Many athletes, both professionals and amateurs, attribute their success to mental rehearsal prior to physical performance, particularly in a competitive setting. Tom Daley can be seen mentally rehearsing his dives on the way up to the board, adding basic movements as he gets closer to performing the real dive.
This method of rehearsal has proven to be particularly effective in sports which require a great deal of precision and athleticism spanning a mere few seconds, where the slightest error is the difference between 1st and last place.
Motor imagery and physical practice use overlapping neural networks in the brain which is why a combination of the two can improve performance and even aid recovery from injury. Adding simple and basic movements to mental rehearsal improves the following performance by up to 45% more than mental rehearsal alone. This statistic is from a study which studied the performance of high jumpers following either mental rehearsal or a combination of movement and mental rehearsal. The athletes’ approach, impulsion, bar clearance and attempts to clear a height were all taken into consideration.
Guillot A, Moschberger K, Collet C, Moving While Imagining as a New Perspective for Motor Imagery Practice: A Within-Subjects Design, Behavioural and Brain Functions, 2013.