Recently we read the evidence from the 1990s that revealed the power of imagination in sport.
Researchers explored 3 subject groups; 1 performed finger exercises, group 2 performed no finger exercises, and group 3 simply imagined the finger exercises performed by group 1.
After 4 weeks and as expected, the subjects in the first group increased the strength of the exercised finger by 30% on average – no shock here! No surprise that the subjects in the second group did not increase the strength of the finger.
This is what shocked us - the subjects that only imagined exercises without actually doing them increased the force output of the exercised finger by 22%, without the finger increasing in size!
Should we conclude that imaginary exercises made the connection between the brain and the finger (muscles) more effective?
We believe that this demonstrates the importance of intent for developing young cricketers.
We have written about this before and we will write about it again - It is the level of intent which reveals the potential of a young cricketer to perform a task.
Increased intent may help explain how imaginary exercise can work. Imaginary exercise seems to teach the brain to perform a task with greater intent, facilitating the recruitment of more powerful muscle movement.
The level of intent, with which a young cricketer performs a task, is determined by the player’s level of focus and effort. Imaginary exercise can improve both.
Despite the effectiveness of imaginary exercise, young cricketers should not skip training and just visualise. As demonstrated by the finger experiment described above, a training regimen that exercises both the brain and the muscle is most effective.
Coaches have a role to play in helping young cricketers understand that exercise and training should be intertwined with mental exercise – provide regular opportunities for players to complete actions they are practicing with greater intent.
Training with greater intent will lead to adaptation. Over time (months and years, not days and weeks) players will learn to activate more efficient actions and sequences – leading to enhanced performance.
Coaches can encourage training with greater intent by using unfamiliar exercise techniques or situations. An unfamiliar task requires more focus and typically engages the player to a greater extent. For this reason, it is beneficial for coaches to experiment and to mix up their training programmes.
A training programme only composed of the same activities will not be nearly as effective as a programme composed of many different training methods and scenarios.