PETTLEP Imagery 4 – A New Frontier in Mental Conditioning

Part 4 – Mind power:

By Dave Smith, Ph.D.
In collaboration with Stephen Walker, Ph.D. from Podium Sports Journal

PETTLEP imagery has been advocated as a method that passes the functional equivalence criteria as athletes employ the physical, environmental, task, timing, learning, emotion, and perspective parameters for using imagery to assist in improving athletic performance.

What other Research has demonstrated the Effectiveness of PETTLEP Imagery?

In the March 2007 issue of the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, our department at the University of Chester published two research studies that provided interesting applications for the use of PETTLEP imagery (Smith, Wright, Allsopp & Westhead, 2007). These studies not only enabled us to evaluate the effectiveness of PETTLEP imagery, but we were also able to measure some specific components of PETTLEP in the various groups.

Both of these studies examined the effects of PETTLEP-based imagery compared to more traditional imagery interventions. PETTLEP is characterized by the applications of a physical, environmental, task, timing, learning, emotional and perspective components to the imagery process employed in the studies.

Study 1 – Field Hockey Penalty Flicks

Our goal was to determine whether the PETTLEP imagery method showed a discernable difference in enhancing athletic performance, when compared to traditional methods of imagery.

This study recruited 48 varsity field hockey players (24 male, 24 female, mean age = 20.37 years, SD = 3.26 years.) All of our recruits had previously performed the hockey penalty flick, but none of the subjects had previously received imagery training. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups, each consisting of 12 members. All subjects were required to keep an imagery diary that they were instructed to sign and date after each session.

The task employed to assess the effectiveness of the imagery method employed was the field hockey penalty flick taken from the penalty spot 6.5 meters in front of the center of the goal line. No goalkeeper was used but the scoring system accounted for the goal keeper’s presence. Participants were instructed to imagine the goalkeeper standing in the center of the goal when taking their penalty flicks. Participants were each allowed five practice shots prior to the pre-test and post-test, which consisted of 10 penalty flicks into a field hockey goal.

Scoring System – To account for the usual presence of a goal keeper, and to increase the face validity of the task, the scoring system rewarded more points for goals flicked into the top or bottom corner of the goal, while fewer points were awarded for shots above, below, or to either side of the goal keepers position. A minimum number of points were allowed for shots straight at the goal keeper. Missed shots or those not leaving the ground were awarded no points. A total of 30 points were possible for each pre-test and post-test trial.

The treatment groups were all introduced to imagery interventions that commenced with response training, following the pre-test. Response propositions may have included the sight of the hockey stick, ball and goal, and the sound of the stick hitting the ball. Some response propositions included the feeling of the hands gripping the hockey stick, the feelings of tension in the shoulder and arm muscles during a shot, and the sensation of the stick striking the ball. The groups focus and instructions were as follows:

1. Sport-specific imagery group.
This group performed imagery wearing their hockey uniforms while standing on their team’s hockey pitch (field.)

2. Clothing imagery group.
This group performed imagery in a standing position while at home and wearing their hockey uniforms.

3. Traditional imagery group.
This group performed imagery in a seated position at home wearing everyday clothes.

4. Control group.
This group spent an equivalent time reading hockey literature.

The sport specific group was the most focused PETTLEP imagery group employing most of the physical and environmental components. The clothing group also incorporated a number of PETTLEP components. The traditional imagery intervention also employed the task (imaging a goal shot), timing (imaging in real time) and perspective (imaging from an internal perspective) PETTLEP components.

Imagery practice was performed daily for six weeks. Each imagery session consisted of 10 imagined penalty flicks lasting around five minutes. Participants were involved with their normal hockey training and competitive matches during the study. Weekly checkups were conducted with each participant to ensure that the imagery instructions were being followed correctly.

The results included a self-reported measure that included the participants’ diaries and their self-report with respect to the benefit of the imagery practice. Virtually all participants in any form of imagery practice (excluding the control) reported that they felt their imagery practice was effective in enhancing their performance. Hence, this form of exercise is likely to be beneficial to an athlete’s confidence, even if their task execution proved to be lacking.


The mean penalty flick scores of ALL FOUR GROUPS were greater in the post-test than in the pre-test. An analysis of variance revealed a significant effect for time. The imagery groups showed an even greater benefit. The sport-specific imagery group increased their mean score by 15.11%, while the clothing group increased their mean score by 9.47%, and, the traditional imagery group increased by 5.59%. The control group scores increased by 1.14%. Effect size calculations revealed that the treatment effects were large for the sport-specific and clothing imagery groups, while the traditional imagery group effects were moderate, yet also noteworthy.

Part 4 examined one applied research study utilizing a comparative survey of imagery methods including PETTLEP and more traditional imagery methods. Part 5 will examine research conducted with gymnasts learning a technical move on the balance beam. Stay tuned for the continuation of this series.

About the Author:


Dave Smith is Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, England. He is accredited by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) as a sport scientist and is Associate Editor of The Sport Psychologist. He is also a member of the Health and Exercise Committee of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), and is the co-chair of the AASP Special Interest Group on Exercise and Wellness. He has published many articles in both scientific journals and popular magazines, and has appeared on television and radio all over the world to discuss his work. Recent publications include articles in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology and the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

3 thoughts on “PETTLEP Imagery 4 – A New Frontier in Mental Conditioning

  • June 12, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Hi, very nice post. I have been wonder’n bout this issue,so thanks for posting

  • July 6, 2009 at 12:57 pm

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  • December 4, 2011 at 1:32 am

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