PETTLEP Imagery 5 – A New Frontier in Mental Conditioning

PETTLEP Imagery Part 5

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

The first 3 parts of this series focused on previous research in the use of imagery for improving athletic performance, and the specific factors that contribute to measurable benefits athletes have experienced in the use of imagery applied to strength and conditioning training.

Functional equivalence, as measured by fMRIs, EEGs and PET scans, was determined to be the component factor that established the threshold for effectiveness of methods using imagery to enhance athletic performance.

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 and visualization to assist in improving athletic performance.

Part 3 examined the practical applications of this method as it was employed in studies of weight trainers who were able to demonstrate strength gains through the use of PETTLEP imagery. Part 4 looked at applications in other sports including a study of varsity field hockey players randomly assigned to different imagery groups. Although, ALL FOUR test groups demonstrated gains in a repeated measures design, the sport-specific group and the clothing group showed the greatest gains in athletic performance. The PETTLEP components were most widely distributed amongst these two imagery groups.

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 2 – Learning a Grade C Gymnastics Skill on the Balance Beam

Our goal was to determine whether the PETTLEP imagery method showed a discernible difference in enhancing athletic performance, when compared to traditional methods of imagery. This study recruited 40 female gymnasts between the ages of 7-14 years (mean age = 10.1, SD = 1.81) from a local gymnastics club. None of the gymnasts had previously attempted the skill used in this study, and none had received previous imagery training. Participants were randomly assigned to the following four groups: physical practice group, PETTLEP group, stimulus imagery group, and control group.

The criterion task for this study included a full turning straight jump on the beam. This skill is classified as C grade in the Official Code for British Gymnastics. C grade skills are the most complex and difficult to learn, and involve more risk than A and B grades. Participants had three attempts at the skill in both pre- and post-tests.

Each attempt was video recorded, and evaluated by a fully qualified national British gymnastics coach, who was blind to the nature of the study. Furthermore, the judge was unaware which videotape for each participant was the pre-test and which was the post-test, so as to avoid any possible bias. The attempts were judged on a scale of 1 to 10 and the average of the three marks for each gymnast was taken as her final mark.

Upon completion of the pre-test, the interventions were introduced to the participants. They were randomly assigned and divided equally among the following:

1. Physical Practice group.
This group was comprised of those gymnasts who were asked to perform two practice jumps on the beam three times per week for the entire six weeks between the pre-test and the post-test.

Each imagery participant performed her imagery routine three times per week, imaging the jump twice on each occasion, with interventions lasting around 3-5 minutes. The imagery participants and controls were instructed not to physically practice the skill for the duration of the experiment. Weekly check-ins were conducted with each participant and imagery diaries were kept.

2. PETTLEP Imagery group.
This group was provided an intervention and response training that included all seven PETTLEP components. Each gymnast was interviewed to provide information incorporated in creating their individualized imagery scripts. Typical response propositions included references to feelings of tension in the hands, sensations in the legs and the beam underneath the feet (physical and task components.) Other components recorded in the imagery tasks included emotion, task, environment, timing and perspective.) All PETTLEP components were represented in this group’s imagery.

3. Stimulus Imagery group.
The group was given stimulus training in which the stimulus details in the participants’ images (sight of the beam beneath them, gymnasium wall in front of them, smell of the gym) were solicited and reinforced. This group was provided with the same, stimulus proposition-laden imagery script, matched in length to the scripts provided for the PETTLEP group. They performed their imagery at home dressed in everyday clothing.

4. Control.
The control group was provided with a stretching program consisting of fie conditioning stretches from the British Gymnastics Handbook. A qualified instructor demonstrated all the stretches and participants were instructed to perform them three times per week for the duration of the study.

The self-reported data following the study were such that all the imagery participants reported that they perceived their imagery as effective in enhancing performance, suggesting that imagery of any kind is likely to enhance an athlete’s self-confidence.


The physical practice and imagery groups all improved on the post-test, however, the control group did not improve. An analysis of variance revealed that the physical practice group increased by 43.93% from pre- to post-test. The PETTLEP group improved by 36.36%, and the Stimulus Imagery group improved 15.22%. These differences were statistically significant for the physical practice and PETTLEP imagery groups, yet, not significant for the stimulus imagery group.

In this study, the PETTLEP imagery appeared to be as effective as physically performing the task. It should be noted in normal circumstances, athletes would perform physical practice plus PETTLEP. Hence, the effect of using this model in the field may be even more dramatic than indicated by these results. In addition, for sports where the injury potential, overtraining concerns and athletic endeavors that provide reduced opportunities for recovery…PETTLEP imagery can be remarkably effective in supporting athletes physical efforts at enhancing their performance.

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.

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