Mindfulness meditation aids an athletes game who are under continuous strain and pressure to perform well both on and off the field. Whether it be doing well during practice sessions or winning during important matches. These situations coupled with the need to perform well, keep the athletes under constant stress. Stress has several adverse effects on an athlete. It can pre-empt an athlete to suffer with an injury, it can decrease performance levels and can also decline the ability of an athlete to focus and concentrate. Not all stress is distress, some forms of stress can be good and this is termed as eustress. Eustress defined by Merriam-Webster, means a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance and well-being (1828). The important challenge here is to realise when this eustress is leading towards the unhealthy path of distress. When athletes face distress, a helpful tool that could aid their performance is mindfulness meditation.
Let us delve into what exactly mindfulness meditation is?
Mindfulness meditation is defined as “non-judgmental attention to experiences in the present moment” (Holzel et al. 2011,p.538). The essence of mindfulness meditation lies in focusing ones attention on the experience of being one with an individual’s thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and simply observing them as they arise and pass away. Hence the importance of mindfulness meditation aids athletes game.
For example, imagine a game situation where a defender has blocked your shot to the goal in football. As a result of this, the athlete might in the moment, feel angry and frustrated. If mindfulness mediation were to be introduced in this scenario it would look something like this:
An athlete would have strengthened their awareness to recognise the presence of what just happened (e.g.- their shot being blocked by the defender) and the resulting emotions (e.g.-anger and frustration), without judging them to be negative. Slowly with the help of mindfulness meditation the athlete would learn to realise these emotions, take note of it and learn to be mindful of them as a natural occurrence (e.g.- accept the rush of emotions of anger and frustration and still stay focused on the next shot the athlete takes). Thus, even while feeling such intense emotions, the athlete can learn to stay engaged during the performance, in the next play instead of mentally giving up (Baltzell & Summers, 2018).
While we have mentioned about how to go about practicing mindfulness meditation in sports, let us delve into why mindlessness matters in sports as well. One could say mindlessness is the opposite of mindfulness as it is defined as acting and reacting in the moment based only on experiences and lessons learned in the past. Why is this bad you may ask?
Here are a few examples from Baltzell & Summers (2018) book, ‘The Power of Mindfulness’ of when mindlessness does not aid an athlete in the sport:
- Taking for example the fear of losing. Losing is a part and parcel of every game, but if an athlete gets overly fixated on an opponent they “always” seem to lose against, instead of focusing on how to beat them, they will spend their time getting anxious and losing focus, resulting in them losing again. This way the athlete is experiencing mindlessness by giving up easily and losing energy on anticipating the loss against the opponent.
- Some athletes go to practice, thinking of it as a chore, something that they need to just tick off their check list and finish off. It is important for athletes to focus on the present and improve on their downfalls, instead of mindlessly wasting hours during practice, just for the sake of attending it.
Mindfulness meditation aids athletes game and has been used for the past couple of years by cognitive behavioural therapists and practitioners for their patients coping with anxiety, depression and eating disorders. So how exactly is mindfulness mediation effective in sports ?
Mindfulness skills aid an athletes performance by building focus, awareness, clarity of thought and the ability to stay in the present moment (Glass et al. 2018). Overall, mindfulness based interventions teach an athlete present-focused attention which can be used both on the field and off. Mindfulness training has benefitted many professional athletes such as the Seattle Seahawks and Phil Jackson’s NBA teams. Mindfulness is also said to be more fruitful in closed skill sports such as golf and archery because it is said to improve motor control during skill acquisition and during competition. In sports that require more sustained exertion and stamina such as basketball and football, mindfulness meditation has shown to have effects on the central nervous system control of pacing and coping with fatigue (Cathcart et al. 2014).
Moving onto a few recommendations on how to go about with your journey of mindful meditation:
- If you are an athlete or any individual who wants to use mindful meditation to improve your performance, it is important to take a note of the stressors you face. Stressors are usually those that are either created internally by ourselves or externally created by the pressure from the ones around us. By becoming aware of our stressors, one can reduce the perceived stress by developing an awareness for ones breaking points and triggers, mindful individuals are shown to have calming effects on their sympathetic nervous system, thus decreasing their heart rates. A lower resting heart rate can lead to improved physical performances due to more efficient heart function and greater endurance, as well as lower perceived exhaustion.
- Additionally, mindful individuals may become aware of their ability to alter their sympathetic nervous systems (Hewett et al., 2011), which may lead to a greater sense of control, thus reducing anxiety.
- Mindfulness meditation does not always have to be done under the guidance of a professional, we can practice mindfulness even while performing our daily activities such as brushing your teeth, making your food or wearing your clothes. The key is to do everything more mindfully. What it means by being more mindful of your actions is when you pay more attention to what you are doing. Being attuned with your senses and noticing your thoughts and emotions as they arise.
- If an unguided meditation routine is not something you would prefer, there are several applications online such as ‘Calm’, ‘Headspace’, ‘Unplug’ and ‘Insight Timer’ that can guide you through your meditation journey.
- If you are trying to meditate for the first time, make sure you are sitting in a quite space with minimal distractions. Close your eyes and sit quietly. You can also make sure to sit in a room with dim lighting as compared to harsh lighting to ease the senses. Lighting a scented candle or putting a few drops of essential oils in the room could also calm the body. Lastly, playing a soft musical tune or having your guided meditation on could also enhance the experience of meditation.
Mindfulness meditation aids athletes game and is not only beneficial to athletes but also any individual who wants to enhance their performance, improve their focus and calm their mind! And it keeps stress from turning into depression!
Baltzell, A., Summers, J. (2018). The Power of Mindfulness: Mindfulness Meditation Training in Sport (MMTS). Germany: Springer International Publishing.
Cathcart, Stuart; McGregor, Matt; Groundwater, Emma (2014). Mindfulness and Flow in Elite Athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 8(2), 119–141.
Glass, Carol R.; Spears, Claire A.; Perskaudas, Rokas; Kaufman, Keith A. (2018). Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement: Randomized Controlled Trial of a Mental Training Program with Collegiate Athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 1–34.
Hewett, Z. L., Ransdell, L. B., Gao, Y., Petlichkoff, L. M., & Lucas, S. (2011). An examination of the effectiveness of an 8-week Bikram yoga program on mindfulness, perceived stress, and physical fitness. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, 9(2), 87-92.
Holzel, B. K.; Lazar, S. W.; Gard, T.; Schuman-Olivier, Z.; Vago, D. R.; Ott, U. (2011). How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6), 537–559.