Functional Imagery Training

summarized by David DeWinter
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Jon Rhodes – Applied Psychologist, Imagery Coaching
Karol Nedza – Researcher, Imagery Coaching
Joanna Grover – CEO, Imagery Coaching
@ImageryCoaching on Instagram

The 3-Sentence Summary

Functional Imagery Training trains athletes to build resilience, manage pressure and stress, and find balance in their lives. It has three core components: connecting your purpose to your values, motivational interviewing, and imagery. Motivational interviewing focuses on building connection and motivation in others through active listening, empathy, and precise questioning to uncover values and goals, and imagery focuses on using the imagination to rehearse both positive and negative outcomes before they happen.

Timestamps – Session 1

2:11 Joanna: being trained in imagery coaching helped me get out of my head and into my potential. Session 1 is motivational interviewing; session 2 is imagery work.

4:26 The instructors:

  • Joanna – Co-Founder, Imagery Coaching; First person in the US to become a trained FIT practitioner
  • Karol – Runs the training courses
  • Jon – Co-Founder, Imagery Coaching; Developer of FIT

Introduction to FIT

6:31 FIT is resilience training, using imagery-based interventions to support people to be the best version of themselves, to manage pressure and stress, and to find balance in their life.

7:34 Exercise #1: What makes a coach?

  • Old-school coach: authoritarian
  • Modern coach: empathic, passionate, supportive – a complex personality

Motivational Interviewing

12:03 Motivational Interviewing (MI): the athlete is an expert of their own life. It’s the foundation for many forms of talking therapy and is based on four core values: Collaboration, Acceptance, Evocation, and Compassion.

14:47 Characteristics of MI:

  • Guides, doesn’t direct
  • Builds connection through listening as much as telling
  • Evokes from a person what they already have
  • Honors a person’s autonomy
  • Creates empathy and avoids judgment
  • Encourages mastery

20:39 Example: athlete comes to you and says they’re putting in all the effort but they’re not getting any better and are no longer motivated. They question whether they should be doing this sport.

  • Non-MI (problem-focused): You’re constantly late. You underdeliver in the workouts, and your heart’s not it. Maybe it’s not for you.
  • MI (person-focused): Maybe it’s not the right time because it sounds like you got a lot going on. I understand your motivation’s not very high – what small goals can we work on together?

23:37 Exercise #2: When would this be useful?

  • Being late or absent, groaning in the boat
  • Selection: Have the awkward you-didn’t-make-the-boat conversations first, and then have the positive ones


29:52 Applying MI: OARS

  • Open Questions: not yes-no questions, invite conversation, explore
  • Affirm – Affirm that you’re listening
  • Reflect – Mirror their words
  • Summarize – Confirm that your interpretation is what they meant

33:50 MI Demo

  • Reflecting, helping the athlete see paths forward on their own through your questions

40:28 MI can help you build connection through empathy, because they know you’ll support them to follow their values.

41:25 Exercise #3: What are 3 shared values that are important to you as a coach?

46:25 Exercise #4: What are your 2022 goals? How can you connect them to your values from Exercise #3?

51:26 Contact info

52:12 These are the fundamentals of verbal communication as a coach: you build rapport through conversation, and that rapport is the foundation of motivating others. Then focus on goals–when you write them down, others can support and motivate you. Use your goals to connect you to your purpose, which is a huge source of motivation.


53:45 What happens if someone has a more old-school approach?

You can use MI to speak with them. Understand their goals, values, why they coach, etc. When you understand those you can talk through common goals to get there.

54:25 Do you have any data on the success of MI?

Jon: Several anecdotes in published literature. This is what I use as a psychologist in my first session to just connect with people.

56:09 Ask about others’ values to understand what drives their behavior. Then make the connection with your own values.

56:36 Best practices for balancing connection with athletes and the need for boundaries?

Some younger athletes are hugely aspirational, so it’s important to break goals down into what’s achievable this season, why they want to get there, and where their expectations come from. (Winning or learning?)

Lori Dauphiny and Sandy Armstrong spoke about boundaries at around 1:06:23.

59:56 U23 Male Athletes of the Year awarded to Griffin Dunne and Gus Rodriguez

Session 2 – Imagery Training

YouTube player


2:55 Imagery training is the X-Factor that amplifies motivation to reach their goals and persevere for longer.

5:32 If you’re connected well with your core values, you’ll persevere over time.

The Threat System vs. the Soothing System

6:24 Young athletes’ goals are hugely aspirational, which can create stress and anxiety. We work with athletes to develop a counterbalancing soothing system to act under pressure. However, most athletes think that anxiety is part of big goal setting and that not much can be done about it.

9:24 There will always be anxiety in big goal setting, but our ability to frame anxiety appropriately greatly impacts our performance.

10:40 Exercise #1: How do you use imagery (as a coach or an individual)?

  • Mental imagery: play a scenario in your mind
  • Observational imagery: imagine the scenario based on something you observe
  • Redirect intrusive thoughts with your mental skills

14:50 People think they have no control over their mind wandering, but we know we can teach people to reset.

Visualization or Imagery

15:44 Visualization refers to imagery using the visual faculty only. It’s only a small part of imagery overall. We want to bring all the senses into it: the feeling on the skin, the sensation of your arm moving, the smell, emotion, etc.

19:05 Imagery is teaching individuals how to deep dive on certain thoughts.

20:10 Exercise #2: Imagine the blade of an oar slapping the water and rate your ability to visualize: everyone is different in how vivid they can make their imagery.

24:45 Exercise #3: Imagine yourself being a rower or the person with the megaphone, about to start a race.

  1. The images are created.
  2. The chatter (self-talk) starts: go from monologue to dialogue.
  3. You add meaning.

28:54 Your brain activates in the same way during mental rehearsal as it does during the actual event. Imagery AND actual practice are necessary for maximum growth.

The Ultra-Marathon Project

32:16 Asking non-runners to run an ultramarathon. (Story)

36:03 Motivation vs Commitment

  • Motivation: A spectrum, depending very much on internal and external circumstances.
  • Commitment: A light switch. You either are committed or you’re not. Having a conversation about commitment can emphasize your own commitment.

37:11 Comparing one group who did motivational interviewing only to another who did motivational interviewing, imagery (how to overcome obstacles), and focus on purpose (reconnecting with values).

39:10 When you struggle and have lost motivation, then reconnecting to your purpose can carry you through.

40:59 Imagery and motivational interviewing were 5x more effective in getting people to reach their goals than motivational interviewing alone.

41:51 The 3 P’s

  • Perceive the Challenge: what can I do right now?
  • Plan for Performance
  • Persevere with the Plan: when it gets hard, stick with the plan.

42:48 Exercise #4: How can you use imagery to enhance performance?

  • Race imagery – what’s happening at the start line? 100m left?
  • Immerse yourself in the scene: where are you? Who are you talking to? What are the conversations about? Where will you put your stuff?

46:25 Struggle can be a positive force, and its existence means we have added purpose and meaning to what we’re doing. We can use motivational interviewing and imagery to help push through that struggle.


47:45 How do you find the right image for the situation and individual?

Start one-on-one and break it down to one thing you want to work on per week to start. (54:39) Let the athlete guide you, because they choose the right image for them. Coaches are only a guide and know the questions to ask.

49:42 Negative imagery can be massively motivating: what would it be like if you didn’t reach your goals? Where would you be? What would you realize? What could you do now to avoid that outcome?

52:20 Contact info

53:00 Extended training details to become an accredited imagery coach

58:02 We’re providing an environment to listen to the athlete, not to respond to them, but to build a connection with them.

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