By 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 soccer.
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 Winner interview)
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?