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Concept: Mental practice can be effective for learning and relearning skills and for preparing to perform learned skills.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Define mental practice and describe the several forms it can take

  • Describe two roles for mental practice in the learning and performance of motor skills

  • Describe how mental practice can be used to aid skill learning and relearning in various settings

  • Describe how mental practice can be used to aid performance preparation in various settings

  • Discuss three hypotheses proposed to explain why mental practice is effective

  • Discuss the meaning of the term imagery ability and how it relates to the effectiveness of mental practice


Situations in which teachers, coaches, and therapists can use mental practice range from helping a patient employ mental practice to relearn a skill to aiding a world-class athlete perform in a major competitive event. Consider the following three examples.

A gymnast is standing beside the floor exercise mat waiting to begin her routine. Before actually beginning that routine, the gymnast goes through the entire routine mentally, visualizing the performance of each part of the routine, from beginning to end. Following this, the gymnast steps onto the mat and begins the routine.

A stroke patient is having difficulty walking down a flight of stairs. After several failed attempts, the patient is becoming frustrated. The therapist tells the patient to stop practicing and instead to stand on the top step and mentally visualize and feel herself walking down the stairs perfectly ten times in a row. The patient goes through the entire sequence mentally on each practice attempt. Following this procedure, the therapist has the patient go back to physically practicing this skill.

You are playing golf and have just hit a beautiful drive down the middle of the fairway. You would like to hit a few practice drives to try to reproduce and reinforce the swing that produced such a wonderful result. Although you can't do that, you can practice that swing mentally as you walk down the fairway to your next shot.

Notice that each of these three situations had a different goal for mental practice. The gymnast used mental practice to prepare for an immediate performance of a well-learned routine. The rehabilitation patient used mental practice to reacquire a skill. Finally, the golfer used a mental practice procedure to reinforce an appropriate action and thereby aid an upcoming performance of that action.

Application Problem to Solve Describe a motor skill that you perform or might help people learn. Describe how you would mentally practice the skill to help you perform it or to improve your performance. Describe how you would use mental practice as a strategy to help people learn or improve their performance of a skill you are helping them learn or improve.

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