You’ve probably heard of “mindfulness” — the art of living in the moment to maximize mental health and live a more productive, fulfilling life.
But do you know about mindfulness in sports?
Olympians, professional athletes, and individuals competing at the highest collegiate levels now use visualization, mindfulness, and meditation techniques as performance-enhancing tools.
So today, we’re exploring what it’s all about and how you can incorporate sport mindfulness into your life.
- What is Mindfulness in Exercise and Sports?
- How Do You Practice Mindfulness in Sports? 7 Beneficial Techniques
- How Does Increased Meditation and Mindfulness Improve Sports Performance?
- What Are Important Factors Athletes Need to Remember Related to Mindfulness?
What is Mindfulness in Exercise and Sports?
Sports meditation is a growing area of mindfulness research and theory.
Encouragingly, athletes using the techniques are realizing huge gains.
Pairing meditation with sports and exercise makes sense.
Scientists have definitively proven that mindfulness exercises are excellent for both body and mind.
The benefits are undeniable, and practitioners enjoy:
- Improved sleep quality and mood
- Decreased symptoms associated with anxiety and depression
- Better resilience and ability to “bounce back”
- Lower blood pressure
Athletes who meditate incorporate mindfulness practices into their training and lifestyle report:
- Being more present for workouts, training, and competition
- Better coping capabilities
- Increased endurance capacity
- Better performance and emotional control
- Enhanced ability to stay in the flow state for prolonged periods
How Do You Practice Mindfulness in Sports? 7 Beneficial Techniques
We’ve discussed why sports and meditation go hand in hand. Now, let’s explore a few sports mindfulness techniques to try.
As always, take what works for you and leave the rest.
1. Develop a Pre-Game Routine
Rituals motivate humans and improve focus, whether for spiritual or sporting purposes. That’s why you’ll see professional athletes engaging in pre-game drills. Swimmers are particularly known for their race routines.
Competition rituals are mindfulness exercises that help clear the head and fine-tune your mental space.
Developing the right one can level up your performance.
Physical competition requires high amounts of presence. Or, to put it another way, athletes who win at elite levels have incredible focus and an enhanced ability to inhabit moments — almost like Jedi.
Instead of letting their thoughts wander, they can intensely concentrate on the present moment, which is a boon in athletic competition.
3. Self-Assessment / Journaling
Using mindfulness to evaluate one’s performance can be extremely helpful in calibrating and perfecting swings, strokes, and strides.
Athletes who pinpoint their faults and improvement targets enjoy better results than those who haphazardly practice.
Please don’t read us wrong; practicing is always good — but according to studies, intense, focused practice is the best.
Incorporating mindfulness into your life can help you paint a more detailed picture of your strengths and faults, ultimately allowing for targeted improvement efforts.
Journaling, a mindfulness exercise, can also help people striving for physical goals to keep track of their progress.
4. Visualize the Win
Elite athletes like tennis superstar Serena Williams and swimming sensation Michael Phelps have publicly discussed how they visualize their movements when preparing for a match or race.
Successful professionals have also talked about using visualization to achieve their dreams.
In fact, Oprah Winfrey is also a big believer in the technique, as did Dale Carnegie, author of the seminal self-help tome “How To Win Friends and Influence People.”
5. One-Minute Meditations
One-minute meditations are a super focus tool.
Learning to do micro-meditations takes a while because it involves quickly popping into an introspective state, which isn’t easy. But short contemplative bursts can be invaluable once you get the hang of it.
When first learning how to do one-minute meditations, using a mindfulness timer helps. Once it becomes second nature, you won’t need assistance and will be able to time it out instinctively.
Once upon a time, yoga was something for “new-age hippies” who lived on the West Coast. Today, it’s much more mainstream. After all, research concludes that yoga is excellent for both physical and mental health.
These days, professional athletes — from golfers to football players — are encouraged to pursue yoga.
The ancient exercise keeps the body limber and flexible, which protects from injuries, and it’s also a way to incorporate mindfulness into training.
Another part of athleticism is perseverance. Determination is key, whether you’re an elite athlete competing at the highest levels or attempting to complete the couch-to-5K app program.
Without it, motivation dwindles.
But mindfulness exercises give you a boost in this department, making it easier to stick with your goals, no matter how difficult in the beginning.
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How Does Increased Meditation and Mindfulness Improve Sports Performance?
Researchers and scientists exploring and testing the link between exercise, mindfulness, and health consistently yield promising results.
The results are universally positive and regularly show that people in good physical shape enjoy longer lives and improved mental health.
Specifically, mindfulness for athletes involves a three-stage process:
- Register: The first step of sports mindfulness is almost always noticing when an intrusive thought has elbowed its way into your “flow state.” This recognition is known as the “registration” stage.
- Release: This is the phase where you accept the invading thought that has the potential to throw you off your game. Ideally, this should not take long.
- Refocus: The last stage is refocusing attention to where it should be.
Several prominent studies have examined the link between mindfulness and sports performance. Gardner & Moore conducted two oft-quoted studies in 2004 and 2007.
After assessing the results, the pair developed the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach.
A revolutionary paradigm change in sports therapy, MAC focused on getting athletes to a point where they can easily accept positive and negative emotions instead of trying to eliminate them.
The technique has proven highly effective and is now the gold standard in sports performance circles.
Another seminal work in the sports mindfulness niche was conducted in 2009 by Petrillo et al.
The group monitored a sample set of golfers, runners, and archers who agreed to participate in a year of mindful sports performance enhancement (MSPE) training.
All groups in the Petrillo study reported improvements in awareness, and runners reported significant time improvements.
What Are Important Factors Athletes Need to Remember Related to Mindfulness?
Before embarking on a mindfulness track for sports and workout initiatives, one must understand a few things about the practice.
Let’s take a look.
- Non-Judgment: Presence and lack of judgment are the two supporting pillars of mindfulness. Instead of getting worked up about negative or intrusive thoughts, practitioners train to notice unwanted thoughts without spiraling into distracting opinions, allowing rogue ideas to come and go quickly.
- Patience: Mindfulness is not instantaneous. It may feel relaxing the first time you try, but it will take several weeks of sustained practice to enjoy long-term benefits. So don’t give up on it too soon.
- Growth Mindset: Maintaining a growth mindset is essential for mindfulness. After all, what’s the point of working on bettering yourself if you don’t think it can work? Having confidence that you are enough and will enjoy gains from practicing mindfulness will, in and of itself, enhance the experience.
- Trust in the Plan: From practical and spiritual vantage points, believing in the process is another part of effective mindfulness practice. Research proves that people who “have faith” in the neuroplasticity process experience more gains. Scientists believe the difference has something to do with the quality of practice.
- Acceptance: In the past, athletes were counseled to “forget” about distracting thoughts. Mindfulness approaches, however, advocate for the opposite. Instead of extending energy trying to push unwanted thoughts out, mindfulness encourages practitioners to accept distractions unemotionally and then move on.
Whether you’re looking to become a top-tier athlete or want to add a bit more movement into your life, using mindfulness to overcome motivation hurdles may be the boost you need.