Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Exercise and Sport Sciences

Major Professor

Craig A. Wrisberg

Committee Members

Jeffrey T. Fairbrother, Sandra P. Thomas, Joe Whitney


Imagery is a mental skill that has been researched extensively over the last 40 years (Weinberg, 2008). Experimental and applied investigations have demonstrated that imagery positively affects sport performance as well as a number of psychological characteristics of athletes (Feltz & Landers, 1983; Morris, Spittle, & Watt, 2005). Studies have also revealed that athletes use imagery for multiple functions (both cognitive and motivational) in a variety of sports (both open and closed) and in and out of competition (Hall, Mack, Paivio, & Hausenblas, 1998; Munroe, Giaccobbi, Hall, & Weinberg, 2000). Prior to the present study, however, research had not examined athletes’ experience of imagery in depth. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore athletes’ lived experience of using imagery in their sport. To accomplish this goal phenomenological interviews were conducted with ten female collegiate gymnasts (M age = 22.2 yr). After a brief period of introductory conversation each participant was asked to respond to the following open-ended statement: “Think of a time when you have used imagery in your sport and describe that to me as fully as possible.” Follow-up questions were asked only to gain further clarification or to obtain additional details to gymnasts’ comments. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Qualitative analysis of the transcripts revealed a total of 693 meaning units, which were then grouped into sub-themes and major themes. A final thematic structure revealed five major dimensions that characterized these gymnasts’ experience of using imagery: preparing for movement, mentally preparing, feeling the skill, controlling perspective/speed/effort, and time and place. The most significant findings of the present study were that these gymnasts (a) varied the speed of their imagery (real and slow time), (b) used imagery during a performance bout as well as in preparation for performance, (c) combined physical motion with their imagery to increase the feel of the skill, and (d) felt a persistent need to make their imagery perfect. These results extend the findings of previous imagery research and offer several implications for coaches and practitioners interested in using imagery with gymnasts.

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