successfully; re-enforcing correct technique
  • -Rehearse the same thing several times
  • -Engage as many senses as possible
  • -Try speeding things up and slowing them down
  • -Imagine performing the same process in a competitive environment, incorporating any coping strategies you may need to deal with emotional stressors

Watching videos of professional sailors – there are now plenty high quality videos of Olympic sailors and offshore racers available online – performing a maneouvere can help you to re-enforce the use of correct technique in your own boat.

Good luck – you've now got an excuse to day dream!


  • -Book: Mental and Physical Fitness for Sailing by Alan Beggs, John Derbyshire and John Whitmore
  • -Website: