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Visualization is a technique commonly used in canoe slalom to mentally prepare for pre-competition routines.  What makes it so crucial?

The Psychology of sport intervention, aims to achieve the best performance of athletes. Allowing the athlete to self-regulate during training and races can stabilize their performance possibilities. In Canoe Slalom, training focused on acquiring and managing psychological skills is essential. This sport requires a lot of capacity from the athlete to choose the best line to navigate through gates and natural obstacles (current, drops, rocks, stoppers etc.) 

The Canoe Slalom discipline, takes place in artificial whitewater venues and natural rivers. These are especially uncertain. 18 to 25 gates must be crossed in a specific way and  direction to address the uncertainties in this sport. Which cannot be touched and must be crossed as quickly as possible. 

In Canoe Slalom, we cannot try the race course like other sports like mountain biking. This fact, automatically increases the uncertainties in the environment and can be related to higher levels of anxiety during competition. Visualizing the course before it is raced, is a powerful tool for the athlete, since they feel more comfortable with the circuit as ‘’it is already done’’ in their minds. Visualizing every move from the course and how they will perform with their strengths and weaknesses.

Visualization, allows the athlete to practice a move without performing it in real life. As far as the brain is concerned, according to Hughes, M. and Franks, I. (2007), there is no difference in neuronal activity between visualization and execution. So as to, if you train the imaginary practice it gives you two main benefits: You can train a course before the race and you can have some feedback comparing your mental representation with the reality.


There are three types of visualization to put in practice:

  1. Visual. Bird’s eye view: the athlete has the ability to visualize a situation in a dynamic form and is a ‘spectator’ through their actions. Sees how to navigate the course, projects a successful model for the move’s execution, and can anticipate possible technical and tactical mistakes.
  2. Visual. First person view: This one is more effective in stimulating the cognitive and proprioception systems. The athlete sees  themselves  from the perspective of the first person and imagines the information received while proceeding through the course.
  3. Kinesthetic and proprioception: The athlete focuses on the internal body sensations (kinesthetic) and feelings that they will experience during the course. It is useful to assist the athlete with some material, such as a paddle, in feeling the shaft and the pressure of the hand on it. Another option would be to visualize from inside the boat.


Written by Carmen Costa



Vives-Ribó, J., & Costa-Sánchez, C. (2022). Uso de la práctica imaginada para el afrontamiento de la competición en piragüismo slalom. Revista de Psicología Aplicada al Deporte y al Ejercicio Físico, 7(2). 

Diez-Canedo, G.(2023).Por qué una piragua de slalom está en equilibrio y se mueve: fundamentos biomecánicos: Trabajo de visualización. Diez-Canedo, Lamiel (Coords.), Manual de aguas bravas para la tecnificación: del saber palear al navegar eficiente y fluido (pp.216-2017). Andavira.

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