Health 2018 || The Role of Mindfulness in Sports

Athletes are always facing numerous challenges both inside and outside of their sport such as anxiety, fear of failure, or negative emotions.  Therefore, great athletes are always looking for new techniques to cope with these barriers and enhance their overall performance.  That is why many players are utilizing a specific meditation technique called “mindfulness” to improve their game.  Mindfulness is the simple practice of paying attention in a distinct way: bringing complete attention to preset moment with purpose, and without judgment.  Although mindfulness is generally known to improve solely the human psychological state of mind, athletes are showing creativity by applying it to their sport.  Here’s how mindfulness meditation can be applied to a wide variety of sports to improve athletes’ overall performance.

Increased mindfulness practice in competitive athletes can lead to improved sport-related coping skills and enhanced athletic performance. Athletes who practice mindfulness and do not participate in unnecessary rumination tend to control their undesirable emotions more efficiently than athletes who do not practice mindfulness.  With this, athletes can improve their coping skills when dealing with sport-related issues and frustrations.  Mindfulness makes it easier to “cool down” from extreme arousal and strong emotions during competition.

There is a substantial correlation between low tension and the enhanced performance of athletes’ skills. Similarly, mindfulness programs concentrating on plans for enhancing attention could lower injury risk, which is a technique every athlete should be utilizing. With this being said, there are significantly lower levels of athlete burnout, as the athlete is able to more efficiently focus their attention.

The relationship between gratitude and life satisfaction is strengthened when the athletes holds high levels of attention toward emotional mindfulness.  Athletes that are high in mindfulness also have a stronger effect of gratitude on the athletes’ life satisfaction when compared to the athletes that demonstrated low amounts of mindfulness.  Grateful athletes extend their attention and appreciate more of the little things, which in turn causes prosocial behavior that gathers interpersonal and cognitive properties to attain life goals.

Not only can players benefit from mindfulness practice, but coaches can too. Everyone’s awareness of their emotions increased on and off the field, which can lead to more connected relationships within the team.  Athletes are better able to control their explosive, reactionary responses with regard to their emotions, and have the potential to become overall more motivated and inspired players. Respectively, coaches are more able to connect with their players and promote a more emotionally stable and communicative team.

Above is a list of numerous reasons why mindfulness practice should be included as a supplemental training tactic for every athlete.  Benefits of mindfulness-based programs include decreased risk of injury and athlete burnout, reduced sport-anxiety, improved life satisfaction and attention skills, and enhanced relationships with oneself and with one’s own team.  With all of the challenges thrown at athletes today, mindfulness can only benefit players on and off the field and therefore should be included in every athlete’s training program. All of the ideas mentioned above stem from research studies backing the importance of mindfulness practice in athletes. If you would like to read more about these studies, please see the references listed at the end of this article.

Now that you have been inspired to incorporate mindfulness into your regime, you are probably wondering what a mindfulness practice entails. Here is how to get started:

  1. Have a seat. Situate yourself in a quiet and comfortable location. Your bed is a safe place to start.
  2. Notice your body. Where are your limbs falling? Are your hands in your lap? Do you feel your feet grounded to the earth? What feels good, and what needs adjusting? Make yourself light, and get comfortable.
  3. Feel your breath. Your breath is the most important part of your life; it controls everything. Follow the sensation of your breath entering and escaping your lips. Perhaps it helps to visualize it going in and out through your body. Where does your breath go? Does it stay up in your chest, or fill your stomach?
  4. Notice if your mind wanders. Whether your mind drifts within seconds or minutes, this is completely normal. This process should be completely free of judgement, so be kind to yourself. If you find your thought drifting, simply draw your attention back to your breath.

That is it! This process can last 5 minutes, or even hours. It takes practice and time to become more comfortable with it and to steer clear of any judgement, however, as you can read above, the benefits are clearly worth the practice.

  • Baltzell, A., Chipman, K., Hayden, L., & Bowman, C. (2015). Qualitative study of MMTS: Coaches’ experience. Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 7(3), 5-20.
  • Blecharz, J., Luszczynska, A., Scholz, U., Schwarzer, R., Siekanska, M., & Cieslak, R. (2014). Predicting performance and performance satisfaction: mindfulness and beliefs about the ability to deal with social barriers in sport. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 27(3), 270-287. doi:10.1080/10615806.2013.839989
  • Bühlmayer, L., Birrer, D., Röthlin, P., Faude, O., & Donath, L. (2017). Effects of Mindfulness Practice on Performance-Relevant Parameters and Performance Outcomes in Sports: A Meta-Analytical Review. Sports Medicine, 47(11), 2309-2321. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0752-9
  • Chen, L. H., Wu, C., & Chang, J. (2016). Gratitude and Athletes’ Life Satisfaction: The Moderating Role of Mindfulness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(4), 1147-1159. doi:10.1007/s10902-016-9764-7
  • Doesum, N. J., Prooijen, J. V., Verburgh, L., & Lange, P. A. (2016). Social Hostility in Soccer and Beyond. Plos One, 11(4). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153577
  • Ivarsson, A., Johnson, U., Andersen, M. B., Fallby, J., & Altemyr, M. (2015) It Pays to Pay Attention: A Mindfulness-Based Program for Injury Prevention with Soccer Players, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 27:3, 319-334, DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2015.1008072
  • Josefsson, T., Ivarsson, A., Lindwall, M., Gustafsson, H., Stenling, A., Böröy, J., . . . Falkevik, E. (2017). Mindfulness Mechanisms in Sports: Mediating Effects of Rumination and Emotion Regulation on Sport-Specific Coping. Mindfulness, 8(5), 1354-1363. doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0711-4
  • Scott-Hamilton, J., Schutte, N. S., & Brown, R. F. (2016). Effects of a Mindfulness Intervention on Sports-Anxiety, Pessimism, and Flow in Competitive Cyclists. Applied Psychology: Health & Well-Being8(1), 85-103. doi:10.1111/aphw.12063
  • Solberg, E. E., Berglund, K. A., Engen, O., Ekeberg, O., & Loeb, M. (1996). The effect of meditation on shooting performance. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 30(4), 342-346. doi:10.1136/bjsm.30.4.342
  • Walker, S. (2013). Mindfulness and burnout among competitive adolescent tennis players. South African Journal of Sports Medicine, 25(4), 105-108. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.7196/SAJSM.498

juliaJulia Callow | Writing Contributor
B.A | Kinesiology | Cal State Univ, Long Beach
Julia Callow, born in Santa Barbara, CA, is a fourth-year Kinesiology and Gerontology minor at Cal State Long Beach, emphasizing in fitness. Julia aspires to obtain a Master of Science in Gerokinesiology to help older adults become stronger and more independent. She became an AFPA Certified Personal Trainer and NASM Senior Fitness Specialist at the age of 18, then starting teaching spin classes shortly after. Embracing her red hair and love for clean eating, Julia created a health food blog on Instagram named @gingajulia, which emphasizes the importance of eating whole foods, practicing gratitude, and staying active. In her spare time, she enjoys trying out new sports and activities like rock climbing and slacklining, cooking, traveling, and being Blake Griffin and Lionel Messi’s number one fan. Instagram @gingajulia | View My Articles

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