We talkin’ about practice: Allen Iverson and visualization

By Dan Peterson

Following up on the last post about the power of visualization and the way that purely mental practice can improve physical skills, a fascinating little story about Allen Iverson that might change the way you think about his approach to the game, and his infamous attitude toward practice.  From Larry Platt’s Only the Strong Survive, about Iverson’s use of visualization techniques that he learned from his high school football coach:

Kozlowski was a staunch believer in psychocybernetics. He’d preach the value of visualization long before such mental gymnastics were in vogue. He had Allen read the book Psycho-Cybernetics, by Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who maintained that, even after reconstructive nose surgery, many patients would still see their old nose when they looked in the mirror; such was the power of the brain’s imagery. Kozlowski would tell Iverson to tie his shoe while continuing to carry on a conversation with him. Iverson would be speaking to him, looking up at him, while kneeling and tying his shoe. “See that,” Kozlowski said. “See how you didn’t have to look at yourself tying your shoe? See how you didn’t even have to think about it? I want you to play like you just tied your shoelaces–automatically. The way you do that is by having an image in your mind of what you do before you do it.”

“Allen took psychocybernetics to a new level,” Kozlowski recalls. Today, Iverson doesn’t like to talk about how he does what he does on the basketball court. “I just do it,” he says. Partially, like any artist, he is wary of overanalyzing his gift. But it could also be that he’s known since high school that the real explanation defies easy answers, that the answer is, at heart, both beneath and above the level of language, and connected, on some level, to his psyche. In other words, missed in all the hand-wringing about his lackadaisical practice habits in the NBA is the possibility that so much of his work is cerebral. Unlike, say, Jordan, who was a craftsman, someone who would take hundreds of jumpshots a day, Iverson imagines the possibility and then acts it out.

“Let me tell you about Allen’s workouts,” says Terry Royster, his bodyguard from 1997 until early 2002. “All the time I have been with him, I never seen him lift a weight or stand there and shoot jumper after jumper. Instead, we’ll be on our way to the game and he’ll be quiet as hell. Finally, he’ll say, ‘You know how I usually cross my man over and take it into the lane and pull up? Well, tonight I’m gonna cross him over and then take a step back and fade away. I’m gonna kill ‘em with it all night long.’ And damned if he didn’t do just that. See, that’s his workout, when he’s just sitting there, thinking. That’s him working on his game.”

Also, because any excuse to watch it is a good excuse, Iverson on practice:

Also, from a New York Times video on the history of the crossover, at the 2:00 mark Iverson talks about how often he would visualize his crossover, and when he finally put it to work on Michael Jordan:

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