Is Mindfulness the Key to Athletic Success?
There is a lot of discussion about the impact mindfulness has upon athletic performance. In what way is it allowing the athlete to break through personal barriers to obtain optimal performance? Let's discuss it.
Before we talk about how mindfulness aids in athletic performance, we must first talk about mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of being conscious of our present moment. One must acknowledge and accept thoughts and feelings without passing judgment on them. Athletes who have had sessions with me, have heard me talk about the importance of staying in the present moment. Don't get stuck on a past mistake and don't get fixated on the future, by doing so, an individual is missing key elements that will impact the outcome of their performance. Additionally, thinking about the past or future triggers a stress response; breathing changes, muscles tense, and the ability to make quick and sound decisions decrease.
Mindfulness allows an athlete to "get out of their head" is by alleviating anxiety. Many athletes discuss fear, worry, and negative thoughts that begin the day before competition, day of competition, or even during competition. Emotions get in the way- they cloud judgment, they make individuals question their confidence and abilities. If an individual is having an anxious/fearful thought, they need to recognize the thought as just that and not hold onto the thought and the emotions attached to it. They must remain focused on the task at hand; focused on the aspects of their body and performance they can control.
According to Trevor Moawad, a mental conditioning coach at Pro and Elite Sports at EXOS, "You communicate internally with yourself at about 800 to 1,400 words per minute, so your subconscious has a lot of stimuli that are consistently affecting it." Mindfulness is about accepting/labelling the thought and centering yourself back into the moment.
Some techniques to begin practicing mindfulness include:
- Body Scan- lie down and get comfortable. Visually scan your body from the top of of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice how each body part feels, but don't make any judgments about any body part or feelings you experience. - Meditative Breathing- sit upright and comfortably. Natural or low light settings with limited interruptions is best. Eyes can be open or closed, whichever is most comfortable. Focus your attention on your breath: How it feels, the inhale, the exhale, etc. When your mind begins to wander, acknowledge the passing thougth and pull your attention back to the breath.
Ultimately, mental clarity results in improved athletic performance.