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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Intercollegiate female swimmers can improve performance by using imagery to develop positive responses to competitive pressures.

The finding is based on a study of 40 female swimmers at the NCAA Division I level by student researchers at the University of Tennessee and the University of Nebraska.

One of the researchers was Stephen J. Page, who recently earned a doctoral degree in human performance and sport studies at UT-Knoxville.

”The study is significant because anxiety has the potential to undermine self-confidence and hurt performance,” said Page. With imagery, athletes are helped to use their imaginations to think in a positive way about competing. ,p> ”It’s more than visualizing doing something,” Page said. ”The athlete forms a mental image of the crowd sounds, the smell of the chlorine, the temperature of the water, the way the water feels. All the senses are called into play.

”Imagery does not eliminate anxiety, but it can turn it into a positive force to improve performance.”

Page was joined in the research project by Wesley E. Sime and Kelly Nordell, both of Nebraska. Results of the study were presented in June at the annual meeting of the American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity.

Swimmers were chosen for the study because previous research showed athletes in individual sports tend to feel anxiety more than competitors in team sports.

”The individual athlete is in a pressure situation,” Page said. ”It is not like you can have an off day and someone else can step in to take up the slack.”

Swimmers from two universities, Nebraska and Ball State University, were used in the study.