The practice of imagery: A review of 25 years of applied sport imagery recommendations


Over time, researchers have advanced our understanding of sport imagery by providing theoretical, methodological, and practical recommendations (e.g., Munroe-Chandler & Hall, 2017). These practical recommendations often consist of a summary of the research findings, with the intent of enhancing applied practice. What is seldom discussed, however, is the use of these recommendations by those participating in, or facilitating, sport experiences (Gould, 2016). If sport imagery researchers are to infer that their recommendations will be effectively implemented, they are assuming practitioners have adequate knowledge of, and training in, imagery. Therefore, it is important to further examine these applied imagery recommendations and to evaluate their practicality. The purpose of the current study was to identify the most common practical imagery recommendations over the past 25 years. Imagery studies were identified from an electronic search and were included in the analysis if they examined imagery, used original data, and provided practical recommendations (n = 94). A content analysis was used to identify the number of studies that provided practical recommendations (e.g., Cope et al., 2011). Further, a reflexive thematic analysis was conducted to develop, construct, and generate commonalities in the data (Braun & Clarke, 2019). The most common recommendations included: (a) the role of the coach to facilitate imagery use, (b) the use of motivational imagery to increase confidence, and (c) the matching of the imagery function(s) to the desired outcome(s). Interestingly, similar recommendations appeared across multiple decades, suggesting that these recommendations are rarely followed in applied practice.