Mindfulness and Athletes

I am a mother of a high school athlete. It is breaking my heart watching him wait day after day to find out if his lacrosse season is going to be canceled or not. I have watched him do online workouts, play hours of wall ball, string a new net, and keep in touch with his coach and teammates. I have seen coaches around the country post great workouts and films for their athletes to help them keep motivated and stay in physical shape. However, coaches and players….I think this is the PERFECT time for you to work on that part of your game that always seems to get forgotten…the mental game!

I was a high school and college athlete. Most of my training was in the physical aspect of the game. However, I remember clearly a time when I was in high school going up our state rivals. We were playing for the state championship. We were a very good team, but the game was going to be very close. Our teams had been rivals forever and day before the big game, the local paper in the town we had traveled to published a story where the players and coach of the rival team stated that our team did not play with heart. I remember clearly our coach making copies of that article for each player on our team. She read the article to us and let us think about it. Needless to say, it fired us up more than anything. However, what she did next changed the way that we played forever. She had us put everything away and do visualization exercises. We visualized what it would look and feel like to walk into the gym with confidence and clarity. We visualized every play of the game until we could visualize ourselves winning. We did this exercise multiple times prior to the big game. However, what I really remember was our entire team doing this exercise just after walking into the gym the day of the big game. What I didn’t know at the time is that it would be my first experience with mindfulness.

From that moment on, I used that exercise throughout my athletic career. As a volleyball player, I spent many sleepless nights visualizing my serve or the winning kill. As a lacrosse goalie, I visualized stopping every shot that was taken against me. I know that it made a difference in how I attacked stressful situations. What I learned about those exercises is that I could be in my body rather than in my head during a game. I could visualize how exactly to make contact with the ball for the perfect serve or how to move to stop the shot. Being in your body instead of in your head is such a powerful tool in athletics.

Athletes, now is a really tough time. If you are a spring sports athlete, I know that you are more than disappointed that you are not on the field or court. This is a very difficult time that can mess with your mind and spirit. However, what if you took this time to work on the part of your game that you probably do not give enough attention…the mental part. Look, you have probably heard the old quote, “Athletics are 10% physical and 90% mental”. It is so true!! Think of the last big game you had. Were you able to focus in the key moments? Were you able to block out all of the commotion and focus on what you really needed to do? How nervous were you going into the game?

Mindfulness is workout for your brain. You workout in the gym to build muscle, strength, and muscle memory. You run sprints to build stamina and agility. However,when was the last time you did any work on your brain? Mindfulness exercises, done regularly, help to train your brain to be in the moment. They help to train your brain to control your emotions in key situations. They also help you to be able to focus on seeing what is in front of you so that you can make the best decisions on the field or court. However, the brain is like any other muscle. You cannot sit down only before the big game and do one or two exercises. You have to work your brain like you would any other muscle. You are not going to build huge biceps in one or two lifting sessions. You are also not going to build mindfulness in one or two sessions.

Athletes, I encourage you to use this down time to continue your physical training and to add some mental training as well. Imagine the outcome you and your teams could have if you take the time to do this now. Most teams do not fit this kind of training into their every day practices. Having a mental edge can be a game changer! Some of the most celebrated athletes have credited mindfulness with being what has given them the edge. LeBron James has recently signed on to the calm app to do an entire series on his mindfulness practice. The late Kobe Bryant spoke all of the time about how he meditated daily in order to be at his best. Many of the top professional teams have someone on staff that is considered to be their mindfulness coach. It makes sense to take care of the part of the game that is thought to be the most important part!

Coaches, you often get your players at practice just after they have spent an entire day at school. Many of your players are often coming to you with baggage from home as well. Then, the first thing that you do is yell and scream at your players for not having their head in the game. The question is, have you given them the time to put all of that behind them for a minute and train their brains to be here, now? Have you trained your athletes to pay attention to the moment and to arrive here in the game or practice that you are having? This is where training your team in mindfulness can give you the advantage.

If this makes sense to you as an athlete or coach, I encourage you to start your own mindfulness training. Start small by doing a simple mindfulness activity each day. Think of it as an extension to your daily training. Check out my blog post with some of the FREE apps that are available now. Start with learning how to be mindful and trying it each day. When you start, try to think of it like learning a new skill in your sport. It is not going to be perfect at first and needs a lot of practice to make good. Stop back to my blog for specific exercises that I will be posting over the next few weeks. Now is the perfect time to train your brain!

Suggested reading: The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance by George Mumford. Forward by Phil Jackson

Great Video to explain mindfulness!

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