Practicing Mindfulness for Sport Performance

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 33.7% of Americans are affected by anxiety with moderate impairment, including myself (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017). With so many individuals affected by behavioral disturbances, rather than trying to suppress or change these feelings, evidence tells us we may be better off accepting them and learning to manage them (Mannion, 2021). This is where mindfulness can come in to play. Although being mindful may come more natural to others, I fully believe that anyone can benefit from this type of mental practice – athlete or not. This is not a new concept. Traced back to its Buddhist roots, most of us are aware that mindfulness can impact our over well-being, but how can it serve our athletes with their sport?

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Evidence tells us that practicing mindfulness CAN improve athletic performance. We can promote the ability to perform well under stress and high demands through this practice. This is a result of increased attention, motivation, better pain management, anxiety regulation, motor control and posture awareness, coping, communication and recovery (Mannion, 2021). With so many benefits from this practice, I start to wonder why more coaches are not promoting this type of mental training intervention.

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There are myths about mindfulness and it’s important to educate our athletes prior to implementing training in their programs. One of the most important myths, is that mindfulness is not intended to relax or clear thoughts. Instead, we can teach our athletes that the goal of this type of mental training is to be compassionately open to our thoughts and emotions, to recognize when our minds start to wander without casting judgement and then to gently return our attention back to the task. 

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Any opportunity to apply mindfulness is great, but I think during training will greatly benefit athletes to carry over to sport. So as a coach, start to evaluate your athletes and think of ways you can encourage mindfulness during sessions for competitions. However, I believe that any time they can practice being more mindful, they can increase awareness, focus, lower stress and tune into their posture and enhance mind muscle connection. In short, being more mindful, may help them make the most out of their movements and lifts. As athletes continue mindfulness during their session, they can hopefully they in the present moment and tune into their individual cues. 

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Mindfulness Tips:

  1. Stay open and curious to the process. 
  2. Instead of focusing so much on eliminating distractions, choose not to let distractions control what you are focused on. 
  3. Try and experience the moment as a new moment and nothing you have experienced before. 
  4. Be aware of what is going on around you, but don’t let it phase you as much. 
  5. Try not to label yourself as anxious or distracted as this is casting judgement, and instead just be aware of how you feel in each moment. 
  6. Stay humble, like you have so much more to learn.
  7. Start with something basic, like this audio here. Then I challenge you to keep practicing this daily.

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Happy (mindfulness) training friends!

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Xo, 

Nat

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References:

Mannion, J. (2021). Mindfulness in Sport. In J. M. Williams & V. Krane (Eds.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (8th ed., pp. 314-333). McGraw Hill.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2017, November). Anxiety Disorders. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml

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