The construct of mental imagery has drawn different conceptual distinctions in its description. Scientists have described it as an experience that mimics real experience (Link, 2009). Using the technique allows one to experience smell, taste, or sounds without experiencing the real thing. From the definition, mental imagery function, the use of mental imagery, and mental imagery ability, appear as constructs that define the experiences of athletes. Mental imagery function focuses on the performance purpose of the technique, the use of mental imagery focuses on its purpose, and mental imagery ability focuses on the ability of athletes to experience vivid and controllable mental images. The three constructs drawn from the definition are employed in this study to understand the process and progress of mental imagery in female athletes. As such, the research draws attention the constructs of mental imagery function, the use of mental imagery, and mental imagery ability to identify how they facilitate efficacy and enhance the performance of female athletes.
According to Saber et al. (2012), female athletes strive each day to perfect mental imagery skills into their daily routines to seek the outcome of self-confidence. The belief of female athletes about their ability to succeed fuels the success of mental imagery skills among this specific gender. The literature review focuses on the three aspects drawn from the definition, including mental imagery function, the use of mental imagery, and mental imagery ability, to analyze mental imagery in female athletes.
Mental imagery function in female athletes
The construct of mental imagery function is a major advancement in athletics that facilitates the study of cognitive and motivational functions of females towards athletics (Link, 2009). The cognitive function influences the mental construction of skill or strategy whereas the motivational function influences the emotional feelings and perceptions of female athletes concerning their physical abilities. Observations point to cognitive and motivational imagery serving cognitive specific skills and imaging of sport specific skills as well as motivation specific skills and goal pursuit or images of arousal control. Female athletes taking up mental imagery use these components to make up the image visualized. The content of the images varies according to the ultimate goals and functions of the mental images (Deelstra et al., 2014). Understanding the motivations of mental imagery in female athletes is a step towards understanding how the tool shapes and defines their performances.
The use of mental imagery in female athletes
The psychological technique of mental imagery allows athletes to create performances in mind (Saber et al., 2012). Players engage the technique through mental practice to evoke the stored information from past experiences. The female athletes achieve the mental imagery they are interested in by forming the pieces in mind. The practice has a similar effect on the brain’s neural system as real experiences do, which facilitate their performance in competitive positions. The important factor in learning these skills is to improve the physical and motor fitness (Saber et al., 2012). Overall, mental techniques have the potential of improving the physical factors of strength and speed as well as the motor factors of agility, power, and balance, which are essential for female athletic performances in competitive situations.
Mental imagery ability in female athletes
The gender variable has played a great role in activating mental imagery skills among females, given the indications of studies that men are more likely to use the skill (Saber et al., 2012). The conclusion makes gender an important variable to consider when analyzing mental imagery skills. Zivdar et al. (2012) conducted a comparative analysis of internal and external imagery abilities of male and female badminton players. The results of the study lend weight to the conclusion that mental imagery abilities in male athletes are higher than those of female athletes. The results are from a sample of forty males and forty females using a vividness of movement imagery and a vividness of visual imagery questionnaire. The study was conducted among athletes participating in the Islamic Azad University Tournaments in Tehran in 2010. The findings are consistent with the results in Feltz and Lirgg’s (2007) study. Zivdar et al. (2012) draw the conclusion that the mental imagery of male badminton players exceeds those of females to indicate the males have higher physical factors for the skills.
Theoretical framework for the study
The overall assumption of the three constructs of mental imagery is that the technique shapes that psychological state of self-efficacy or self-confidence (Short, Tenute & Feltz, 2005). However, the link between efficacy and mental studies remains understudied, especially among female athletes. The cognitive theory proposed by Bandura alludes that efficacy beliefs influence thoughts and emotional reactions as well as behaviors (Short, Tenute & Feltz, 2005). The brief pool of literature consistently points to a positive relationship between efficacy beliefs and behaviors, particularly in relation to performance, effort, and persistence. The cognitive theory also supports that efficacy beliefs influence choices that people make and the actions they pursue (Short, Tenute & Feltz, 2005). The theory holds that where a person feels efficacious concerning a task, they engage in the task with the required confidence. The person persists in performing the tasks while those who are not efficacious avoid the tasks.
From the constructs identified, numerous circumstances can facilitate efficacy. For example, female athletes may attach confidence to their selves, their skills, their equipment, their teammates, or coaches to compete or socialize. The cognitive theory remains valuable to understanding the process that female athletes use to make judgments on their abilities to accomplish certain sports before forming mental images of the successes. It is evident that differences in imagery ability are present, and that they influence the frequency of using the technique and its efficiency. The differences are valuable for exploring the constructs of mental imagery function, the use of mental imagery, and mental imagery ability as relates to the performance of female athletes.
- Deelstra, J. et al. (2014). The Efficacy of a Motivational Imagery Intervention in Distance Athletes. Skyline – The Big Sky Undergraduate Journal, 2(1), 1-6.
- Feltz. D. L., & Lirgg, C. D. (2007). Self-efficacy beliefs of athletes, teams, and coaches. In R.N. Singer., H.A. Hausenblaus., C.M. Janelle (Eds). Hand Book of Sports Psychology (2nd Ed, 340-367). New York: Wiley.
- Link, C. A. (2009). The Use of Mental Imagery by Aesthetic Athletes Prior to Competition. Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada: University of Lethbridge.
- Saber, M. et al. (2012). Comparison of Selected Mental Skills Between Elite and Non-Elite Male and Female Taekwondo Athletes. World Journal of Sports Sciences, 6 (1), 32-38.
- Short, S. E., Tenute, A. & Feltz, D. L. (2005). Imagery use in sport: Mediational effects for efficacy. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23(9), 951 – 960.