Visualization Challenges & Techniques

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Part 4 of our series on training the mind and body as an athlete. The previous article was a take on visualization by legend Pete Allum.

Giving more insight into this invaluable tool, Benoit Lemay shares his in-depth look at visualizing for top level performance…

Benoit Lemay and Fly4Life team training in Deland
Photo by Argy Alvarez

In Benoit’s words

I want to share what visualization is for me, the challenges that I have encountered and techniques that I have developed for myself over 17 years of performing at a high level. My background is in competitive skydiving, mostly 4way FS and VFS. I am not a sport psychologist, or an educated expert in the matter, and I can only talk about my own experience. I am not trying to convince you to start visualization and explain why it’s great to improve performance.  For me, this is an obvious matter.

What is Visualisation?

Let us first address what I believe to be the general concept of visualization.  My general goal is to recreate the sequence that I am about to perform as realistically as possible, including as many sensory inputs as I can, not only visual.  In my opinion, there is a distinction to be made between visualization and mental rehearsal.  Most skydivers will do a mental rehearsal of their jumps when climbing to altitude, eyes closed.  It is a way to remember the sequence and hopefully build anticipation.  Visualization goes deeper, takes more time and requires more focus and brain power.

The whole process starts with a calm mindset, maybe a few deep breaths or whatever you need to slow down your train of thoughts.  Depending on what I am trying to visualize, I might have my eyes opened or closed, I might be standing up and moving, or staying still.  I will go through the sequence that I want to perform, or maybe just one particular move if it’s a more challenging one.  I try to build anticipation, to make the sequence flow naturally without bumps and hesitations.

If everyone completely understands the plan, their visualization will be more realistic and therefore useful. Photo shows Benoit Lemay, by Argy Alvarez


Over the years of competition, I had to do a lot of visualizing.  I came across many obstacles and challenges that I had to surpass to reach the next level of mental preparation.  Here are some of the main challenges I faced…

Widening the vision

Early on in my visualization journey, I noticed that my vision was not as broad in my head as it was in real life.  For example, in 4way FS I would be able to picture the grips to take on one of my teammates, but I would not manage to visualize my two other teammates moving.  This is what we generally call tunnel vision, where we lose peripheral vision.  Tunnel vision is a natural thing that happens when learning to visualize, because the broader we want our vision to be the more brain power and effort it requires. Usually, we focus our attention on a specific area, maybe a grip that we need to grab or the leader we follow, while blurring everything else.  The challenge is to open up that vision, to see as much as you would like to see in the jump.  

The more realistic we can make our visualization, the more efficient it will be

Benoit Lemay

Seeing the details

When I started visualizing for VFS, a new challenge came up and it had to do with seeing more details.  In VFS, it is very common that we take grips in a mixed formation, which means that one head up (HU) flyer and one head down (HD) flyer take a dock together.  If you have ever taken a dock with someone, no matter what discipline or orientation, you surely have noticed how it is easy to get in a “swordfight” with the hands, both trying to grab, or present hands/wrists in weird positions.  In VFS this cannot happen, we need to have a solid, proper grip on the first attempt.  Now, imagine that you are flying HD, wanting to take a very specific grip on a teammate who is HU.  The challenge came when I tried to picture the hand of my teammate.  Imagining his hand, seeing individual fingers, the palm, logo on the glove, and making it move in my head was incredibly difficult.

Photo: Benoit’s VFS team Evolution won a bronze at the World Championships 2014 – and also bronze in 4-way FS, with 3 of the same team members! 😮

Linking the body to the mind

The ability to think about the right muscles engaging and relaxing as we are going through the sequence in our mind is crucial.  More than just rehearsing the move or sequence, I want to actively think about what parts of my body will engage, and in what way.  I found out once that I had been visualizing all of my turns wrong.  Whenever I would visualize a turn (belly or freely), I would physically send my gaze in the direction of the turn.  Whereas in the sky, I want my head going the other way to maintain visual contact with my teammates.  This is just one example of a challenge trying to link mind and body.

Exits are important

One of the first challenges that I encountered when trying to visualize was the exit.  Exits had always been a bit of a blurry moment for me.  When I would land from a jump, I would have trouble remembering the exit, how it flew, what caused it to work or not.  And the same was happening in my head when visualizing. I could picture myself getting in position in the door, see the count, then a short “blank” (like blinking slowly), and back to seeing the first formation of the jump.  Realistically picturing the movements that happened in the first second or two of the exit did not come naturally.

Transitions and moves

In VFS, I had a position that required a lot of transitions from HD to HU and vice versa.  At first, I was unable to keep the visualization through the transitions. I would have a “blank” in all my transitions, seeing only clearly the portions before and after the transition.

Benoit’s 4way FS team, Evolution used visualization to win a world bronze medal in 2014, putting Canada on this world podium for the first time. Photo by Willy Boeykens


In order to conquer these visualization challenges, I have developed a few techniques for myself. There are probably a lot of techniques, but I want to share the ones that were most effective for me. As I visualize my sequence, I will identify the moments when I start to have tunnel vision or my mind goes blank.  These are the moments that I want to revisit using one of the following techniques.

Use many senses

To make it as realistic as possible, it is necessary to include as many sensory inputs as possible. For example, I can add to my visualization the feeling that I get from the pressure of the wind or the pressure of my teammate’s grip on my wrist.  I can try to include the sounds that I will hear. And pay a lot of attention to what you will see, adding colors and textures, logos on suits and rigs, etc.

Playback speed

One of the first things that I like to play with when visualizing is the playback speed, controlling how fast or slow I make the sequence go. When a section of the sequence gets harder to see, I will slow down the speed.  Making sure that I use a speed that allows me to see all the details that I need to see. Potentially bringing the whole thing to a complete stop, taking the time to check that I have all the details: where my teammates are, what orientation they are in, where is the sky, where is the ground, where can I feel the wind pressure on my body, etc.  This was of great help to be able to visualize exits and quick transitions. I can take up to one minute to visualize a 2-second exit, or a one-second transition, making sure that I never lose the details.  Once I can achieve that, then it’s time to speed up the playback speed, up to normal speed again. I would also use a faster than normal playback speed when I remember the sequence well. That would allow me to make a quick rehearsal of the jump, to make sure that the sequence is well engraved in my mind.

Amongst the very best you will for sure find visualization in their practice
Photo, by Daniel Paquette, shows Evolution, Canadian 4-way FS team

Forward/backward playback

When running into a portion of the visualization where you lose details or hesitate, try playing that small sequence over and over again, forwards and backwards. Like you would on a video when someone does something funny or exceptional.  Slowly go through the sequence, seeing everything moving forward and backward in time, pausing at specific moments, observing all the details that went missing.  This technique allowed me to quickly get into my mind portions of jumps that require extra attention, usually in a short span of time.  

Outside perspective

This is a classic technique. Visualizing as if you were an outside observer to the group or to yourself, like an outside camera view.  The idea is to see your body in action in the group, what you want your actual body to be doing (body position) and how you are positioned in relation to others. These are things that we usually leave aside when visualizing from our perspective, because we are more focused on what we see and feel.  The outside perspective allows to open the vision to the whole group and get more in tune with the group dynamics.  When using this viewpoint, I can still feel the wind and think about the right muscle engagement, even though I am not visualizing from my own perspective. This way I can associate a certain feeling with the physical change in body position. To visualize yourself or a whole group from an outside perspective is challenging.  It will require some time and practice.  

Teammate’s perspective

This technique is similar to the previous one, in the sense that it will use someone else’s perspective. This time we are choosing a “teammate”. A jumper who is part of your group and will somehow interact with you. When flying FS or VFS, I would visualize all jumps from all of my teammates’ perspectives.  This allowed me to better understand how my flying would impact my teammates. It forced me to think: If I was in his shoes, how would I want myself to fly? It will also help you understand the challenges that others are going through and how you can help them.

I would visualize all jumps from all of my teammates’ perspectives

Benoit Lemay
Evolution VFS winning silver at the World Championships 2016


When visualizing, try to incorporate the background and your surroundings.  I have found myself going through a jump in my head, but only seeing my teammates with a blurry background, or no background at all.  Later, I started to play with including the background and surroundings. Adding the horizon line, where is it in relation to my teammates?  Positioning the earth and sky, making sure that I know what orientation I am in. This is surprisingly challenging when going through transitions. Also paying attention to landmarks on the ground, especially when visualizing for a movement jump where I need to respect a certain heading. 

You can of course mix and match any of these techniques depending on what you are focusing on. For example, I could see part of the jump from my own perspective, then switch to an outside perspective for a specific move, play it forwards and backwards a few times, and then back to my perspective.  The possibilities are as great as your imagination.

Give it a try

Visualization is a skill that needs to be practiced if you want to improve. There are difficulties that come with it, but also techniques that can help you increase your level of mental preparation. I believe it is up to everyone to discover their own challenges and techniques, and nothing will make you better at visualization than visualizing. Hopefully, learning about my own journey through visualization will help you improve yours and encourage you to keep practicing.

“Nothing will make you better at visualization than visualizing”
Photo shows author Benoit Lemay, by Argy Alvarez

Training Mind and Body Series

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Meet: Benoit Lemay

Member of Fly4Life. Flight 1 canopy coach. International competitor in 4way FS, VFS and Freestyle. Tandem and AFF instructor.
Sponsors: UPT, PD, Vigil and L&B.

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